Accepting the Islam with the Mijak Macedonians in Reka is a process that started in XVI and lasted until the second half of XIX century. However, this conversion from one into another confession was not massive but rather individual and lasted for a long period of time.
First records of Muslims in the Reka region date from 1852, and are recorded in Turkish defters. They say that in the regions of Dolna (Lower), Mala (Small) and Golema (Big) Reka there are 23 villages with Christian and Muslim households; 559 Christian households and 239 bachelor Christians, as well as 120 Muslim households and 14 bachelor Muslims. In addition, in the region of Gorna (Upper) Reka there were 13 villages with 383 Christian households and 132 Islamized Christians, as well as 42 Muslim households, in the same period.
Next document that speaks about the Islamization of the Macedonians is a letter from the Sultan Yahya to the Roman Pope in 1644, where there is a record of coverting into Islam by numerous Christian families. The letter states the conversion of 800 Catholics from upper and lower Debar and of another 800 people from Reka into Islam.
History science says that there was no single reason for accepting the Islam, but rather many motives. The main motive is the need for protection of the population (especially the one in the Reka region) from the Albanian gangs which were intruding from Albania and raiding the region on daily basis. In fact, the only way out from this state of raids and plunders done by Albanian kachaks – mainly from Ljuma and Mat – who also killed people, was accepting the Islam, as in that case the Ottoman Empire would provide more efficient protection of the inhabitants.
In addition, a strategic target of the Turks in late medieval period was creation of Muslim zone between rebellion Albanians and tactical ravines (Reka and Ki?evo-Jama).
Besides these reasons, there are few more minor motives for accepting the Islam by the Macedonians:
Breaking off with Christianity by unmarried girls by marrying Turkish beys and landlords had a significant impact on creating kin bonds with families of the Islamized girls; this led to softening of religious attitudes and change of confessions.
Working abroad in Turkey, Middle East, and other regions with Muslim majority is another factor for Islamization in Reka. Virtually, when people working abroad would return to their homes they were already Islamized and they would pass the Islam to their families.
Accepting the Islam influenced lowering of taxes for those families, which also provided opportunities for higher social rank.
Whatever the reasons for Islamization of the Macedonian Muslims, the fact remains that Macedonian Muslims have never given up their Macedonian ethnicity, and they always felt connected with particular Christian holidays and beliefs, such as Gjurgjovden (St. George's Day), Mitrovden, Petkovden, Varvara, or Letnik.
There is an interesting fact stated by Galaba Palikruševa, PhD, in her works about the Islamization of the Macedonians, where it is declared that many people from Reka in the early stages of Islamization have just virtually changed their first and family names. This proves that bi-confessionalism in the Reka villages lasted from the beginning of the Islamization until the XVIII century. In accordance with the economical interest, the Islamization spread slowly and peacefully. With Islam acceptance among the Mijaks, new relations in the group were created, based on religious differences and two names for the same ethnicity appeared – Mijaci and Torbeshi. During time, these groups acquired different behaviors, but their relationship always remained friendly.
Toma Smiljani?, PhD, one of the first explorers of Gorna Reka, states that sometimes only a part of the family would accept Islam, but the family would remain compact. He presents the fact that in 1920's the Popovci family from Nistrovo still had Macedonian Muslim relatives. The same is the case with the family Venovci from the village of Vrben (Macedonian Christians) with Macedonian Muslim relatives in the village of Žužnje.
* In the preparation of this text, materials were used from Gligor Todorovski's book Demographical Changes in Macedonia from the Late XIV Century until the Balkan Wars and PhD dissertation of Galaba Palikruševa PhD: Islamization of Torbeshi and Establishing of Torbesh Sub-group.
More about Muslims in Macedonia available in this report: Muslims of Macedonia
A shorth ethnographic video about a wedding custum of Macedonian Slavic Muslims. This is an old wedding traditional event of the Macedonian Muslims called " Make up the bride ". The custom has a purpose to completely exchange the look of the bride, even to unrecognizable level. The video is reconstruction of that traditional custom that, according to the presenter still exist in a small region in Macedonia, the region of 5 villages Drazilovo, Cvetovo, Elovo, Umovo and Koricane south of Skopje.For more click here.