Raise and fall of Islam and Otoman heritage in Serbia

Islam in Serbia and Ottoman heritage

Today Serbia is mainly Christian country. Most of the population - 85% are Orthodox Christians, 5% are Catholics , 3% are Muslims and rest of people are Protestants , Jews or atheists. This is the situation nowadays but was it always like this ? I did little research and found out that Muslims were the majority in the country called Serbia today . When you dig a little bit deeper in Serbia’s history you will find glories periods but also periods full of misery and tragedies.

As we are talking about religions in Serbia and Muslims, in particular, the story must begin several centuries ago .


Rise of Islam in Serbia

Serbian Orthodox church was born in 13 century and his first archbishop was Monk Sava - Prince Rastko Nemanjic ( the son of the ruler of Serbia - Stefan Nemanja ) . This was the time of glory. The Serbian state was a well respected and prosperous country. Only after one century, the new danger was approaching. Uprising force - Ottoman empire was coming after Serbia and was coming big steps. That was the time when misery showed its face. First important battle was on the river Marica ( 1371. ) but the Battle of Kosovo ( 1389 ) was determined for Christians in Serbia. Although Serbia was not annexed by the Ottoman empire before 1459, after the Battle of Kosovo the fall of Serbian state under the rule of Ottoman empire was inevitable.


The Muslim era began and lasted for almost 500 years 

Christian Serbs found themselves in a very bad position. They did not have much choice -they could convert or they could struggle. Both options could make them lose something, either soul or life . These were hard times. There were many battles and uprising during the Ottoman rule of Serbia. The religion was not the only reason. The economic situation was also a huge motive to fight against Ottomans . The invaders were often raising the taxes and poor Christian population was on the verge of existence. Ottomans were not only taking the faith, the money, the goods but also they were taking the children from their Christian parents - an action known as Bloody day . Ottomans were making an elite army of these kids, they were called Janjicari and were directly serving the Sultan. So many reasons for rebellions. The biggest battles were First and Second Serbian uprising settled in first half of 19 century but only after the First World War and crush of the Ottoman empire ( the legal successor was the Republic of Turkey ) the whole territory of Serbia was free ( for example Belgrade -the capital of Serbia was liberated in 1867 but southern part of Serbia was left under the Ottoman rule many decades after ) .


Ottoman heritage

Ottomans left Serbia but their impact can be felt in many segments such as language, food, culture, architecture, folk dance and music …

Did you know that almost 8000 words used in Serbian language has Turkish origin? Many traditional receipts were actually taken from Ottoman cuisine ( almost all traditional desserts - baklava , tulumbe , kadaif , pilav - meal made of rice and meat, some sour salads called tursija etc ) Interesting fact that sugar was not used in Serbia before Ottoman came, that Is why almost all traditional desserts are Turkish . Black coffee is another brand that came along with Ottomans and today Serbian drink much more coffee then Turks who prefer tea. You will find many oriental elements on the houses built in the second half of 19 I early 20th century. These houses are made in unique Serbian - Balkan style of architecture. Traditional clothing, especially national costumes worn in villages have many Ottoman details ( the best examples are national costumes in town of Vranje and other places in southern Serbia where Ottomans stayed the longest ) . Together with costumes Ottoman culture had a certain influence on the traditional Serbian music too.  


Islam in Serbia today

On the other hand after Ottomans left Serbia Islam as a religion was not treated with honor and respect. Belgrade itself had around 300 mosques in the Ottoman period but most of them were demolished as a result of ultimate freedom after half of the Millennium of Ottoman and Islam rule . This was quite understandable when taking into account the harsh conditions Christian population lived in.

Today Belgrade has only one mosque - Bajrakli mosque ( built in 16th century ) located in Dorcol area ( the name of this neighborhood comes from Turksih words - dort - stands for four and jol - stands for road or street so the name could be translated as crossroad or intersection ) where the majority of Turks lived.

Islam is minority religion as statistics show in the beginning of this article. Only 3% or around 223 000 inhabitants. The largest concentration of them lives in Sandzak region ( south-west of Serbia close to the border with Bosnia and Herezgovina ) and the biggest city is Novi Pazar with a very distinctive vibe and architecture compared to the rest of Serbia.Other municipalities in which Muslims as the majority could be found are Tutin and Sjenica also in Sandzak region and Presevo and Bujanovac in Presevo valley (southern Serbia close to Kosovo ) .

Although there is bitter taste of the past and bad memory of 500 years of Ottoman and Islam invasion today there is a high level of religious tolerance among people living in Serbia .When you speak with Muslims hardly anyone will tell you that felt discriminated either by government institutions or ordinary people. Most of them really feel that Serbia is their country and that Christian neighbors could be their close friends.      


Turorama: Travel agency specialized for Serbia and Balkan countries, founded by experienced and knowledgeable enthusiasts.

Serbia office

ADalmatinska 72,
Belgrade, Serbia

T+381 11 675 3251

T+381 64 221 5521


Slovenia office

A Pot Draga Jakopica 6,

T +386 1 810 99 15

T +381 63 284 629