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Bulgaria Table of Contents



The Muslim population of Bulgaria, including Turks, Pomaks, Gypsies, and Tatars, lived mainly in northeastern Bulgaria and in the Rhodope Mountains. Most were Sunni Muslims (see Glossary) because Sunni Islam had been more widely promoted by the Ottoman Turks when they ruled Bulgaria. Shia sects (see Glossary) such as the Kuzulbashi and the Bektashi also were present, however. About 80,000 Shia Muslims lived mainly in the Razgrad, Sliven and Tutrakan (northeast of Ruse) regions. They were mainly descendants of Bulgarians who converted to Islam to avoid Ottoman persecution but chose a Shia sect because of its greater tolerance toward different national and religious customs. For example, Kuzulbashi Bulgarians could maintain the Orthodox customs of communion, confession, and honoring saints. This integration of Orthodox customs into Islam gave rise to a type of syncretism found only in Bulgaria.

As of 1987, Muslims in Bulgaria had 1,267 mosques served by 533 khodzhai, or religious community leaders. The Muslim hierarchy was headed by one chief mufti and eight regional muftis, interpreters of Muslim law, all of whom served five-year terms. The largest mosque in Bulgaria was the Tumbul Mosque in Shumen, built in 1744.

Bulgarian Muslims were subject to particular persecution in the later years of the Zhivkov regime. This was partly because the Orthodox Church traditionally considered them foreigners, even if they were ethnically Bulgarian. The Bulgarian communist regimes declared traditional Muslim beliefs to be diametrically opposed to communist and Bulgarian beliefs. This justified repression of Muslim beliefs and consolidation of Muslim into the larger society as part of the class and ideological struggle.

Like the practitioners of the other faiths, 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 (also seen as Koran) 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.

Data as of June 1992