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Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe

Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria

Kristen Ghodsee
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe
    Book Description:

    Muslim Lives in Eastern Europeexamines how gender identities were reconfigured in a Bulgarian Muslim community following the demise of Communism and an influx of international aid from the Islamic world. Kristen Ghodsee conducted extensive ethnographic research among a small population of Pomaks, Slavic Muslims living in the remote mountains of southern Bulgaria. After Communism fell in 1989, Muslim minorities in Bulgaria sought to rediscover their faith after decades of state-imposed atheism. But instead of returning to their traditionally heterodox roots, isolated groups of Pomaks embraced a distinctly foreign type of Islam, which swept into their communities on the back of Saudi-financed international aid to Balkan Muslims, and which these Pomaks believe to be a more correct interpretation of their religion.

    Ghodsee explores how gender relations among the Pomaks had to be renegotiated after the collapse of both Communism and the region's state-subsidized lead and zinc mines. She shows how mosques have replaced the mines as the primary site for jobless and underemployed men to express their masculinity, and how Muslim women have encouraged this as a way to combat alcoholism and domestic violence. Ghodsee demonstrates how women's embrace of this new form of Islam has led them to adopt more conservative family roles, and how the Pomaks' new religion remains deeply influenced by Bulgaria's Marxist-Leninist legacy, with its calls for morality, social justice, and human solidarity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3135-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. Introduction The Changing Face of Islam in Bulgaria
    (pp. 1-33)

    Silvi, a Bulgarian Muslim and an Avon lady,¹ always worried about her roots. Not where she came from, nor who her great-grandparents were. Silvi obsessed about the roots of her hair—how many millimeters of white she could stand before she had to dye it again. When I met her in the small Bulgarian city of Madan in 2005, Silvi was in her late forties and had thick jet-black hair that hung all the way down her back. Over the years the gray had taken over, and it was only nine days after each dye that she could see the...

  7. Chapter One Names to Be Buried With
    (pp. 34-55)

    Iordan thought frequently about his own death. This was not because he was afraid to die. This was because he did not know what would happen to his remains when he did. Because of his name and who his parents were, no one in Madan would bury him. Iordan was a Pomak, and his name was changed when he was sixteen years old. He was born with the Turkish name Fikret, not because he was a Turk, but because his parents lived in a village near the Turkish minority region and they liked the name. As a child Fikret spent...

  8. Chapter Two Men and Mines
    (pp. 56-85)

    In the center of the city of Madan, across from the entrance to the new mosque, there was a hidden doorway that led into the GORUBSO mining museum. After the GORUBSO Company was privatized in the late 1990s, the municipality of Madan bought the museum, along with the Crystal Hall, which displayed the choicest specimens of minerals extracted from the area’s mines. Visitors seldom came to either of these two museums, and if you wanted to go inside, a small note on the door instructed you, in Bulgarian, to call a mobile phone number and ask someone to come and...

  9. Chapter Three The Have-nots and the Have-nots
    (pp. 86-108)

    “Islam is a good religion. It is a religion of peace. And what brings people peace and happiness cannot be a bad thing,” Hana told me in July 2005. “If a woman has a child and the child is sick, it is very helpful to know that there is someone who can assist you. And not just the doctor and the nurse. If you pray to God, God can help you.”

    Hana was a woman in her mid-thirties, and we often shared a bench at the playground behind the GORUBSO building. Her daughter and mine were only eight months apart...

  10. Chapter Four Divide and Be Conquered
    (pp. 109-129)

    Hasan was a soft-spoken retired miner who worked his way up through the ranks of GORUBSO from being an ordinary laborer to being the boss of the one of the mines. He worked in the café of the new mosque, serving tea, juice, and snacks and selling Islamic literature. He was a handsome man with a full head of thick, salt-and-pepper hair and a carefully groomed beard. There was an air of confidence about him, something almost benevolently patriarchal. Even though he had little in the way of formal education and had spent most of his life underground, he projected...

  11. Chapter Five Islamic Aid
    (pp. 130-158)

    On a hot and sticky afternoon in the middle of June 2006, I sought coolness in the main auditorium of Madan’s Kulturen Dom, the newly painted building erected by the communists to educate the toiling masses and inspire them to build a glorious socialist future. The interior was considerably aged and worse for wear from many communist party meetings and state-sponsored concerts. I was there to hear a lecture that had been advertised around town for two weeks: “Islam: Pluralism and Dialogue.”

    The lecture was supposed to begin at 3:00 p.m., an hour obviously selected to attract the crowd from...

  12. Chapter Six The Miniskirt and the Veil
    (pp. 159-183)

    Higyar’s gold front teeth glisten as a ray of late-afternoon sun breaks through the cloud cover and catches her with her mouth open. She wears gold earrings, gold rings, two gold bracelets, and a thick gold chain that hangs low across the front of the dress that modestly hides her ample chest. It is her teeth that somehow seem the most ostentatious aspect of her appearance, especially since I have been programmed by friends in Madan to notice them. So many people have wide gaps in their too infrequent smiles; Higyar’s gleaming grin sets her apart from her fellow Madanchani....

  13. Conclusion Minarets after Marx
    (pp. 184-204)

    Snezhana, a woman who had been a seamstress in the Austrian-owned garment factory for almost six years, told me the story of the women from Madan and Rudozem who worked there. When the Austrians first bought Rhodope-91 in the late 1990s (the largest garment enterprise in Madan under communism), they had decided to set the piece rate at a level where the average seamstress could earn approximately 300 leva a month. When this fact became public, the mayor of Madan went to the manager and complained that seamstresses could not be allowed to make more than the miners in the...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 205-206)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 207-234)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 235-242)
  17. Index
    (pp. 243-252)