Religion is an integral part of our social life. In order this sphere to be adequately and effectively served, institutionalization becomes a great necessity nowadays. Manuals of religious denominations in each country are an emanation of the traditional-religious-cultural realities of the relevant religious communities in the country.
In Bulgaria, the creation and development of Mufti’s system is inextricably linked to the new socio-political system established in the country by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 and the Turnovo Constitution in 1879. The Treaty of Berlin guarantees freedom of conscience and religion of Muslims in Bulgaria who remain to live in the country at that time. The Turnovo constitution, prepared and adopted by the Constituent Assembly under article40, declaring that all citizens of the Principality have the complete freedom to build and practice their religion. The legal foundations of Mufti’s system in Bulgaria are precisely these two historical documents.
The first legal act for the establishment of a new Mufti system in Bulgaria bears the date 14th of August 1878, under which lie the signature and the stamp of the Russian Imperial Commissioner Prince Alexander Dondoukov Korsakov. This well-known act is called "Provisional Rules on the Structure of the Courts in Bulgaria ". These temporary rules, based on the new organization and function of the judiciary system in the principality, allow religious minorities to consider their civil cases before their spiritual courts. Thus retain the so-called "kadi courts" from Ottoman times, although with much more limited functions and roles.
The second major legal act affecting the Mufti’s system in Bulgaria is known as "Provisional Rules for the Spiritual Control of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Bulgaria" from 9.07.1880 year. This Decree 321 is no longer signed by the General Russian Governor in Bulgaria, but by the first Bulgarian Prince Alexander Battenberg. "Provisional Rules for the Spiritual Control of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Bulgaria", consists of 47 articles, fifteen of which (from the 25th to the 39th), are intended for the spiritual structure of Muslims in Bulgaria.
Decree 321 on the other hand,foundeda different type of mufti organization inthe Bulgarian principality, which clearly defined the areas of individual mufti offices, as well as their engagements. In every judicial area of the countryrevealed a district mufti office. Along with the Mufti’s system, "kadi courts" transformed into "sharia courts" and then they were transmitted to General Mufti organizations. This altered completely the function of the mufti offices. From authorities issuing fatwas only / interpretation of a certain legal case /,they became judges and began to perform judicial functions. On April 19, 1909, in Istanbul was signed a protocol in which the Empire recognized the independence of Bulgaria. To this protocol was applied the so called "Mufti’s Agreement." In the first article of the same agreement the law made provision for a future Grand Mufti's Office in Bulgaria, based in Sofia. The Chief Mufti was going to be selected from among current muftis at that time.
In compliance withthe "Mufti’s Agreement", the first chief mufti of Bulgaria Effendi Hodzhazade Mehmed Muhyiddin, was elected on Dec. 8th, 1910 and carried out his functions until the year of 1915. In his work he was assisted byboth the Sofia mufti Effendi Suleman Faik and thenew chief secretary of the Grand Mufti Office - thefamous journalist and politician Mr. Mahmet Jalal.
When the Balkan Wars came to an end, a meeting was held between the delegations of the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria in Istanbul. After long debates and discussions, on 29th September 1913, was signed the "Treaty of Constantinople." To this contract was also attached the “Mufti’s Agreement.” This agreement provided to prepare and adopt a new statute of the existing Grand Mufti Office. However, this command was not executed immediately either, since very soon after signing of the contract, began the bloody First World War.
The team of Effendi Hodzhazade, along with the help ofregional and district mufti offices, built and validated a four-stage spiritual organization of Muslims in Bulgaria. The first step in the scheme of this organization was the local religious communities. All religious communities in a givenarea were governed by the regulations of the district mufti offices, in the sense that several muftis submitted to the district mufti office. The only leader of the entire spiritual life of Muslims in the kingdom, however, was the chief mufti.
The chief mufti and his team exerted a lot of effort to restore the shattered, looted and destroyed Islamic properties; to reform and develop the educational work of the Muslim youth, to raise a stable cultural level.
On 12th November 1920, the Mufti’s Conference selected its leader Effendi Suleman Faik, who at that time was not only a deputy mufti of Sofia, but also the chief mufti.
After the end of the First World War, Sofia set up a very special committee to draw up a draft regulation. In the commission, which was under the leadership of the director of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairshimself, were included:the deputy chief mufti and district mufti Hodzhazade Sadeddin from Plovdiv town, as well as Ruse town’s mufti Effendi Bakar Sadka. After a long and tiring work, the committee prepared projects and presented them to the Government so that they can be ratified. The project was approved and with the decree of King Ferdinand of 23rd May1919, it was published in the Official Newspaper under the headline "Statutes for Spiritual Organization and Managementof Muslims in the Kingdom of Bulgaria." For a chief mufti was elected Effendi Suleman Faik, who was active for 8 years /from 1920 to 1928 /. He was the second elected chief mufti.After that chief muftis were appointed by the Bulgarian government.
