The struggle of the Bulgarian Muslims

 The struggle of the Bulgarian Muslims
The struggle of the Bulgarian Muslims
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When considering the establishment of the Chief Mufti institution of Bulgaria, the difficulties imposed on this institution and after learning about the conditions that were needed to be overcome; after getting to acquaint with brave people who had to put all they ever had on the line, you get a better understanding of the responsibility and loyalty of the Muslims in Bulgaria.

 Kadri Akkaya

The local people in the lands of Bulgaria as we know of today,  were fed up by the end of the 14 th century of the quarrels within the communities, the long lasting battles for the throne and the continuous increase of exploitation of the people under the name of tax.  The attitude of dervishes such as Sari Saltuk, who had migrated from Anatolia to these lands, with their morals and ethical values that treated everybody equally, adapting the principles of Yunus who said 'I love the created because of the creator', with their firm attitudes towards the oppressors and their gentleness towards the oppressed and their way of life that did not treat them as outsiders, became a much needed attraction for the local people who had been exploited in such a manner that their hearts and souls were compressed.  Tirnovo in the year 1371, Dobruca in the year 1390 and Vidin in 1396 were kingdoms who had accepted the rule of the Ottoman governance.  Hence this geography was part of the homeland even before Istanbul.  Political conquests will come -just like the human life- and go.  Most importantly: to be just and loyal to those left in care; at least to let the memories live on.  We aimed to register in the records of history those who have continued to let the memories live on until today and still consider this geography as their homeland.

A total of 3399 works

From the peace and tranquility we felt after reciting three Ihlas and one Fatiha at the neglected and abandoned tomb of Bali Effendi and after quenching our thirsts with the cold water we scooped with our hands from a spring on the footsteps of Pasmakli mountain, we continue to live on but in a different state of mind.  It has been neglected and abandoned; because as this geography was dealt with 'freedom' instead of 'justice' on several occasions in the last two centuries, the old complex was replaced with Sveti Prorok Iliya Church and the tomb was left isolated in some place behind it.  After the mass exodus of millions of Muslims to Crimea and Anatolia, what was left remaining were only a handful of descendants from the Ottomans and one functional foundation mosque named Banya Basi (Molla Efendi Kadi Seyfullah) from amongst 53 foundations with mosques that had once existed in Sofia.

When taking into consideration properties of foundations, it is of use to know the following:  According to historical documents, the Ottomans had constructed in Bulgaria 2356 mosques and temples, 142 madrasa, 273 schools, 42 imaret, 174 tekke-zaviye, 116 hostels, 113 hamam (baths) - thermal spring baths, 27 tombs(shrines), 24 bridges, 75 fountains, 3 sebil, 26 caravansary, castle, palace, hospital, library, watch tower, bedesten and temple which comprises in total 3399 different works.  It is of most importance to find out how many of these are still standing and to renovate them.

Today, one of these works is the Sofia Historical Museum which was constructed as part of a foundation at the time.  These days, in addition to the exhibition of works that represent the history of the city, there are also temporary art activities.  In partnership with the Chief Mufti institution of Bulgaria in Sofia, works of painters from the other five religious groups are in exhibition together with the paintings of Birali Birali who is the representative of the Chief Mufti.  We are wandering around with him together in this temporary exhibition which he has contributed to by providing his oil paintings for display.  He is a painter, who is also a representative of the Chief Mufti Institution for Social, Culture and Media departments.  He is also a scholar who teaches at the Sofia High Islam Institute.  He shows us his paintings while making references as well at the same time such as, 'The traditions of life is to always be in pain, in hardship', together with the verse ' Everybody is a prisoner of their own actions' and the verse ' Allah is the one who has created you from one ego and created from that ego your partner whom can provide peace for your soul'.
There are 1.5 Million Muslims left in the country

 Prior to the First World Division, with the consent of Paris and London, under the protection of Berlin and authority of Russia where an independence was granted supposedly; during the Second World Division in the aftermath of the Yalta conference, Bulgaria which was ostracized together with the nations of the Iron Curtain; at the same time being speedily included as a 'joint member nation' of Europe in 2007, even before Turkey, who had been waiting on the doorsteps for 50 years.

The nation and its people, are in turmoil regarding the transition as a community and politically.  On the one side the mostly demolished 'komsomol' production institutes and the buildings in need of repairs, traffic lights; on the other side, the new capitalist drivers of the nation with safari jeeps that have thick wheels which do not want to stop when those traffic lights turn red, because they do not want to waste time.  Those who are in the top end of the community, who blend in and are not recognized in the nations that they migrate to and, those at the bottom end who are easily recognized but have the dreams of migrating to the 'central' nations of Europe.  More than justice - at this point- new community paradigms which have personal freedom as a priority, have had the effect of a reduction in the population of the communities of abode.  Some villages are so isolated, you can not even find any people to ask for directions.

Muslims have known this geography as their homeland for six centuries and continue to do so.  During the Berlin Conference at the 'Homeland or Silistre', where the Ottomans were knocked off their feet, after the Balkan destruction and exodus and after the oppression of Jivkov who tried to destroy identities and homogenize communities, there were only 1.5 million Muslims left in the nation.  Most of them know this place as their homeland, upholding their responsibilities in the community to the best of their abilities and knowing their responsibilities for their fellow Muslim brothers.  This sense of responsibility and loyalty to their past, have allowed them to continue their services in a humble manner despite the lack of funds available.  For example, in the establishment of the Chief Mufti Institute of Bulgaria, in finding out the difficulties imposed upon the institute and the conditions that were needed to be overcome; You realize much better when you get to know honorable people who have given all that they ever had for this task.  Let us consider together, the history of the establishment of the Mufti Institute in Bulgaria, before we get to meet some of these people and take their views.

