Religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina


According to thesciencetutor, Bosnia and Herzegovina had approximately 4.4 million residents. During the civil war of 1992-95, more than 100,000 people were killed and more than 2 million fled their home areas, a large part of them to other countries. Many who have returned have returned, but in 2012 there were still about 100,000 designated as internally displaced persons in the country. Since the 1991 census until the 2013 census, the current population statistics were missing and there were only rough estimates of the population. The turbulence in the country meant that these data were very uncertain.

According to Countryaah data, the 2013 census showed that the population then amounted to 3.8 million. The population had decreased by 13 percent in 1991-2013. Of the main parts of the country, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina had just over 2.37 million residents (62.5 percent of the country’s population), the Serbian Republic close to 1.33 million (35 percent) and the autonomous district of Brćko 93,000 (2.5 percent).

According to estimates in 2011, 48 percent of the population were Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), 37 percent Bosnians and 14 percent Bosnians. A large number of small minorities, including Roma and Albanians, together made up 1 percent of the population. In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats predominate, while Bosnians are predominantly resident in the Serbian Republic.

48 percent of the residents live in cities according to estimates in 2019. The largest among them are Sarajevo (300 900 residents, 2012), Banja Luka (238 400) and Tuzla (100,000).

For information on life expectancy and other demographic statistics, see Country facts.


In Bosnia and Herzegovina, štokavian dialects are spoken by the South Slavic language, formerly called Serbo-Croatian or Croatoserbian and today sometimes Central South Slavic. Serbo-Croatian has four main dialects: štokaviska, čakaviska, kaykaviska and torlakic.

Bosnian (sometimes referred to as Bosnian to indicate that the language is related to only the Bosnian people), Croatian and Serbian are official languages. Like the Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin standard languages, the Bosnian standard language is based on štokavian dialects. In the language section of the Republika Srpska, the three languages have been designated the Serbian people’s language, the Croatian people’s language and the Bosnian people’s language. Bosnian is recognized as a regional or minority language according to the Council of Europe’s language statute in Serbia and may be used officially in Montenegro.


Religion and ethnicity

About 45% of the population in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Muslims, 36% are Serbian Orthodox and 15% are Catholics, which almost completely coincides with the ethnic borders. About 1% of the population are Protestants. The distribution before the war was similar, except that the groups today tend to live more separated than before. The Orthodox are mainly concentrated in the areas of the Serbian Republic in the northern and eastern parts of the country, while the Croats are mainly found in western Herzegovina.

The religious affiliation coincides very much with national identity (narod). So the Serbs are traditionally Orthodox while the Croats are Catholics. As far as the Muslim population is concerned, a distinction is made between Muslims as a nationality designation, also called Bosniaks (in parity with Serbs and Croats) and Muslims in the religious sense (in parity with Orthodox and Catholics). The former term is then used as an ethnic and cultural marker and says nothing about the religious identification and activity of individual individuals.

The area was Christianized during the 800s and 900s and was characterized by the beginning of rivalry between Byzantine and Western church interests. Alongside these arose a schismatic church, the so-called Bosnian church. When the area was subordinated to the Ottoman Empire in 1463, the so-called millet system was introduced, whereby each recognized non-Muslim socio-religious group (millet) was granted internal autonomy in religious and family law matters. The Muslim population of the area, for its part, formed part of the empire’s socio-religious majority (the Islamic umma).

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the relationship between ethnicity and religion, and between national identity and citizenship, became a problem. Until the end of the 1960s, in the modern state of Yugoslavia’s censuses and statistics, there was no recognized nationality determination for the Muslim part of the population. Instead, categories such as “Serbian Muslim”, “Croatian Muslim”, “nationally indefinite Muslim” and “indefinite Yugoslavs” were used. Later, the Muslims were granted official status as a “nation” (narod), and in the 1971 census there was the opportunity to register in the category “Muslims in the national sense”. In the 1974 constitution, the Bosnian Muslims were granted nationality status in the same sense as Serbs, Croats and other ethnic groups.

Religious conditions

The Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina are Sunni Muslims, traditionally of Hanafite rites. Their religious leadership is based in Sarajevo. The Orthodox and Catholics have regional representation, but are officially subordinate to the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate in Belgrade and the Catholic Archbishop’s seat in Zagreb. Islam is represented locally by the mosque manager or the prayer leader (hodža). There are also female religious teachers (bula), who lead religious gatherings for women.

The degree of religious interest varies, but has generally been greater in the countryside than in the cities, where secularization gained significant entrance in the 20th century. The differences between the city and the countryside are great regardless of confession. In the countryside, the pilgrimages to the tombs of holy men and martyrs (turbe) have traditionally been an important part of popular religious life. Sufism is widely used in Bosnia and Herzegovina, dating back to the Ottoman Empire. The Christians also have their pilgrimage sites with martyrs’ tombs, and there are places that have been revered by both Christians and Muslims.

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From the end of the 1980s and in connection with the war, the issue of religious affiliation came to be politicized and exploited by power holders for mobilizing purposes. The war generally meant that mutual disbelief between the various groups increased.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Religion