Declaration

| THE LEADERSHIP OF THE MUSLIM RELIGION IN BULGARIA,

May 15, 2009

TO
MR. GEORGI PARVANOV,
PRESEIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA
MR. GEORGI PIRINSKI, 
CHAIR OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
MR. SERGEI STANISHEV, 
PRIME-MINISTER

The Chief Mufti’s Office, in the capacity of official representation of more than a million Muslims in Bulgaria, the 16 area mufti’s offices and the 1450 Muslim boards of trustees express they great concern with regard to the insulting, threatening and abusive actions against the Muslim community in the last several months. These actions against the Bulgarian Muslims whose only fault is their attachment to their religion serve as a confirmation of the fact that the negativism and the prejudice against the Muslims have reached worrying dimensions over the past years. The Muslim religion became a target for short-sighted policies and verbose politicians. This is a threat to public peace. Hoping that a reasonable and lasting solution will be found, we hereby propose a dialogue with the Bulgarian statesmen and the society as a whole.

The Muslims in Bulgaria have always been diligent citizens, respectful of the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. The Muslim community shall not yield to the provocations of politicians who wish to destabilize the country by slandering the Muslims who are only trying to preserve their cultural and religious identity and the historic heritage of their ancestors who have lived on this territory for centuries. We insist that the relations state-religion-religious community be reviewed in an objective study of the position and the policy with regard to the representatives of a certain minority group in Bulgaria.

Under the pretext of “extremely radical” developments among the Muslims, a policy of oppression of these citizens is being established in Bulgaria. The attempts of the Muslim community to preserve its historic heritage and cultural values that were taken away by the oppressive and assimilative policy of the communist regime, are being called a threat to national security and an act of “islamization”. This is a manifestation of a malicious and hostile policy. While such a policy exists, we adamantly refuse to accept the artificial and deliberate division of the Muslims in “radicals” and “traditionalists”. As in all religious communities, some Muslims are more religious or less religious; however, this is a natural process that should give no reason for such categorization.

The Muslims in Bulgaria are still trying to erase the traces of the spiritual breakdown brought by the communist regime. Today they are under psychological pressure, being accused of “preaching radical Islam”. We are seeing how the policy of pressure of the 20th century is still in place, albeit masked behind slogan for the protection from the “radical Islam”. The negative and prejudiced attitude to the official representation of the Muslim religion and the Muslim community brings to light the hostility and the hatred of some politicians and political parties. This helps indoctrinate in Bulgarian society a culture of intolerance against the Muslims.

The institutions responsible for the security of the state accepted almost without criticism, trustingly, the unfounded and unsubstantiated claims made by some irresponsible politicians in order to reap dividends. We regard this as a provocation that threatens peace in the country and breaches the constitutional principle of equality of all citizens. We would like to focus your attention on a process of division in Bulgarian society in which the dominating majority “differentiates” a small minority group, a group that regards itself as an inseparable part of the same society. We believe these phenomena to be worrisome from the point of view of our country’s peace and wellbeing. We are sad to notice that such an approach is being tolerated in a “democratic” EU member state.

