Bosniaks & Loyalty: Responses to the Conscription Law in Bosnia and Hercegovina 1881/82
Doing military service to protect the borders of a state and the security and safety of its citizens is a clear indicator of loyalty. Furthermore, military service is a measure of the extent to which a citizen identifies with the norms and values of a state. When Austria–Hungary, as a leading European power, was granted the right at the Congress of Berlin to occupy and administer Bosnia, the Muslim Bosniaks, who once had been the guardians of the westernmost border of the Ottoman Empire, suddenly had to deal with non-Muslim rulers and found themselves a religious minority in Austria–Hungary, an overwhelmingly Christian empire. A key occasion to demonstrate allegiance to their new state came in 1881 with the issue of the Conscription law. Bosniak Muslim soldiers had to serve in an army led by non-Muslims. An insurrection occurred and a heated discussion was initiated to find an acceptable answer to the question of whether or not it was permissible for a Muslim to live under non-Muslim rule and whether a Muslim could serve in the military under a non-Islamic flag. Thus, modernist and reformist thought became an important force in assessments and reassessments of traditional concepts of Islam. Contemporary fatwas, newspapers, witness reports, and archival documents offer crucial insights into the discourses and reasoning of the Bosniaks at the time when these changes were taking place. Many important political decisions concerning Bosnia and Hercegovina were discussed in the Gemeinsamer Ministerrat. However, its proceedings during the years in question have not yet been edited and remain inaccessible. Nonetheless, the accessible sources in Sarajevo shed light on the efforts of the Bosniaks to accommodate themselves to the new ruler and adapt to and identify with “Western” norms and values. Furthermore, these sources demonstrate that as long as the territorial integrity of Bosnia and the religious rights of the Muslim communities were respected, Bosniaks displayed loyalty, military courage, and devotion to the state.