Islam in Bulgaria

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The 16th-century Banya Bashi Mosque, in capital Sofia.

Islam in Bulgaria is a minority religion and the largest religion in the country after Christianity. According to the 2011 Census, the total number of Muslims in Bulgaria stood at 577,139,[2] corresponding to 7.8% of the population.[3] According to a 2017 estimate, Muslims make up 15% of the population.[4] Ethnically, Muslims in Bulgaria are Turks, Bulgarians and Roma, living mainly in parts of northeastern Bulgaria (mainly in Razgrad, Targovishte, Shumen and Silistra Provinces) and in the Rhodope Mountains (mainly in Kardzhali Province).[2]


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1881 578,060 —    
1887 676,215 +17.0%
1892 643,258 −4.9%
1900 643,300 +0.0%
1910 602,078 −6.4%
1920 690,734 +14.7%
1926 789,296 +14.3%
1934 821,298 +4.1%
1946 938,418 +14.3%
1992 1,110,295 +18.3%
2001 966,978 −12.9%
2011 577,139 −40.3%
At the 2011 census answering the question for religion was not obligatory
Source: NSI 1881
Bulgarian Muslims from Rhodopes, "National Geographic Magazine", 1932.

The first documented Muslim contacts with Bulgaria are dated to the mid-ninth century when there were Islamic missionaries in Bulgaria, evidenced by a letter from Pope Nicholas to Boris of Bulgaria that the Saracens must be extirpated.[5] During the time of Tsar Simeon insignificant Islamic influences on Bulgarian art began to appear, though it is believed that these can be traced to Byzantine influence.[6] Later during the 11th and 12th centuries, nomadic Turkic tribes such as the Cumans and the Pechenegs entered Bulgaria and engaged the Byzantine Empire. According to scholars, some of these were Muslim.[7][8] Migration of Muslim Seljuq Turks to Dobruja during the 13th century is also mentioned.[9][page needed]

In 1392, the Ottoman Empire conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire. Bulgaria remained under Ottoman and Islamic rule for almost five centuries, but Christians in Bulgaria retained their culture and status, first as dhimmis and later as equals under the millet system, though until their liberation they were called giaour, meaning "infidel" as an offensive term.[10] Some members of Bulgarian aristocracy converted to Islam to retain their positions of authority. In the 17th century lots of Bulgarians especially in the Rhodope region were forced to become Muslims against their will and thousands of those that declined were ritually killed by the Bashi-bazouk Ottoman soldiers in front of other Bulgarians to watch. Victims included women and children as only in the Batak massacre for example they ranged from 1,200 to 7,000. Also young Bulgarian Christian boys used to be taken away forever from their families and sent to Muslim schools in order to be prepared to serve the state and become soldiers, a practice known as Devshirme or blood tax.

Following the Russo-Turkish War and the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, the Danube Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire was transformed into the autonomous Principality of Bulgaria.[11] The Muslim population of the Danube Vilayet prior to the war numbered 1,120,000.[12] This Principality was expanded after the First Balkan War when largely-Muslim Rhodope and Western Thrace regions were incorporated into the country’s terrority. This process was accompanied by forced Christianization of Pomak settlements.[13] These events changed the ethnic and religious makeup of Bulgaria.[14]

Like the practitioners of other beliefs including Orthodox Christians, Muslims suffered under the restriction of religious freedom by the Marxist-Leninist Zhivkov regime which instituted state atheism and suppressed religious communities. The Bulgarian communist regimes declared Islam and other religions to be "opium of the people."[15] In 1989, 310,000[16] to 360,000[17] people fled to Turkey as a result of the communist Zhivkov regime's assimilation campaign. That program, which began in 1984, forced all Turks and other Muslims in Bulgaria to adopt Bulgarian names and renounce all Muslim customs. The motivation of the 1984 assimilation campaign was unclear; however, many experts believed that the disproportion between the birth rates of the Turks and the Bulgarians was a major factor.[18] The event became known as "the revival process" or "the renaming." Bulgarian historian Antonina Zhelyazkova estimated that, during the period of 1990-1996, almost 400,000 more people from Bulgaria emigrated to Turkey in a second "revival process."[19]