Effendi HossainHosni was appointed as a chief mufti and performed his obligations from 1928 to 1936. He died in the year of 1940 in Sofia town and was buried in the Turkish cemetery, in the neighborhood of Orlandovtsi.
Effendi AbdullahSadka was the next chief mufti and performed his obligations from 1936 to 1945. We can see how the number of mufti officesin 1943 had risen to 38. There were 11 regional mufti offices, the rest were known as the“secondary category” district mufti offices. Effendi Abdullah Sadka gave the best of himself to reorganize and reform the mufti system in Bulgaria; to preserve the Islamic estates, to improvethe material and pedagogical level of the educational work among the Muslim youth, and many, many other works of public utility were his priorities. He worked at least two yearson the development of active mufti’s system in the country. The list submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religious Affairs in 1938, gives an idea of the scale of his notable works.
GRAND MUFTI'S OFFICE IN THE YEARS OF "PEOPLE'S POWER"
09.IX.1944 is a turning point in the development of Bulgaria. On that date, the Bulgarian Communist Party, with the help of the Soviet Army, seized power in the country and guided the destinies of Bulgaria for 45 years until the year of 1989. During the years of the red atheist dictatorship,one cannot even talk about a real mufti system in Bulgaria. Still, for a show were left 5 or 6 mufti offices, which were led by the appointed Central Committee,called "Grand Mufti Offices".
Effendi SulemanOmar was a chief mufti from 1945 to 1947, and with the help of the very first Turkish governmental representativesof "Medresetun Nuvvab" community, under the guidance of Mr. Sabri Demirov and Mr. Ismail Sarhodhzov, prepared a new charter of the Muslim religion in Bulgaria. This charter was designed to correspond to the new socialist living conditions in the country. It was a shortened version of the statute of 1919, remained with the same title "Statute for the Spiritual Organization and Management of the Muslims in Bulgaria". Its function was to control strictlyGrand Mufti's Office.
Effendi Ackif Othman was the next chief mufti from 1947 to 1964. Effendi Ackif committed to lead Effendi Suleman Omar’s 27 mufti offices, 996 local religious communities, 1,194 big mosques, 706 small mosques, and 1133 imams. Turkish religious communities on the other hand, were reduced to 500;the ones of the Pomacks to 80, and as a result of that, mosques and imams were divided into regions. All the small rural mosques were closed down. For the Turks were allocated 500 mosques and 500 imams, while for the Pomacks- 80 mosques and the same number of imams. It was namely these kinds of dismissal acts which brought to a devastating and razing to the groundthe mufti’s system. Only six mufti offices remained active of total 27. In pursuance of this decision, in Turkish areas were also closed down 250 big mosques and 500 small mosques.Discharged were 250 imams, 21 muftis, whose staff became unemployed. Islamic properties were razed to the ground as well.
After the April Plenum of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1956, the team of Mr. Todor Zhivkov, along with a new statute of the Grand Mufti of 1951, divided Muslims into ethnic groups. As a consequence, the Islamic community was categorized into Turkish, Pomack, and Roma Muslims. During the 50s of the last century, Mr. Zhivkov launched a straightforward struggle against all Muslims in Bulgaria.
He shut down all religious schools in the country on behalf of Grand Mufti's Office in order to ban the main religious rituals such as funerals, circumcision, celebration of the two great Muslim Eids, etc.
From 1965 to 1976, Effendi Hassan Adam was another selected chief mufti. Although appointed by the communist regime in Bulgaria, he became the last chief mufti, who had the needed capacity of a true man of God. The very same person was one of the last graduates of the highest degree of "Medresetun Nuvvab." Effendi Hassan Adam drafted a new constitution of the denomination, which intended to provide the opening of a Muslim school in Bulgaria, but failed to realize it.
Mr. Mehmed Topchiev, the next chief mufti of Bulgaria, performed his duties from 1976 to 1988. Mr. Mehmed Topchiev had no higher religious education, but was appointed as a chief mufti bythe Bulgarian authority, to which he remained loyal until the end. He was the first chief mufti without a qualification. Later he continued to perform his obligations with an altered name.
The last chief mufti of the communist periodwas Mr. Nadeem Gendzhev from 1988 to 1991. Mr. Gendzhev was the first chief mufti in Bulgaria, who not only lacked a religious qualification, but also had no elementary knowledge of Islam. The same took an external degree in the Law Faculty of Sofia University, from the contingent of the police office. As a chief mufti, he was the author of a declaration by which the Supreme Spiritual Council of Muslims in Bulgaria supported the Regeneration Process. Mr. Gendzhev personally handed over the declaration toMr. Todor Zhivkov. This and many other examples show clearly the anti-Islamic inclinations of Mr. Gendzhev. A positive action was the opening of an Islamic Institute College, as well as a number of high Muslim religious schools.
