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Muslim=Ethnic Identity?


Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. Any editor would tell you that's not a parallel list, because Muslim refers to a religious identity and the other terms to ethnic identities. Except in the lands of the former Yugoslavia. Classifying Muslims as an ethnic group goes back to the early years after World War II, when the Communist government under the leadership of Josip Broz-Tito struggled to reunite a polyglot country that had been torn asunder and devastated between 1941 and 1945.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was constructed from a number of fragile building blocks:

This sense of unity eventually turned out to be the most fragile of the building blocks, and the boundaries of the Republic of "Bosnia-Hercegovina proved to be the most imperfectly drawn. There were in fact no ethnic "Bosnians;" Bosnians were Serbs and Croats, Muslims and Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. The capital of the Bosnian republic, Sarajevo, was a spicy stew whose flavors blended together: a mosque in one square, an Orthodox church in the next.

The Weight of History

The Muslims of Bosnia are descended from the same South Slavic stock as Serbs and Croats. Like the Serbs, today's Bosnians contain some Turkish blood, the result of more than four centuries' occupation and rule by the Ottoman Empire. Unlike those who classify themselves as Serbs, the Bosnian Muslims adopted the religion brought to their land by the Turkish invaders centuries ago -- and therein lies the difference.

One interpretation of the hostility between Serbs and Muslims has to do with Serb resentment of the fact that the Bosnian Muslims accepted the religion of their conquerors. It is clear that, to some Serbs, today's conflict is not only an "ethnic" clash but also a crusade of one great religion against another.

The tragic irony is that of all the ethnic and religious groups of the former Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Muslims carried the least sense of separateness. Theirs was a largely secular society; most Bosnian Muslims saw the difference between them and their fellow Yugoslavs as "only" a matter of where and how they worshiped. And now, of all the wounds suffered by the people of the former Yugoslavia, the most severe wounds are felt by those who hoped and dreamed that the way in which they worship God would never become an issue that would drive neighbor to kill neighbor.

And the community that once refused to think in terms of separatism, the Bosnian Muslims, has now been forced to a powerful sense of ethnic/religious identity that, given the spirit of these horrible times, has severed them from their neighbors irreparably.

Resources on Islam

There are many Web sites, and even some newsgroups, dedicated to information about Islam. One with a great deal of information as Ibrahim Shafi's Page.

For a wealth of online resources about religion and spirituality, turn to the McKinley Internet Yellow Pages and the McKinley Magellan Internet Guide.

Posted July, 1996.
© Copyright 1996 OBS