Analysis 04 Apr 16

Brussels Attacks Fuel Religious Tensions in Bulgaria

The terrorist attacks in Brussels and the Balkan refugee crisis have added to Bulgaria’s religious tensions, sparked by fears of the radicalization of Bulgaria’s Muslim minority.


Mariya Cheresheva
Banya Bashi is the only mosque in Sofia which can host no more than 700 people.| Photo: Grand Mufti's Office

The head of Bulgaria’s Islamic Community, Grand Mufti Mustafa Hadji, was quick to condemn the recent Islamist terrorist attack in Brussels.

“Those xenophobic acts of violence, provoked by infantile greed for power combined with a deep lack of knowledge of the highly moral Islamic values … constitute a great danger to global peace,” the Grand Mufti said.

While expressing his fears for global harmony, the Mufti also indirectly addressed the growing tension between the Orthodox majority and the Muslim minority in Bulgaria.

Tensions have risen in the capital, Sofia, following media reports about the radicalization of the local Muslim community. Following these reports, small groups of people staged protests and started a petition against a local masjid, or Islamic prayer hall, which the protesters accused of promoting radical Islam.

The head of the parliamentary commission on security, Atanas Atanasov, says the Brussels attacks may have stoked fears among the public but there is no evidence of the radicalization of local Muslims. “The problems are purely psychological,” he told BIRN.

Other government and police officials have also tried to calm concerns, recalling that the security agencies closely follow all possible leads on Islamic radical elements.

“There is no information that radical Islamist ideas are being spread [in the masjid]. This prayer hall is registered with the Sofia municipality and with the Grand mufti and its activity is carried out under the control of those two institutions,” Georgi Krastev, secretary of the government’s security council, told BIRN.

Despite these reassuring statements, concerns remain high about the Muslim minority, who make up about 13 per cent of the population. While some Bulgarians - who are mainly Orthodox Christian - view the Muslim community as a potential danger, its members increasingly feel under attack because of their ethnicity and religion.

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