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Statement of the Grand Mufti’s Office in Bulgaria at the OSCE/ ODIHR HDIM in Warsaw

 

Muslim Denomination in Bulgaria (30.09.2016) – On July 20, 2016 at the National Assembly, the nationalistic political party ATAKA introduced amendments to the Law of the Religions in which Religious organizations and communities are to be restricted to use their mother tongue or another language during the implementation of  worship and rituals; to be restricted to receive donations and to get involved in joint activities with other organizations and many other amendments that restrict the freedom of religion. (National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria – Amendments to the Law of the Religions – (No.654-01-95 submitted on 20th July 20 2016 by the Political Party ATAKA and No. 654-0196 submitted on 21st July 2016 by the coalition of Patriotic Front).(1)

 

The motives of the proposal reads that the state does not interfere with the religious activities of the denominations, yet, at the same time, the very same proposal is full of prohibitions concerning the existence and functioning of the denominations.

 

All these amendments neither allow Muslims to observe their religious ceremonies in another language except the Bulgarian one, nor  can they receive donations, nor can they get involved in joint activities with other organizations.

 

With reference to the above I would like to remind you that Muslim prayers all over the world are delivered in the original  language of the Quran (quotations from the Holy Book in their original). This is the rule and the prayers cannot be recited in another way. Another aspect worth knowing is that the mother tongue of a big portion of the Muslims in Bulgaria is not the Bulgarian language.

 

In this case the prohibition breaks a couple of international conventions, constitutional rights, as well as the freedom of speech and the Act on Discrimination. We consider that the use of mother tongue and other languages during religious ceremonies has been the freedom fought for after a long duration of time of the totalitarian regime during the period of transition of our country to democracy.

 

The prohibition to receive donations and financial aid  deprives the Muslim community and it is put into isolation and destined to extermination. The state aid rendered to the institution is a symbolic one and it is not possible for the institution of the Muslim community in Bulgaria to keep functioning with that aid, so it is doomed to destruction. The people who submitted the amendments to the act are aware of this situation; more likely, all that has been done on purpose.

 

The prohibition to carry out joint activities with other organizations from foreign countries also breaks major rights of freedom and art. 6 of the Law of the Religions. All this reminds  the Muslim denomination of the restrictions imposed during the communist regime in the past. At the same time, we would like you to take into account that these changes refer to other religions apart from Islam.

 

Another proposal for amendments is prohibition to use loud speakers (Amendment to the Law of the Religions – prohibition to use loud speakers: No. 654-01-99 submitted on 28th July 2016 by the Coalition Patriotichen Front /Patriotic Front) (2)

 

The draft act has been proposed because of nationalistic motives aiming to restrict the freedom of religion of the Muslim community in Bulgaria. According to the proposal submitted to the National Assembly the loud speakers on mosques threaten national security.

 

We should remind you that there are restrictions on the decibels of the loud speakers set in the current valid laws; the Muslim community strictly observes these rules. Further, officers from Sofia Municipality regularly measure the level of noise from the loud speakers to check if the legal provisions are observed.

 

With reference to that again I would like to give an example. During Holy days  and Friday prayers the mosque in Sofia cannot house the visitors and people are forced to deliver their prayers outdoors, on the street. In such  cases the loud speakers are most needed because the worshippers who sit outside can hear the liturgy only if loud speakers are used.

 

Furthermore, the Nationalists in the Parliament offered a law to ban the burqa for  women (Law draft to ban the dress covering the face – No.654-01-58, proposed on 24 April 2016 by the Coalition Patriotichen Front /Patriotic Front. Adopted on first reading at the plenary session on 15 June 2016) (3)

 

The politicians make public comments on banning the burqa in all public spaces. These are mostly politicians from the extreme-nationalist party. According to the members of the party there should  not be any religious symbols, they should be removed and banned, including the burqa, beard and other symbols. This view is also shared by the Prosecutor General.

 

The main reasons for these measures is that those women who wear burqas, and men who wear beards are dangerous and viewed as symbols of extremism and terrorism. Reasoning says that this will prevent trampling on the principles of democracy, gender equality and humanism.

 

Article 1 of the draft says that the law regulates the fully and partial hiding the face of the people in the country. And article 2 explains what is fully and partial coverage. According to the text partial cover is the use of a veil or cloth to close the greater part of the head or face, including hair, ears and more, whatever the name of the dress. This is good evidence that the bill is not to ban the burqa, but to ban of the headscarf, veil and clothing of Muslim women as a whole. This is a clear Islamophobic act and violation of fundamental freedoms.

 

It is to be stressed that there is no burqa tradition in Bulgaria. While the proposed ban, if passed, would affect only a very small number of women, it would force them to make an unenviable choice: Obey the law and deny their faith; Obey their faith and risk criminal charges; Stay at home and become isolated from the community. Moreover, such a prohibition is undertaken by a number of municipalities in the country.

