Understanding Ottoman Heritage in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Conversions to Islam in the Records of the Sarajevo Sharia Court, 1800-1851
University of Sarajevo, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of History
Keywords: Ottoman Empire, Bosnia, Sarajevo, Islam, conversion, 19th century
The trend of mass conversions to Islam took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period between the 15th and 17th centuries, and has, thanks to the work of a couple of researchers of this period, been extensively studied and expounded on. On the other hand, the academic community has very little information on conversions to Islam in the period that followed. The goal of this study was to shed light on the conversions to Islam before the Sarajevo Sharia Court in the first half of the 19th century. In doing so, it devotes particular attention to the very act of conversion, its foundations in the Sharia law, the intensity of the conversions, and the identities of the converts themselves. Upon studying the Sarajevo court records, we see that the trend of the expansion of Islam did continue in the 19th century, albeit to a much more limited extent. Between 1800 and 1851, 123 people willingly converted to Islam before the Sharia Court in Sarajevo. In addition, there were also ten underage children (according to Sharia regulations), who were legally converted to Islam after one of their parents became a Muslim. There were conversions happening almost every year, with only five years in this period for which we have no registered conversions, while between one and seven people converted within one Gregorian calendar year. Previously, the new Muslims had been members of other monotheistic religions found in the region (Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews), and hailed from town and village surroundings.