FORMS, FACTORS AND MOTIVES OF CONVERSION
TO ISLAM IN THE BALKANS
Vryonis has commented that the statistical approach to the question of change in the religious life of the Balkans during the Ottoman period is of great value to the historian.1 Nevertheless, he observes, such an approach can create only a two-dimensional image of his- tory—that of a formal religious world, comprised of Muslims and non-Muslims. Statistics do not answer questions such as what pres- sure, if any, was involved in conversion, which segments of the society converted and for what reasons, or what was the quality of the con- verts’ religious life. In the following pages, I shall address some of the major issues behind the forms, factors, and motives of conversion.
Balkan scholarship has traditionally viewed the local population’s affiliation to the Orthodox faith as a vehicle of their national con- sciousness.2 This made extensive conversions to Islam and therefore a loss of national consciousness difficult to reconcile with the nation- alistic fervor demonstrated by the Balkan peoples in the middle of the nineteenth century. Historical justification for conversion was found in the “aggressive nature” of the religion of Islam, expressed in the concept of Holy war (cihad). In other words, the conversions were deemed to have occurred under compulsion—whether direct or indirect. Thus, by presenting the Islamized native population as victims of persecution, the national pride of those who had remained Christian was preserved. The theory of forced, mass conversions—
1 Vryonis, “Changes,” 172.
2 See for example, George G. Arnakis, “The Role of Religion in the Development of Balkan Nationalism,” in Charles and Barbara Jelavich, ed., The Balkans in Transition (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1963), 115–44; and Grozdanova, Bulgarskata narodnost, 587–593.