Chapter 6 The Hijab in Contemporary Bulgaria

Muslim Views on Veiling

In: Islam, Christianity, and Secularism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe

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Abstract

Muslims in Bulgaria—male and female—struggle over the “authentic” meaning of hijab against the backdrop of modern secular society by explaining it as a religious duty. My aim is to reveal the role of major Sunni Muslim views on hijab as part of the ongoing broader process shaping a shared Islamic identity in post-Communist Bulgaria. The chapter traces its multiple meanings among interpretations proposed by Sunni religious authorities, domestic cultural codes, and the perceptions of veiling by Bulgarian Muslim women themselves. The study analyzes two types of evidence. First, it brings to the fore the discourses as documented by two periodicals with the same name, issued by the Chief Muftiship of the Muslim Denomination in the Republic of Bulgaria—the newspaper and the more recent bilingual magazine Myusyulmani/Müslümanlar (“Muslims”), issued simultaneously in both Bulgarian and Turkish. The examination of this magazine’s issues 1999–2016 indicates that nearly 20 percent of the articles deal with topics related to Muslim women, with one-third of the publications written by Muslim women or representing their opinions. The second type of evidence is ethnographic, drawing on fieldwork among Bulgarian Muslims in several localities of the Rhodopes Mountains. Finally, the chapter highlights attitudes toward the parliament’s passage of the 2016 Law Prohibiting the Wearing of Clothing Concealing the Face (known as the “burqa ban”). In sum, the study shows how Muslims are seeking to rediscover what they believe is the authentic meaning of hijab through a process of re-Islamization—a “piety movement” for stricter observance of Islamic rules. The need to return to “true” Islamic teachings is often publicly explained as a fundamental human right for practicing religion without state interference.