Muslims in Bulgaria enjoyed greater religious freedom after the fall of the Zhivkov regime. New mosques were built in many cities and villages; one village built a new church and a new mosque side by side. Some villages organized Quran study courses for young people (study of the Quran had been completely forbidden under Zhivkov). Muslims also began publishing their own newspaper, Miusiulmani, in both Bulgarian and Turkish.[20]


According to the 2011 census, there were 577,139 Muslims in Bulgaria, making up 7.8% of the country.[2] According to more recent 2014 estimates, almost one million Muslims live in Bulgaria, forming the largest Muslim minority in any EU country.[21] According to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, 15% of Bulgaria's population is Muslim.[4] Almost all Muslims in Bulgaria are Bulgarian citizens.[22]


According to the 2011 census, the largest ethnic group of Muslims in Bulgaria are Turks (444,434 people), followed by ethnic Bulgarians (67,350), and ethnic Roma (42,201).[2] Almost 64% of Muslims in Bulgaria that are ethnically Turks live in Kardzhali, Razgrad, Targovishte, Shumen, Silistra, Dobrich Ruse, and Burgas. Muslims in Bulgaria that are ethnically Roma mainly live in Montana, Sliven, Dobrich, and Tambol. Pomak Muslims mainly live in Rhode and Gotse Delchev. Tatar Muslims live in Northeastern Bulgaria and the small Arab diaspora is based mainly in the capital, Sofia.[23]

According to a December 2011 New Bulgarian University survey of Muslims in Bulgaria, roughly 64% identified as Turks, 10.1% identified as Pomaks, and 7.0% identified as Roma.[24]


According to the 2011 Bulgarian census, 94.6% of Bulgarian Muslims were Sunni, 4.7% were Shia, and 0.1% were non-denominational Muslims.[25] There is also a small Ahmadiyya Muslim Community presence in Bulgaria, but they are not counted on the census.[26]


According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 92% of Bulgarian Muslims are "proud to be Muslim."[27]


Evgenia Ivanova of the New Bulgarian University stated in 2011 that "religion is not of primary importance to Bulgaria's Muslims." The New Bulgarian University conducted a survey of 850 Muslims in Bulgaria, which found that 48.6% described themselves as religious, 28.5% of which were very religious. Approximately 41% never went to a mosque and 59.3% did not pray at home. About 0.5% believed that disputes should be resolved using Islamic Sharia law and 79.6% said that wearing a veil in school was "unacceptable." More than half of the respondents said cohabitation without marriage was "acceptable", 39.8% ate pork and 43.3% drank alcohol. On the contrary, 88% of respondents said they circumcised their boys and 96% observed Muslim burial practices for their relatives.[24]

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 33% of Bulgarian Muslims responded that religion is "very important" in their lives.[28] The same survey found that 7% of Bulgarian Muslims pray all five salah,[29] 22% attend mosque at least once a week,[30] and 6% read Quran at least once a week.[31]


During the socialist period of Bulgaria's history, most Muslims did not have access to halal food. In contemporary Bulgaria, the notion of halal food is only slowly re-appearing and only few Muslims adhere to dietary restrictions. The majority of Muslims in Bulgaria who adhere to halal food restrictions are recent Arab immigrants to the country. In supermarkets, there are no signs indicating whether food is halal.[32]

Few Bulgarian Muslim women wear traditional Islamic dress of any kind, such as headscarves, and most who do live in the rural parts of the country.[33]

On 20 February 2013, the regional muftiate in Shumen organized a Sufi music concert, announced to be the first of its kind, because of the participation of a unique male choir consisting of 22 Sufi singers trained in Todor Ikonomovo village. The event was honoured by the Chief Mufti, the Head of the Supreme Muslim Council Shabanali Ahmed, diplomats from the Turkish Embassy in Sofia and other distinguished guests.[34]

In 2013, the council of Ministers granted a day's holiday for Mawlid, two days for Eid al-Fitr, and three for Eid al-Adha.[35] During Eid al-Adha, 2,500 packages of meat were disturbed to people in need by the Chief Muftiate. The same year, the Chief Muftiate organized campaigns to help provide food and shelter to Syrian refugees.[36]