CHIEF MUFTI'S OFFICE AFTER THE DEMOCRATIC CHANGES
After the fall of the communist regime, Muslims oppose to the appointed by the Bulgarian Communist Party chief mufti. Thanks to the subscription list, organized by a large group of imams, Mr. Gendzhev was removed from his post. In parallel with this case, a group of three was appointed to organize the selection of the new future chief mufti.
On 19.09.1992, a first democratic Muslim Conference was held which elected for a chief mufti, the district mufti of Kardzhali town, Mr. Fickri Saleh, who was registered immediately and put in his duties right after the great event on that day.
The former chief mufti Mr. Nadeem Gendzhev on the other hand, had hardly faced his great defeat, as a result of which in 1994, he called a Muslim conference with the only expectation to be elected as the president of The Supreme Muslim Religious Council, however, The Supreme Muslim Religious Council surprisinglyelected for a chief mufti Mr. Basri Hadzhisherif. Mr. Gendzhev continued the battle, this time by creating his own alternative mufti system in the whole country. Basically, heput the beginning of a dualistic mufti system in Bulgaria: In Sofia, for example, there were two grand mufti offices and respectively, its divisions and subdivisions in the country were not recognized by the government at all. Thus, Mr. Gendzhev continued to be entirely devoted to his schismatic activities.
An extraordinary Islamic Conference held on 6.III.1995, reelectedMr. Fickri Saleh for another mandate, which this choice, however, was not recognized by the government either. Instead, the government of Mr. Zhan Videnov approved the leadership of Mr. Nadeem Gendzhev, selected on an illegal Islamic conference held in 1994.As a result, Mr. Fickri Saleh was forcibly expelled from the building of the Grand Mufti Office. He later rented an apartment in Sofia and continued to work as an unacknowledgedby government, but supported by the Muslim chief mufti until the year of 1997.
Mr. Fickri Saleh did never unveil the question about the legitimacy of the chief mufti before the European Court of Human Rights, where he condemned the Bulgarian government of intervention in the religious affairs of Muslims.
In 1997, the government of Mr. Zhan Videnov disintegrated.Elections were held, after which the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) formed a new governmental system. This government tried to bring together the positions of the two mufti offices. A mutual agreement was reached for the conduct of a unifying Muslim conference, where a few days before it was held, Mr. Nadeem Gendzhev suddenly refused to participate. However, the conference was held and then for a chief mufti was elected Mr. Mustafa Hadzhi. For the President of the Supreme Muslim Council was selected Mr. Hussain Karamolla. They both for the first time since 1998 successfully completed their mandates until the year of 2000, when a regular Muslim conference was held. As a tangible success of this manual, was teaching of the Islamic religion in public schools, and the translation of the Holy Quran from Arabic into Bulgarian, which served as an agreement between the TurkishDirectorate of Religious Affairs on issues concerning the Muslim religion.
On October 28th, 2000, for a chief mufti was elected Mr. Salim Mehmed, and for the president of the Navy – Mr. Mustapha Hadzhi. The first meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference was held in Sofia in his time (2001). One of the positive activities of Mr. Salim Mehmed was buying of the Grand Mufti Office’s building, which until this period was rented and used for printing textbooks for religious education in public schools. In 2003, he visited a number of Muslim countries in the delegation of the Bulgarian President Mr. Georgi Parvanov. Mr. Salim Mehmed also successfully completed his mandate.
Mr. Fickri Saleh was re-elected for a chief mufti on December 13th, 2003, but the court did not respect this struggle of the Muslims and did not register the selected guidance. Six months later, the court appointed a group of three. Its participants were: Mr. Fickri Saleh, Mr. Ridvan Kadiov, and Mr. Othman Ismailov. They were asked to work on the preparation of a new national Muslim conference.
The court-appointed three-member committee organized a new Muslim conference on 20th March 2005, where Mr. Mustafa Hadzhi was elected for a chief mufti / for the second time /, and Mr. Basri Pehlivan who was a deputy chief mufti at that time–for a president of the Supreme Muslim Council. After a several years’ controversy, this choice was also cancelled by the court, because of the consecutive attack by Mr. Nadeem Gendzhev. In order to avoid a new crisis in the denomination, was convened a new extraordinary conference on 14.04.2008. The very same direction was the main issue. However, there was a renew attack by Mr. Nadeem Gendzhev. An extraordinary conference was organized on 31.10.2009 which once again re-elected Mr. Mustafa Hadzhi as chief mufti and the Kardzhali mufti Mr. Shaban Ali Ahmad – for a chairman of the Navy. The final decisions of the conference were neither registered by the court, nor rejected.
On February 12th, 2011 was held the next Extraordinary Muslim National Conference where with the unanimous decision of the Muslims, Dr. Mustafa Hadzhi was elected for a chief mufti and for the chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council was chosen to be Mr. Shaban Ali Ahmad. The conference was finally registered by the Sofia City Court and currently this guide continues to be the sole legitimate representative of the Muslims in the country and abroad.
Photo: Baroque interior design of “Hamza Bey” mosque in the town of Stara Zagora