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Dear Bigots: Please Don’t Destroy our Historic Mosque in Plovdiv

Dear Bigots: Please Don’t Destroy our Historic Mosque in Plovdiv

By on February 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

If you watched my TEDx talk, you learned about my late father’s early 1960’s escape from communist Bulgaria into the hills and mountains of northern Greece.  On foot. In the dark of night.  Through the dead zone.

Bullet’s spraying all around him.  One bullet whizzing right past his ear.  Heart racing, this mantra played in his head:

“I’m still running, so I must still be alive.  I’m still running, so I must still be alive.”

My father’s crime?

Being Bulgarian while being Muslim.

A news outlet in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia posted an article this morning.  The Sofia Globe: Anti-Islamic mob of ‘football fans’ smashes windows of Plovdiv mosque

Ironic.

Plovdiv.  It’s the second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia and the tenth largest city in the balkans.  It’s a city rich in history tracing back to the Thracians, the Greeks and the Romans.  It was an important crossroad of the Roman empire being called, “The largest and most beautiful of all cities,” by famed 17th century rhetorician, Lucian of Samasota.  Over time, Plovdiv shifted hands to the Byzantine and Bulgarian empires and eventually to the Ottomans.  It is the Ottoman empire that brought Islam to the balkan region.  Ottoman history is the inducement for Islam in my family roots.  I’m a Pomak in origin meaning – I’m a slavic muslim.  In most current history, the term Pomak represents Bulgarian muslims.

Ironic.

In the 1940s and 1950s when my father grew up in the southern Bulgarian mountains, only 13% of the country’s population were Pomaks.  Today, it’s even less hovering around 8%.  My family roots are dying.  During my father’s lifetime, after my grandfather was killed stepping on a land mine along the Bulgarian/Greek border, and after both my grandmother and great-grandmother suffered persecution, jailing and beatings, as a penance for their minority status- my father’s family was exiled.

Seized:  their land filled with crops- tobacco and potatoes.   Seized:  Their livestock.  My father’s sheep.  Beloved by him- so much so- I can’t come into contact with a lamb today without my heart swelling in love. And pain.  Seized:  A livelihood.  Their home.  My family was driven out of their home and exiled to central Bulgaria.  They were exiled to Plovdiv.

I recently told this story to my 12 year-old daughter and I said, “Imagine authorities come to our door in Chicago suburbia and take control of our property.  Imagine.  They move us to a city much further away where we don’t know anyone.  And we are forced to live there.  Just because we are muslim.  Imagine that, child.”  {child’s face turns white / jaw drops / no words / what can she say?}  So it is ironic for me to see that the very city my father and family members were forced to live in to try to ‘knock the muslim out of them’- is still wrought with bigotry and hatred for Islam.

There was never a place on earth my father visited where he didn’t make friends.  Where he didn’t make his way and find good things.  And there were so many good things about his new home in Plovdiv.  Friends he kept for a lifetime.  I visited this historic city 20 years ago with my father.  He showed me around his old stomping grounds during the time of his family’s exile.  It was there that I experienced a bit of culture shock walking amongst some of Bulgaria’s gypsy population.  It was there I watched my father and old friends reunite in tears and share stories.  It was there we sat with old friends sharing bread, and feta cheese and turkish coffee.

It was in Plovdiv that I met an old friend of my father’s, a famous Rhodope mountain folk singer, Valya Balkanska.  Her voice is permanently housed in outer space alongside voices of the greats: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Luis Armstrong.  Her singing accompanies these and other artifacts on space stations Voyager I and Voyager II on a 6,000 year journey.  We talked to her about this amazing accomplishment- from an ethnic mountain girl from southern Bulgaria.  She laughed.  Smiled. Shared hugs and tears with us.  Affection and tears are staples in the southern mountains of Bulgaria- in a culture where showing emotion is as natural as the air that you breath.  I still have her vinyl album that she signed for me.

Plovdiv.  It’s this city that we passed through on our way to the Valley of Roses. Where Bulgaria’s famous rose oil begins its life in a flower field.  I’ve never in my life smelled something so fragrant- so magnificent- as when I stood amongst the fields here and breathed in the soft breezes abundantly infused in organic rose scent.  Nothing compares.

Although the city of Plovdiv represents the foreign place my family was forced to live- after being evicted from their Arda property for being MuslimWhileBulgarian, in true Kishanov family style- it brings positive memories for me.  It is the relationships built in my father’s lifetime while living in Plovdiv that ignited his soul.  It is the positive stories my father passed down to his children- stories I got to re-live with my father on the streets of Plovdiv with him at my side.

Sadly, anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in Bulgaria. Muslims, whether Pomak or Syrian refugees, are targetted for their faith.  And without communism being the impetus for the hatred, bigotry always finds a reason.  Bigotry finds an excuse.  Bigotry doesn’t care that my family is from a history of a dying minority.  Bigotry doesn’t care that the historic mosque in Plovdiv represents struggles for religious freedom and identity.  Bigotry doesn’t care that the mosque in Plovdiv might be a small slice of comfort for muslim refugees fleeing the worst humanitarian crisis of modern times in Syria.  Bigotry doesn’t care because it doesn’t feel and doesn’t think.  Bigotry smashes windows of historic mosques.

And that is why I will blog about bigotry. To keep it in the forefront of people’s minds.  To remind people that there are stories behind every family.  There are stories behind every region and every mosque.  And to say to the world, it is not okay to vandalize religious institutions- be it churches, synagogues, temples or mosques- no matter where you are in the world. It’s not okay to destroy the historic Dzhumaya Mosque in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

 

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About the Author

About the Author: I'm a Writer and Muslim Activist. I'm also a Board Member of the #MyJihad Public Education Campaign. Follow my blog at yasminareality.com or follow me on Twitter: @yasmina_reality. I'm also now on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YasminaReality Peace! .

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