The Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, has announced that a Week of Mosques is to be held in the country from October 1 to 17 2012, in a bid to raise awareness of the importance of mosques to the Muslim community and to promote understanding and tolerance, Bulgarian news agency BTA said.
According to statistics from European Union statistics agency Eurostat, Bulgaria has about 1200 mosques. Of the country’s population of about 7.3 million, more than 577 000 are Muslims, according to the 2011 census.
The main factor in the presence of Islam in the country is Bulgaria’s history of 500 years of Ottoman rule, which ended around the close of the 19th century.
Some of the most significant mosques in Bulgaria are the 16th century Banya Bashi Mosque in the capital city Sofia and the 15th century Dzhumaya Mosque in the country’s second city, Plovdiv. Mosques are ubiquitous in villages in Bulgaria near the Turkish border.
In Assenovgrad, a large mosque is under construction, reportedly to have a floor area of 1000 sq m. At least some of the recent mosques built in Bulgaria are the result of outside funding.
However, the country’s Muslim community has been involved in controversies.
Targeted by ultra-nationalists such as far-right party Ataka, the Muslim community was at the centre of national concern in May 2011 when party leader Volen Siderov and some of his followers were involved in a clash outside Banya Bashi Mosque after Ataka mounted a public protest against the call to prayer being broadcast by loudspeaker and against the fact that the mosque could not accommodate all of the faithful, leading people to pray outside on the street.
The Ataka clash outside the mosque led to Bulgaria’s leaders making public appeals for calm and tolerance.
More recently, a trial of a group of 13 Muslims on charges of alleged anti-democratic speech has been in national headlines. The group, which denies the charges, allegedly were fomenting a radical form of militant Islam. The trial is set to resume in some weeks’ time.
The Dossier Commission, the body charged with identifying people who were agents or collaborators with Bulgaria’s communist-era State Security, earlier named Chief Mufti Mustafa Alish Hadzhi as having worked for State Security, to which he responded that the documentation identifying him as such had been fabricated.
The community also has been wracked with disputes about successive elections of Chief Muftis.
(Main photo, of the mosque under construction in Assenovgrad, Bulgaria: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)