 First they were elected then they were appointed

The legal basis of the Mufti system in Bulgaria was established after the Berlin Treaty (1878) and the Tirnova Constitution (1879).  The other basic  legal documents were incorporated on 9th of July, 1880: 'The notice of instructions for the religious governance of Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Bulgarian Kingdom'.  In the set of instructions which included a total of 47 instructions, there were 15 instructions which were pertaining to the religious governance of the Muslims in Bulgaria at that time.  With this as a basis the Mufti Institute was established in the Kingdom of Bulgaria; the regions of the individual muftis and their responsibilities were established.  Parallel to the Mufti system, the old kadi courts were converted religious courts and the authorities were handed over to the muftis.  With the Istanbul Protocols in 19th of April, 1909, the 'Muftis Agreements' were signed.  In the first article of this agreement, the Chief Mufti Institute was to be established in Sofia and, it was deemed fit that the Chief Mufti was to be elected by the muftis from amongst the muftis.  As a result of this agreement, in the 8th of December, 1910, Hocazade Mehmed Muhiddin Effendi, was elected as the first Chief Mufti of Bulgaria and continued to serve in this post until the year 1915.  Suleyman Faik Effendi, who was later on elected as Chief Mufti, held the post for 8 years.  The Chief Muftis after him were not 'elected', but rather were 'appointed' by the Bulgarian governments that were in precedence.

 Huseyin Husnu Effendi, who was 'appointed' as Chief Mufti, held the post from the year 1928 to 1936 and, Abdullah Sidki Effendi held the post from 1936 to 1945.  During the years from 1945 to 1989, in the period of the socialist regime who was in power, the local muftis were reduced to only 5 muftis remaining only as a symbolic number.  These so called muftis were managed by 'Chief Muftis' such as Suleyman Omer Effendi, Sabri Demirov and Ismail Sarhocov who were 'appointed' by a Central Committee.

 After Todor Jivkov and the Central Committee members had segregated Muslims on the basis of their ethnic heritage as Turk, Pomak and Gypsy, all the religious based schools in the nation were closed down; basic religious practices and traditions such as funeral, circumcision and religious festivals were deemed forbidden.  The last Chief Mufti of the Socialist era who was 'kept' in this post from 1988 to 1991, was Nedim Gencev.  A so called mufti, who had no other qualifications but an apparent graduation from the Faculty of Law of Sofia University through external studies, as part of a quota from the Interior Affairs Ministry.

 A legal entity which unites all Bulgarian Muslims irrelevant of their ethnic background

 During the period of transformation of the regime of the nation, in 1992, in the first democratic conference of the Muslims, Fikri Salih who was the Mufti of the Kircaali Region was elected as Chief Mufti.  Nedim Gencev did not accept this defeat and, established a parallel mufti system nationwide, which had no base support.  In order to avoid this two sided division, during the National Conference for Bulgarian Muslims held on the 6th of March, 1995, Fikri Salih was again elected as Chief Mufti, however this election process was not recognized by the government at the time.  Fikri Salih had been forcefully evicted from the Chief Mufti building and even though he was not recognized by the government, he held his post as Chief Mufti until 1997 with the support of the Muslims and, he took the matter of 'legitimacy of elected Chief Mufti' case to the European Human Rights Court, where he got a judgment in the favor of Muslims against the government who was deemed to be in the wrong for intervention in the religious affairs of Muslims.

 In 1997, all the sides had agreed on a national conference which was to unite all sides and, as a result of the elections, Mustafa Haci was elected as Chief Mufti and, Huseyin Karamolla was elected as the President of the High Islam Shura (HIS).  After they had successfully completed their duties until the year 2000, the first Bulgarian Muslims National Conference was conducted on 28th October, 2000, where Selim Mehmed was elected as Chief Mufti and Mustafa Haci was elected as President of HIS.  Amongst the successful achievements of this team include the optional inclusion of Islamic religion scripture lessons in state run schools, the translation of the holy Quran into the Bulgarian language and the mutual agreements signed with the Turkish Religious Foundation and Department of Sects to be in coherence with the religious affairs pertaining to Muslims.

 On the 12th of February, 2011, there was once again Bulgarian Muslims National Conference which was conducted, where with the free will of the Muslims Dr. Mustafa Haci was again elected as Chief Mufti and, Sabanali Ahmed was elected as president of HIS.  The decisions taken in the conference was registered at the Sofia City Court and hence as a result the Chief Mufti establishment was recognized as the sole legal representative of the Bulgarian Muslims both nationally and internationally.

Today, the Bulgarian Republic Muslims Religious Chief Mufti Institute is an independent religious organization and for those who share the same religion and religious customs; is a legal entity which unites all Bulgarian Muslims irrelevant of their ethnic backgrounds.  All of its activities are conducted as a legal entity, within the Bulgarian Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria and, in accordance with the Law of Religions.

Source: World Bulletin

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