In analyzing national and ethnic identities in the Balkans, one notices a “delay” in the development of the Muslim national identity. The Bosniaks and Albanians, for example, developed a national consciousness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In contrast to the Southeastern European Christians, the Muslim inhabitants followed the official religion of the dominant political class of the Ottoman Empire—Islam—a faith that (theoretically, at least) privileged religious belief over ethnicity or nationalism. These two concepts, alien to Ottoman intellectual tradition, became fully understood by the Ottoman elite only in the early twentieth century. Although the Muslims under Ottoman rule often perceived themselves as different from their co-religionist rulers in Istanbul, as shall be demonstrated in this paper, they nevertheless shared the religion of the rulers of the Empire and practised a religion that suppressed the development of national identity far more explicitly than did Christianity. Thus, it was the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, and the consequent recognition that this state was ceasing to protect the interests and identity of the Muslim population in Southeastern Europe, which led to the development of ethnic and national identity among the Muslims.