In October 2014, the Muftiate launched a campaign during Eid al-Adha to donate packages of meat 30,000 families of any religion.[37]

During Ashura, the Muftiate and representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church distributed 700 portions of Ashure.[38]

Interfaith relations[edit]

Since 1989, the Muftiate has made effort to expand interreligious relations between Muslims and religious groups in Bulgaria. In 2013, Muslims helped in the repair of a church in Dyranovets. Teachers and pupils from Muslim religious schools meet with their Christian counterparts.[39]

According to Bulgarian scholar and writer Aziz Nazmi Shakir, the relations between the local Muslim and Jewish communities are "rather positive."[40] In August 2013, during Limmud week, the Bulgarian Jewish community organized in Bansko a scientific discussion dedicated to "The Personality of Moses in the Discourses of the Monotheistic Religions" attended by the Deputy Chief Mufti Miimiin Birali, Rabbi Aaron Zerbib, Pastor Evgeniy Naydenov and Father Petko Valov, the representative of the Catholic Apostolic Exarchate.[41]

In 2013, during Ramadan, United States Ambassador Marcie Ries organized an iftar to which the Chief Mufti Mustafa Alish, the head of the Central Israelite Spiritual Council Robert Jerassy and the president of the United Evangelical Churches Nikolay Nedelev were invited. On 23 May and 8 June 2013, Christian and Muslim women held a charity bazaar (selling prayer beads, clothing, accessories, paintings etc.) in the square behind Banya Bashi Mosque aimed at providing financial support for the Centre for Medical Care and "St. Ivan Rilski" Nursery in Sofia. In recent years, the Students' Council at the Higher Islamic Institute and the Chief Muftiate, in cooperation with Central Israelite Spiritual Council, the Theological Faculty at Sofia University "St Kliment Ohridski", the organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria "Shalom" and "Ethnopalitra" Foundation have organized interreligious discussions and public lectures dedicated to the philosophical, historical and political relations between the monotheistic religions, hosted by the Media Cultural Centre of the Chief Muftiate.[42] The Chief Mufti met with the Neophyte of Bulgaria and Anselmo Guido Pecorari in 2014.[43]

Education and income[edit]

During the transition to capitalism after the 1990 fall of socialist government, Muslim communities suffered disproportionately. Numerous Muslim enterprise were shut down and the low economic status of Muslims was exacerbated by the lack of education and poor infrastructure in the rural parts of the country. A 2001 study by sociologists under the leadership of Ivan Szelenyi from Yale University concluded that poverty and severe economic crisis affected Muslims and Roma in Bulgaria the most. Sociologists have since used the term "ethnicization" to describe the widening of the economic status gap negatively affecting several minority communities in Bulgaria.[44] Research also shows that educational problems faced by minorities creates social stratification and magnifies negative stereotypes.[45]

Religious infrastructure[edit]

General Mufti's Office of Bulgaria.
Dzhumaya Mosque was built in 1363–1364 in Plovdiv.

Muslims are represented in the public arena by the Chief Muftiate. In 2013, the Provisional Prime Minister Marin Raykov visited the Muftiate. During his visit, Raykov stated that Muslims were an integral part of the nation and promised "the wounds of the past will not be exploited." Officially, the Bulgarian Muslim community is called the Мюсюлманско изповедание (Muslim Denomination). Administration is controlled by the Висш духовен съвет (Supreme Muslim Council), which has 30 members. The core institution, of the Supreme Muslim Council is the Главно мюфтийство (Chief Muftiate), which has 20 departments including Hajj, education, public relations, etc. There are also 21 regional muftiates.[46] The current Chief Mufti of Bulgaria is Mustafa Hadzhi, who was reelected in 2016.[47]