The problems faced by the Muslims in Bulgaria over the last years resemble the methods of oppression the totalitarian regime used against us in the past: people of unknown origin who lack the support of the Muslim community are waging a legal war to take over the representative institution of the Muslim religion. In this war, the Chief Mufti’s Office is wasting time and energy. The Muslim religion is denied the construction of an Islamic Cultural, Educational and Administrative Center in Sofia. This center is of exceptional significance in obtaining academic accreditation for the Islamic Institute, the only higher education facility in Bulgaria where Islam can be studied. Our application for construction was submitted five months ago and still remains unanswered. Sofia has only one operating mosque which is insufficient to meet the needs of 25-30 thousand Muslims living in the city. Our application for the construction of a second mosque, submitted to the Municipality of Sofia, remains without a satisfactory answer. Some time ago the Municipality of Burgas provided land for the construction of a mosque; later, the Municipality unilaterally took the land back, explaining that “this will calm down the nationalist wave that has picked up in the city”. The Municipality of Burgas also terminated the already approved construction of a mosque, quoting incomprehensible technical reasons. Since 1990, there have been 110 instances of mosque defamation; the perpetrators were never caught and the investigations had no result. This only serves to confirm the Muslims’ belief that the state is openly disregarding their rights. Only a small part of the vakuf property seized by the communist regime has been returned. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Jewish and the Armenian community have almost completely restored their ownership of the property seized by the communist regime. But when it comes to returning the property of the Bulgarian Muslims, the official institutions come up with countless reasons and create obstacles that are difficult to overcome. The incessant attacks against the Bulgarian Muslims, voiced on the pages of a well-known nationalist party’s newspaper, are excused by the freedom of speech. The open and frequent accusations in the media of “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Islamic terrorism” – result of paranoia fed by deeply rooted prejudice against Islam and the Muslims – as well as the unsubstantiated accusations of the mufti’s office and the Muslims with regard to extreme Islamic movements and terrorists, create a favorable environment for the detention – under different pretexts – of individual clerics and believers. Such cases are covered by the media in a way that charges the whole Muslim community, resulting in more severe anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim attitudes in society. The Chief Mufti’s Office has on many occasions expressed the opinion that these phenomena threaten the public peace; however, these warnings were never met by a positive response either in words or in actions. A press conference during the last week proved that the Chief Mufti’s Office has a reason for concern. The doubt expressed with regard to the legitimacy of the Chief Mufti’s Office, a Bulgarian institution operating under the Religions Act, the accusations in radical religion and the claims that the Chief Mufti’s Office is an instrument in pursuing other countries’ interests, are sufficient for us to understand the attitude of the Bulgarian political elite towards the Muslims in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Motivated by our desire to find solutions to the above-mentioned problems, we, the Muslims in Bulgaria, would like to expand our cooperation with the state institutions by means of a more effective dialogue. We hope that the Council for Dialogue between the Religions, in which we also participate with goodwill and constructivism, will help create a really tolerant environment in Bulgarian society. We will have the opportunity to discuss our problems within the newly created Council of the Religious Communities in Bulgaria. Since public peace in Bulgaria is an issue that also concerns the European Union, we will address the European institutions that have experience in pluralist democracy. At the same time, we believe that change of the mindset needed to create a positive public attitude towards the Muslims in Bulgaria may begin with guidelines at the highest political level. We appeal to all statesmen, starting with the president, the chair of the National Assembly and the prime-minister, not to allow such policy and speech that causes religious and ethnic polarization of society, and to encourage the efforts for the interpretation and the applications of the country’s constitution and laws in a way that ensures the equality of the citizens and doesn’t allow their division. Let us help create a pluralist society in which difference is regarded as wealth. Let us learn from our mistakes. With the help of the educational program, let us give the future generations an universal view of life that will allow them to challenge and study information considered to be reliable.

Let us give the future generations not a country strewn with religious and cultural faults but a motherland of equal citizens in which discrimination does not exist. Let as accept the universal values as state policy. We need to realize that it is impossible to have public peace and understanding when the complaints of underprivileged and offended citizens. We should not forget that the EU obliges the member states to establish a government respectful of human rights, protecting minority rights and based on the rule of law.

Our appeal is not targeted at specific subjects. It is an appeal to all statesmen, politicians, public leaders, artists, intellectuals and Bulgarian society as a whole to come together and create a new, modern attitude that will put an end to the division of our society on religious, ethnic, racial and political grounds.

The representatives of the Chief Mufti’s Office of the Muslim religion in the Republic of Bulgaria declare their readiness to work hard and selflessly for the spiritual and the economic prosperity of our country and for the wellbeing of the whole Bulgarian society!

Dr. Mustafa Alish Hadzhi, chief mufti
Basri Pehlivan, chair of the Supreme Muslim Council
Vedat Ahmed, deputy chief mufti
Shenol Mustafa, deputy chief mufti 
Birali Birali, deputy chief mufti 
Abdullah Salih, area mufti, Pazardzhik
Aidun Mohamed, area mufti, Gotse Delchev
Aziz Azizov, area mufti, Ruse
Bilyal Dardzhan, area mufti, Dobrich
Enver Yahov, area mufti, Targovishte
Faik Murad, area mufti, Haskovo
Mehmed Alya, area mufti, Razgrad
Mesut Mehmedov, area mufti, Shumen
Myuddesir Mehmed, area mufti, Silistra
Nasuf Nasuf, area mufti, Krumovgrad
Nedzhati Ali, area mufti, Sofia
Nedzhati Nedzhipov, area mufti, Pleven
Nedzhmi Dubov, area mufti, Smolyan
Osman Hidayet, area mufti, Plovdiv
Selyahattin Muharem, area mufti, Aitos
Shabanali Ahmed, area mufti, Kardzhali