Huseyin Abiva (Chicago)
The nearly six centuries of Ottoman rule over southeastern Europe provided ample opportunity for the spread of Islam. Indeed, among the nations that now comprise the Balkans Peninsula (Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) the visible Muslim component to their populations are readily evident. Two of these nations, Albania and Bosnia-Hercegovina, undoubtedly have Muslim majority populations. The populations of Macedonia and Serbia (which includes Kosova) are comprised of huge Muslim minorities. In Croatia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Greece there are smaller percentages, but in the case of Bulgaria this means more than 1 million!
The largest Muslim ethnic group present in the Balkans is the Albanians, who number over 5 million. They are concentrated in the central and southern areas of the Peninsula and form the overwhelming majority of the population in Albania, the Serbian occupied province of Kosova and western Macedonia. There are small groups of Albanians living in Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia who are mainly émigrés from the Tito era. In regards to religion, though they are for the most part followers of Islam (or the non-practicing descendants of Muslims), Albanians have never found it a force for ethnic unity. Significant portions of the Albanian people still cling to either Catholic or Orthodox Christianity, and among the Muslim population there was further division between the Sunni majority and the followers of the Shi’ah Bektashi (see below).