Ekrem Hakki Ayverdi documented 2,356 mosques in Bulgaria during the 1980s.[48] Currently, the number of mosques in Bulgaria is estimated to be around 1,260. Around 400 of these mosques were constructed after the fall of the communist government, and more than 100 are not currently in use. During the communist era, the estate property acts of most mosques were purged from the archives.[49] The largest mosque in Bulgaria is the Tumbul Mosque in Shumen, built during the 18th century.[50]

The Scientific Research Centre (SRC) at the Higher Islamic Institute was established in 2014. The SRC aims to promote constructive and critical study of Islam and Muslims, especially in Europe. Particular areas of research include classical and modern exegesis methods, ecology and Islam, Islamic art, etc.[51]


Islamic dress[edit]

On September 30, 2016, the Parliament of Bulgaria, backed by the Patriotic Front passed the law that outlaws wearing burqas by women in public places in an effort to combat terrorism and migrants flowing through Europe.[52][53]


In 2012, 13 Salafi imams were put on trial in the Pazardzhik District Court for "preaching anti-democratic ideology" and "opposition to the principles of democracy, separation of powers, liberalism, a rule-of-law state, basic human rights such as gender equality and religious freedom."[54] In March 2014, one of the imams named Ahmed Musa Ahmed, was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. Two other imams were given suspended prison sentences and the other ten were fined.[55] In 2015, the case was brought to an appellate court.[56]

In November 2014, several homes in the Roma village of Izgrev of the Pazardzhik Province in southern Bulgaria. Among the 26 people who were arrested for 24 hours was Ahmed Musa Ahmed and six other preachers who were charged with support ISIS.[57] Deputy Chief Prosecutor Borislav Sarafov stated that the preachers were propagating anti-democratic ideology and "non-native… 'Arab' forms of Islam" opposed to the "Turkish Islam" that has existed in Bulgaria for centuries.[58]

Multiple studies, including work by IMIR, have concluded that Salafi and Islamist ideology disproportionately affect the Roma Muslim community due the community's low economic and educational standing compared to mainstream Bulgarian society.[59]


In October 2014, the Chief Muftiate published a declaration condemning ISIS and appealing to Bulgarian Muslims not to respond to calls for jihad and the establishment of a caliphate.[60]


Muslims in Bulgaria are obliged to register periodic conferences at the Sofia City Court, which members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church are not required to do.[61]

The Attack Party, IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement, and other far-right factions have used refugees to ignite xenophobia, and at least three racially motivated attacks were reported in 2013. After an Attack MP warned the country that Syrian refugees were "cannibals" and that their presence was designed to disguise an "Islamic wave" supported by American and Turkish interests, a group of Syrian refugees filed a complaint before the State Commission for Discrimination. In November 2013, a new nationalistic party was founded promising to "cleanse the country of foreign immigrant scum." Ultranationalist factions have formed "citizen patrols" to check whether migrants "comply with the law of the state". Some of these claimed to have official authorization from the authorities.[62]

