Division in society between Muslims and Christians should not be tolerated, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Chief Mufti Mustafa Hadzhi agreed in talks on January 27.
Opposition on the basis of religious, ethnic and social status does not solve problems, Borissov said that the meeting with Hadzhi and other senior Muslim religious leaders, according to a government media statement.
“We must not allow confrontation, but everyone should carefully maintain peace among ethnic groups,” Borissov said, adding that Bulgaria had a “wonderful model” of peaceful co-existence: “It is our responsibility to preserve this model”.
Bulgaria could be proud that none of its citizens had been allowed to be part of the so-called “Islamic State”. This did not mean that the country should be complacent but should commit itself to doing everything possible so that this did not happen, he said.
Hadzhi said that the Chief Mufti’s office was doing everything possible so that the religious life of the Muslim community in Bulgaria did not come under foreign influence.
He discussed with Borissov the issue of a university where local religious leaders could be educated, under the supervision of government authorities and the Chief Mufti’s office.
Earlier, in a September 2014 statement, the Chief Mufti strongly condemned the so-called “Islamic State”.
At a May 2014 meeting, Hadzhi and Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Neofit underlined the good state of relations between the country’s Christians and Muslims, a statement by the Chief Mufti’s office said at the time.
The meeting between the Chief Mufti and the Patriarch took place three months after an anti-Islamic mob attacked the mosque in Plovdiv during a protest against a series of court actions by the Muslim community to claim restitution of property.
The meeting between Borissov and the Chief Mufti took place two months after raids in various parts of the country, mainly Pazardzhik and Plovdiv, resulted in the arrests of a small group of alleged “radical Islamists” who reportedly declared support for the “Islamic State”.
The January 27 meeting took place on the same day that the Plovdiv Appeal Court was meant to begin hearings in the trial of a group of 13 found guilty in March 2014, after a lengthy trial, on charges connected to allegedly supporting the overthrow of the Bulgarian state in favour of a radical Muslim theocracy. The group denies the charges.
The appeal hearing was postponed after the court said that it had not had time to examine documentation submitted on behalf of some of the accused.
Some of the issues in the appeal hearing include claims by the accused that documentation produced in evidence in the initial trial had been translated inaccurately from Arabic to Bulgarian.
Other documentation submitted at the appeal stage included the opinions of world leaders on the recent death of Saudi King Abdullah. Reports from Plovdiv said that one of the documents was a letter from Queen Elizabeth II of England expressing condolences on Abdullah’s death.
Other evidence being submitted includes quotations from the Bible and the Christian New Testament.
Based on self-declarations in Bulgaria’s February 2011 census, more than 60 per cent of Bulgarians are Orthodox Christians while about eight per cent are Muslims.
Anti-Muslim sentiment is a part of Bulgarian political life, with ultra-nationalist politicians having won minorities of seats in the legislature with messages claiming a threat from radical Islam and invoking the centuries that Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule to seek to stir emotions against Islam and against Turkey.