Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The Ottoman Empire conquered the Balkans and occupied it for half a millennium. They managed to convert most of the Albanians to Islam, however, all the other nations in the area remained Christian.

What are the causes of the Albanians being predominantly Muslim, while all the other countries in the Balkans predominantly Christian?

share|improve this question
Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a largely Muslim state, with most ethnic Bosnians traditionally professing the Muslim faith. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnia_and_Herzegovina#Demographics –  Pieter Geerkens Apr 20 at 18:43
During the invasion by Ottoman Empire, becoming Muslim was possible to obtain better Jobs and lower taxes –  user4522 Apr 20 at 21:51
Furthermore addendum to @PieterGeerkens 's comment: In Yugoslavia, the minorities are mostly defined by religious culture (between Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia), not real ethnics. If you were born as Serbian, but converted to Islam, you considered as Bosnian. This system of definition works still in use. –  CsBalazsHungary Apr 22 at 5:34

4 Answers 4

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a second largely Muslim state in the Balkans, with most ethnic Bosnians traditionally professing the Muslim faith. However the Bosnian, Serb and Croat populations in this area are densely intertwined historically, aggravating racial tensions in the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

The Ottoman empire was not (through most of its occupation of the Balkans) a strongly proselytizing empire. For instance, though the Serbian Patriarchate was abolished in 1463 following the death of Patriarch Arsenios II it was re-established by the Ottomans in 1557. This disruption was thus less than 100 years. Further, forced conversions were not generally required of the subject populations in the Empire, rather non-Muslims suffered from additional taxation and the loss of some rights making them second-class citizens.

Your chronology is also exaggerated. Although the bulk of the Balkans was conquered by the Ottomans in the half-century immediately preceding and following the capture of Constantinople in 1453, much of that area had again obtained independence less than 400 years later. Greece obtained independence by 1832; Moldavia and Wallachia were independent by 1821 and 1848 respectively and unified as Romania in 1859. Serbia was abandoned by the Ottomans by 1867.


Interestingly, the reason for the conversion of the Albanians to Islam remain unclear. What is agreed is that the conversion primarily occurred late in the period of Ottoman rule; Catholic Albanians mostly converted in the 17th century, and the Orthodox Albanians mostly followed in the following century. Primary source documentation is scarce, hindering research efforts to determine causes and motivations. The country itself is today 59% Muslim, 17% Christian, and the rest other.

share|improve this answer
I acknowledge that my question was a bit inaccurate. However, the Albanians, Bosnians, Greek, Bulgarians etc. still spent roughly the same length of time under Ottoman occupation, yet the Albanians (and Bosnians, to some degree) did convert to Islam, while the others didn't. What I'm looking for is the underlying cause for this difference. –  vsz Apr 20 at 19:18
This answer does not explain the difference between Albania (and Bosnia) vs others in terms of their present Muslim population –  Louis Rhys Apr 20 at 22:07
Sorry, -1. While factually correct, the answer doesn't actually address the crux of the question (what was different between Albanians (and Bosnians) as opposed to the rest of Ottoman holdings in Balcans) that led to total Islamisation. –  DVK Apr 20 at 22:29
@DVK: Does the update help: –  Pieter Geerkens Apr 20 at 22:47

Based on what I've found, I would say that it was a combination of factors that all amplified each other. The conquest of Albania was particularly brutal compared to the rest of the region, and was furthermore contested through the revolt of Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, which lasted from 1443 through 1468. Even by that time, the region of Krujë had developed into one of the more important subaşilik (an Ottoman gubernatorial region) centers in the Balkans. This basically devestated the area, and led to the emigration of thousands of Albanians to the north (there seems to have been a very large émigré population in Naples because of this)1.

Over the next couple of centuries, the remaining Albanian population was further diluted through the immigration of Muslims from elsewhere in the Ottoman empire. This trend of population movement is noted in many of the contemporary writings and also in traditional accounts of the expansion of Islam into the Balkan regions2.

These demographic trends would have amplified each other as areas with large Muslim populations tended to both serve as magnets for further Muslim resettlement and accelerated the pace at which the rest of the population converted to Islam. This makes quite a bit of sense if you compare it to large regional ethnic concentrations in the United States for example, and I would imagine that similar social dynamics would have been at play. This is actually evident in the tax records for the region, in particular records related to the cizye, or tax on non-believers (thank you Ottomans for keeping good tax records). Population studies based on these records seem to confirm these types of concentrations3.

In addition, this link gives a pretty good summary of the literature and is worth a read.

1 Jelavich, Barbara, History of the Balkans: Eighteen and Nineteenth Centuries, p 34-5
2 Norris, H. T., Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World, p 141-5
3 Minkov, Anton, Conversion to Islam in the Balkans: Kisve Bahas ̧petitions and Ottoman Social Life, 1670-1730, p 43-8

share|improve this answer

There were several factors to account for conversion, but the main one was that the culture of the Albanians was much more suited to Islam than to Christianity.

First of all, the rebellion of Skanderbeg in the 15th century infuriated the Pont, so after he was finally defeated, they made a special and determined effort to convert the Albanians to Islam. This gave them a toehold for the later growth in the country.

The main factor, however, was the warlike nature of the Albanians. Albania is a mountainous country and the people there have always never been simple farmers. They have often lived by sword and have a long tradition of being mercenaries, just like Skanderbeg. The style of rule there is "mountain chieftain" where each valley and hill has a mini warlord, who, in many cases ruled very tyranically over the locals. This political reality was much more conducive to the nurturing of Moslem tendencies over Christian ones. Even when Albania was a "Christian" land, they were notorious for being very fainthearted about it.

Another big factor is that the Turks kind of loved them for this. While the Turks treated other captive nations contemptuously and meanly, they loved Albanian military style and often hired them by the thousands as mercenaries, who were called Arnauts. Turks even dressed up their little boys in Arnaut soldier outfits, like we used to dress up boys in cowboy outfits. The Albanians were kind of the "Navy Seals" for the Turks. This created a bond between the Turks and Albanian chieftains who were heavily Moslem.

Ultimately, the upper classes and property owners in Albania became so dominantly Moslem that they were able to forcibly convert the whole country and this was done en masse.

share|improve this answer

Many ethnic greeks also converted to Islam but were expelled from mainland Greece and the islands after the independence of Greece and also in 1922. In Syria and Lebanon there are remnants of this community. I also know a Lybian friend of mine whose grandmother was Cretan (not Turkish) muslim.

I find Tyler's comment claiming that Islam was suited for Albanians because of their war-like temper inaccurate and un-scientific.

The very paradox of Ottoman history is that many Serbs, Greeks, Albanians, Armenians and Jews had prominent positions as governors and vizirs within the state. which is blatantly different from the case of the new Conversos in Spain whose conversion was not sufficient to even grant them citizenship and equal treatments as subjects of the King of Spain.

Egyptian monarchy up to 1952's revolution was Albanian and one of the most famous modern scholars of oral tradition (Hadith) in Islam was an Albanian born in Aleppo in northern Syria.

There were certainly episodes of forced conversions at times but very often the motives behind conversions were more natural just like with any other creed.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.