In February 2014, 19 MP's of the Attack Party and the Religious Denominations and Parliamentary Ethics Committee prepared a bill amending the Laws on Religions that would stop lawsuits for regaining waqf properties claimed by the Muftiate. In February 2014, more than 1,000 people from across Bulgaria protested against the decision of the Plovdiv Court to return the Kurshun Mosque in Karlovo, which had been nationalized during the communist era. The same month, protesters threw stones and smoke bombs at the Jumaya Mosque in Plovdiv. They waved signs holding "Stop the Islamization of Bulgaria." Similar protests were supported by the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria.[63] In July 2014, for the first time in Bulgaria's democratic history, the President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev hosted an iftar dinner. The iftar took place in the President's Boyana Residence and was attended by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly, party leaders, and representatives of all religions in the country.[64]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Religious Composition by Country, 2010-2050". Pew Research Center. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d 2011 Bulgarian census (in Bulgarian)
  3. ^ Bulgaria. The World Factbook. CIA
  4. ^ a b Cooperman, Alan; Sahgal, Neha; Schiller, Anna (10 May 2017). "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe" (PDF). Pew Research Center. p. 52. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  5. ^ Norris 1993, pp. 21-27
  6. ^ Norris 1993, pp. 21-22
  7. ^ Eminov, Ali (1997). Turkish and Other Muslim Minorities in Bulgaria. Psychology Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780415919760. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  8. ^ Norris 1993, p. 26
  9. ^ Norris 1993
  10. ^ Cesari 2014, p. 567
  11. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 126
  12. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 127
  13. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 126
  14. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 127
  15. ^ Cesari 2014, p. 566
  16. ^ See in Bulgarian: Stoyanov, V., Turskoto naselenie v Balgariya mezhdu polyusite na etnicheskata politika [The Turkish population between the poles of ethnic politics], (Sofia: LIK, 1998); Gruev, M., Mezhdu petolachkata i polumesetsa: Balgarite myusyulmani i politicheskiya rezhim (1944-1959) [Between the Five-pointed Star and the Crescent: The Bulgarians-Muslims and the Political Regime (1944-1959],(Sofia: IK "KOTA", 2003); Kalkandjieva, D., The Bulgarian Communist Party's Policies towards the Non-Orthodox Religious Communities (1944-1953)," Trudove na katedrite po istoria i bogoslovies [Historical and Theological Studies Department of Shumen University], v. 8 (2005): 252-264; Gruev M. and A. Kalyonski, Vazroditelniyat protses: Myusyulmanskite obshtnosti i komunisticheskiya rezhim [The "Revival Process". Muslim Communities and the Communist Regime: Policies, Reactions and Consequences] (Sofia: CIELA, 2008).
  17. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 127
  18. ^ Curtis, Glenn E. (1993). Bulgaria: a country study (PDF). Library of Congress. p. 81-82. ISBN 0844407518. Retrieved 23 October 2017. 
  19. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 127
  20. ^ Curtis, Glenn E. (1993). Bulgaria: a country study (PDF). Library of Congress. p. 90. ISBN 0844407518. Retrieved 23 October 2017. 
  21. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 130
  22. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 141
  23. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 142
  24. ^ a b "Bulgaria's Muslims not deeply religious: study". Hürriyet Daily News. 9 December 2011. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  25. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 142
  26. ^ Corley, Felix (27 February 2007). "Bulgaria: Legal problems continue for Ahmadi Muslims and Alternative Orthodox" (PDF). Forum 18 News Service. ISSN 1504-2855. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  27. ^ Cooperman, Alan; Sahgal, Neha; Schiller, Anna (10 May 2017). "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe" (PDF). Pew Research Center. p. 61. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  28. ^ "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: Final Topline" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 10 May 2017. p. 121. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  29. ^ "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: Final Topline" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 10 May 2017. p. 154. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  30. ^ "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: Final Topline" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 10 May 2017. p. 118. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  31. ^ "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: Final Topline" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 10 May 2017. p. 122. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  32. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 136
  33. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 137
  34. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 142
  35. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 135
  36. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 136
  37. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 139
  38. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 140
  39. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 139
  40. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 139-140
  41. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 140
  42. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 140
  43. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 137
  44. ^ Cesari 2014, p. 572
  45. ^ Cesari 2014, p. 573
  46. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 130
  47. ^ "Mustafa Hadzhi reelected grand mufti of Bulgaria". Bulgarian National Radio. 24 January 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2017. 
  48. ^ Furat, Ayşe Zişan; Er, Hamit (2012). Balkans and Islam: Encounter, Transformation, Discontinuity, Continuity. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 210. ISBN 9781443842839. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  49. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 130
  50. ^ DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Bulgaria. Penguin. 2011. p. 25. ISBN 9780756684822. Retrieved 22 October 2017. 
  51. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 140
  52. ^ Bulgaria imposes burqa ban – and will cut benefits of women who defy it - The Independent. Retrieved on 1 October 2015.
  53. ^ Burqa ban: Bulgaria outlaws face-covering clothes in public places - RT. Retrieved on 1 October 2015.
  54. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 142
  55. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 131
  56. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 131
  57. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 132
  58. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 132-133
  59. ^ Cesari 2014, p. 573
  60. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 134
  61. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 129
  62. ^ Shakir 2014, p. 142
  63. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 136
  64. ^ Shakir 2015, p. 136-137


Further reading[edit]