“ Muslim-christian sects in new European Union Countries: Bulgaria and Romania”

In North part of Bulgaria and south of Romania, along Danube river and delta, one can find old tombs (some dating to XVI century) of muslim wonderers (dervishes) belonging to Bektashi order. This missionaries are perceived by the local communities as saints. Their tombs since centuries are places of cult and worshipping. People are coming there to pray for health and money. Alcohol parties are being organized as form of remembering the saint. By putting clothes or shoes on graves believers are trying to get power from the saints. When asked: to which religion you and this people in graves belong? People are not sure about the answer. Some say that the saints are Christian, and they, pilgrims too. Others say that saints are muslim. Many people say it just doesn’t matter. Some say: we are Bektashis, or Alevis.



Haji Bektash was XIII century Muslim mystic living in Central Anatolia (present Turkey), figure as much influential at this time as Jalaludin Rumi, know in the West for his poetry. Haji Bektash disciples after his death formed an typical sufi fraternity or brotherhood. Sufism is mystical branch of islam, divided in many schools. Bektashis were not mainstream sunni muslims, they belonged to shia branch of islam which is minority. This Sufis were connected to Alevis – extreme shia sect, which believed strongly in Ali Ibn Abu Talib (Prophet Muhammad son in law) as “gate to the secret knowledge”.

„The religion of these Alevis, though to some extent Islamicised, differs considerably from Sunni Islam. Prayer (namaz), the fast in Ramadan, zakat and the hajj are alien practices to most Alevi communities. Instead they have their own religious ceremonies (cem), officiated by 'holy men' (dede) belonging to a hereditary priestly caste, at which religious poems (deyiş or nefes) in Turkish are sung and (in some communities at least) men and women carry out ritual dances (semah). As among other extremist Shi`i groups, Ali and the Safavid Shah Isma`il are deified, or at least considered as superhuman. Many more elements of pre-Islamic Turkish and Iranian religions have been retained than among Sunni Muslims, and pilgrimages to sacred springs and mountains are especially common. Instead of adherence to the shari`a, Alevis profess obedience to a set of simple moral norms; they claim to live according to the inner (batin) meaning of religion rather than its external (zahir) demands”  wrotes Martin van Bruinessen in Middle East Reports # 200 (Summer 1996), pp. 7-10.

In Ottoman Empire Bektashis had strong influences in jannisary corps, and after destruction of this part of army were seen as the enemies of sultans. Bektashis started to seek refugee in the more remote part of empire, for example in the Balkans. Until now fraternity has its strongholds in south Albania.In Bulgaria and what is now Romania bektashi missionaries where teaching very open and heterodox version of islam. They were happy to incorporate Christian and pagan elements.

 Many of the Sufis came from Christian societies, principally from an Eastern Orthodox background, but others, such as the Bosnians, from churches which were accused or suspected of heterodoxy of belief and of antinomianism. These beliefs, together with pre-Christian beliefs, influenced by Manicheanism, Dualism and pantheism, left their mark on Sufi Islam. Their Sufism reflects their national aspirations, and their writings fuse their mysticism, national faith and folklore in a Sufism which is quite distinct from that in other regions of the Muslim world.” wrotes H.T Norris in his book “Islam in the Balkans”. That’s why now tombs of the dervishes are multi-religion places of worships. In some of them pictures of Jesus Christ can be seens along with posters from Mecca.

Cult is also spreading. I have seen new tombes, resembling XVI century ones, buing build from concrete. Local communities are “discovering” new saint places. For example if legend say that saint was drinking water from nearby spring – new place for worshipping is being built there. Its also a part of “Alevi revival” known from Germany and Turkey, but not all of this communities belong to this branch of islam. Some of don’t has clear and sharp identity.


Obrochiste near Balchik – tomb of Akyazar Baba, who is seen as the Christian saint Atanaz. Isperich – nearby tomb of Demir Baba with muslim emblems but saints day gathers muslims and Christians (who say its St.Ilya ). Chernik, near Isperich – tombs of local modern saints: woman and men. Other places for research in north Bulgaria: Sveshtari, Momino, Nikopol. In Romania: Babadag with famous tomb of Bektashi Saint. In all this places old communities of mixed religion and culture has to be research.


How is possible that in the world of “clash of the civilizations” this groups and tombs can exist? Maybe our European way of thinking and dividing religions is not always useful? Islam has many faces, as well as Christianity, in some old communities elements of two or more religions can coexist. Maybe in places like Chernik, Obrochiste and Babadag we can find inspiration for life in European Union, life with emigrants and refugees from muslim world? Maybe Sufism and heterodoxy sects are the key to solve present problems? Maybe Alevi sects can teach us something? Maybe its an example how Jerusalem can work as holy center for many religions? By researching the communities, their customs, forms and places of worships, culture in Bulgaria and Romania I hope to find a lot of interesting ideas about coexistence of cultures.

( this project was proposed for "Milena Jesenska fellowship" without succes )

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