PATRON SPECIAL: Bosniaks and Islam

At Patreon, I’ve started a new feature for my $5/month supporters whereby once a week I try to dive into a question from one of them and write an essay that hopefully helps shed some light on the topic. Today I posted the first in what I hope will be a long series, in response to a question about the spread of Islam in the Balkans under Ottoman rule. I focused on the conversion of the Bosniaks:

When we consider why the Bosniaks wound up by and large converting while other Slavic peoples did not, I think the first thing we need to say is that there’s very little to no evidence of coercion. And, really, that makes sense. Why, after all, would the Ottomans have singled this one community out for coerced conversion to Islam but left Serbs, Croats, Macedonians, Greeks, Bulgarians, etc., alone to maintain their Christianity? Nobody has ever, to my knowledge, produced any evidence that the Ottomans one day said “these people, living in this one specific area, must be converted, but we’ll leave everybody else alone.”

Moreover, the pre-17th century Ottoman system actually depended on maintaining large Christian populations in the Balkans. Christian families paid extra taxes, don’t you know, and–more importantly–their male children were subject to the devşirme, the conscription program that filled the ranks of both the Ottoman bureaucracy and the Janissaries. Conscripts were forcibly converted, but if the Christians of the Ottoman Empire had all converted themselves then this critical source of manpower would have disappeared overnight, since Muslims were forbidden from enslaving other Muslims. Indeed, the Ottomans organized their empire around allowing these communities to keep their own religion and legal codes–though obviously Ottoman law superseded in the case of a conflict–in what was eventually formalized as the millet system. This wound up coming back to bite them in the imperial ass, as the millets later became vectors for the nationalist movements that wound up tearing the Empire apart.

I’m just saying, all this could be yours for a scant $5 a month. If that’s too steep, at $1 a month you can have access to my “ask me anything” feature, where I try to offer some shorter answers to your questions/comments about, well, anything.

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Author: DWD

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