We are learning about Bosnia-Herzegovina! I would like to give an short introduction to two of the religions that form a part of Bosnian culture and its national identity: Islam and Eastern Orthodox.
When most people hear Bosnian culture in the news, there are negative messages of civil war, ethnic tensions, and religious strife. I spoke with a couple of students I have from Bosnia who told me that before the families were affected by the war in the 1990s, neighbors of differing religions lived peacefully and all self-identified as “Bosnians.” There were mixed communities and interfaith marriages, with kids of different religions attending the same schools. Bosnians are really friendly, and known as being hospitable people. My students hope that the future will bring peace to the region as well.
Bosnian culture and national identity is connected to their ethnic and religious identity. Different ethnic groups in the region are linked to different religions; conflicts have arisen due to these differences.
- The largest religious group in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Muslim (48%); Muslims in Bosnia are called Bosniaks.
- The next largest group is Eastern Orthodox (37%), who generally are Serbians and share a culture with their Serb neighbors to the east.
- The third largest group are the Roman Catholics (14%), who generally are Croatians who share their culture with Croats to the north.
- The remaining 10% of the people follow other religions and ethnicities such as Jews, Romanians, Albanians, and Turks.
Bosnian Muslim Culture
Over many battles, the Ottomans (Turks) conquered the Kingdom of Bosnia in the 15th and 16th centuries. This Turkish civilization lasted for centuries in the region, and brought Islam to Bosnia.
Muslim houses of worship are called mosques. Visitors are welcome to visit mosques in Bosnia as long as they are respectful. It is the custom to dress appropriately (women should cover their heads), remove one’s shoes/ hats/sunglasses before entering. The main prayer hall does not have pews or seats; instead, worshipers kneel on prayer rugs.
The muezzin are scholars of the Koran who are appointed at a mosque to lead, recite from the Koran, and call people to prayer. The Koran is seen as the ultimate authority in the religion. One of the largest festivals is Ramadan, a period of fasting, praying, and charity. After Ramadan, people exchange small gifts, visit friends, and have a large family meal.
People in Bosnia generally wear Western-style clothing. Though they do not wear the full body covering common in some Islamic countries, some Muslim women cover their heads with scarves.
In Muslim houses, it is traditional for visitors to remove one’s shoes and put on a pair of slippers that the hosts offer. A common greeting for both men and women are three kisses on alternating cheeks.
Here are some resources to help your kids learn more about Islam:
InCulture Parent has some excellent posts on Ramadan (and other aspects of Islam!).
Bosnian Eastern Orthodox Christians
Christians have been in the area that is now Bosnia since the time of the Romans (2nd C). The Serbian Orthodox Church resisted the Ottoman invasion; its’ close association with Serbian resistance to Ottoman rule led to Serbian Orthodox followers to be linked with the Serbian national identity.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian church in the world (after the Catholic Church). Elaborate churches are the place of worship; religious ceremonies are held in beautiful churches, that may date back hundreds of years.
Eastern Orthodox churches are led by priests, and they are permitted to marry and have children. The Eastern Orthodox religion does not recognize the authority of the Pope, but follows a group of patriarchs who have equal status.
The major holidays celebrated at church are Christmas Eve (Badnje Vece) and Christmas (which is Jan 6-7), and Easter. Christmas is celebrated with a bonfire outside the church and singing special hymns. The Easter ceremony is followed by dying eggs and watching traditional kolo dances. Another common holiday celebrates each family’s patron saint with a candle-lighting and special feast.
When children are baptized in the church, parents choose godparents. Because in Bosnian culture it is common to live with extended family, children are often taken care of by grandparents while parents work, and godparenting is commonly practiced, all children are raised to respect their older relatives and know that they will most likely care for older relatives later on.
Here are some resources to help your kids learn more about Eastern Orthodox Christianity:
Learn about important feast days.
I hope this has been a useful introduction to Bosnian culture and religion. Click here to learn more about world religions.