 

Rather than encouraging tolerance, pluralism and respect, a ban on the burqa simply removes the face veil from the public. Previously, studies conducted in some Western European countries point to an increase in intolerance, even violence, towards women wearing face veils after the introduction of the ban in those countries.

 

I must emphasize that the Office of the Grand Mufti and the Muslim community in Bulgaria do not support the burqa. But at the same time we do not support  prohibitions that limit the freedom of choice of individuals, which are undermining the principles of democracy, individual rights, and humanism. Our society is tolerant and open-minded enough for a diverse range of religious beliefs and practices, which includes wearing the headscarf, burqa, niqab or face veil etc.

 

Such a ban is a clear discrimination against a small part of society, which members, including many old women and grandmothers, made their democratic choice. It is also important to emphasize that the tradition of  covering the head (fully or partly) with a veil and cover is not something new in the country, but a long standing tradition – they have   always dressed this way. This prohibition would mean a forcible change of something traditional for them.

 

We presume it would also pave the way for other bans, as openly banning  headscarves and other religious freedoms that we already see with the draft laws and amendments to the laws. In this connection, it should be recalled that the danger is not what is on the head, but inside it.

 

Amendments to the Penal Code No.654-01-54, proposed on 7 April 2016 by the Coalition Patriotichen Front / Patriotic Front. Adopted on first reading at the plenary session on 23 June 2016 (4)

On 23rd  June the Parliament adopted by a large majority at first reading the amendments to the Penal Code despite the reservations of the Muslim community and human rights activists. The expression of “radical islam” was added to the paragraph 1, section 31, article 91 and paragraph 2, article 108. In motives of the proposers it is written that terrorism is because of radical Islam. Тhe word ’’Islam” equates with  ideologies like fascism and antidemokratizm. The religion must be separated by ideologies as a whole.

 

The Muslim community in Bulgaria is against all kinds of terrorism and radicalism and generally supports such a law and codes. It is necessary for the security and protection of the whole society. But at the same time it offends the feelings of Muslims. It is islamophobic and not acceptable. Thus these amendments allow the abuse of human rights and religious freedoms and open doors for arbitrariness and violation of human rights.

 

We think that it is wrong to copy other countries, where the situation is quite different, as members of the Nationalists in the Parliament say that such amendment is necessary, because most countries began to make similar laws after being attacked by terrorism. We must take into account the situation and realities in our country before offering any law drafts. Here I would like to add that radicalism and terrorism have no connection with Islam and are alien concepts to our Muslims.

 

In regard to the proposal for amendments to the above-mentioned laws, the Muslim denomination in Bulgaria has held lots of meetings with the representatives of different political parties at the National Assembly. Despite this all the amendments were accepted by the commissions and some of them were passed at the first reading at the session of the Parliament.

 

International law recognizes that freedom of conscience and religion belongs to the essential core of natural rights which positive law can never legitimately deny. The acceptance of the religious freedom of other persons and groups is the cornerstone of dialogue and cooperation and guarantee of all other freedoms. If freedom of religion is not respected, inevitably many other freedoms will be eroded as well.

 

Today, the threat of radicalism and terrorism has been accompanied by a rising tide of suspicion and intolerance directed at Muslim communities. Such prejudices and stereotypes must be dispelled. In the current climate of fear and insecurity, it’s crucial for officials, media, political and community leaders to use appropriate language both in the national and international arena to prevent the spread of Islamophobia and play in speaking out against islamophobia and religious discrimination and promoting the principles of multiculturalism.

 

In this regard, terrorism should not be associated with any religion, ethnic group and ideology and the values and delicate matters of faith groups. This will pave the way to national and international stability, peace, security and the rule of law.

 

To foster a human rights culture we need education, political and community leadership and legislative action. We need to engage – through education, though political debate, through community dialogue – in a national conversation about protecting human rights.

 

I’d like to stress once again that Muslims in Bulgaria are not strangers, but are local and they love their country and they have always been loyal citizens and genuine patriots. In our country there has been good coexistence between different religious and ethnic groups for centuries. There has never yet been a case of conflict between them, even in the hardest of times in the past. It has been like that for hundreds of years and it will be like that in the future. Let’s make sense to the notorious tolerance of ethnic and religious co-existence with which we love to boast.

 

I would like to highlight once again that the Muslim community in Bulgaria supports similar laws for the benefit of society and the whole country. But we cannot agree with texts that undermine the dignity of the community and discriminate against one group to draw political dividends. Therefore the aforementioned proposals for adoption of law drafts and amendments to the laws are not patriotic, on the contrary, their target is to kindle feud among the different religions in the country, to wreak havoc and generate fear psychosis among the public. All those are so Islamophobic and dangerous for democracy, stability and the future of the country.

 

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