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Moldova's Government Considers Revoking its Formal Recognition of Islam

Source | Islam Today
Kishinev | 01 June 2011

Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat has pledged to review the recent registration of Islam as one of the country's recognized religions, Moldovan news sources report.

Prime Minister Filat made the pledge at a meeting with Metropolitan Vladimir, the head of the powerful Moldovan Orthodox Church.

The Justice Ministry registered the Islamic League in mid-March, after Moldova's tiny Muslim minority had tried in vain for years to obtain some kind of official recognition.

The registration of the organization, led by Sergiu Sochirca (pictured), triggered a wave of protests from the dominant Orthodox Church.

Last week, more than 1,000 Christians rallied in the country's main cities in protest, and this week a number of priests warned that they will stop mentioning the country's leaders in their sermons, which is common practice.

Vladimir assured the Prime Minister on May 25 that priests will continue to pray for the health of the country's leaders if the government revokes the recognition of Islam.

Communists were also unhappy with the recognition of the country's Muslims. The leader of the Communist Party, former President Vladimir Voronin, pointed out that Moldova resisted the construction of mosques when it was part of the Ottoman Empire and must continue to do so today.

(He failed to mention that Moldova was never actually part of the Ottoman Empire. It had a status of suzerainty, which allowed it considerable control over its domestic affairs. Mosques were not built there because the Sultans themselves banned the construction of mosques, the forced conversion to Islam of the populations, or the settling of Turks in the region. Moldova paid a tribute to Istanbul for that.)

In spite of the protests, former Justice Minister Alexandru Tanase, who approved the Islamic League's application and who has since stepped down to take a seat on the Constitutional Court, says there is no justification for denying recognition to Muslims.

"Islam is not a sect. It is one of the world's three major religions. There is no country in the world that does not recognize the rights of Muslims," Tanase says. "Our own constitution guarantees freedom of religion to everybody. And the people who applied for registration by the Justice Ministry have fulfilled all the legal requirements."

Because of past repression, even the size of Moldova's Muslim community is not known. There are some 2,000 officially registered Muslims among the country's approximately 3.4 million people. But Islamic League head Sergiu Sochirca says the real figure is closer to 17,000.

"When my wife and I applied for new passports and wanted to write 'Muslim' in the 'religion' space, we saw that it had already been filled in as 'Christian.' I told the police officers we were Muslim, and they ignored me," Sochirca said. "They said they can't write in 'Muslim,' that they register everyone as Christian, and that's all there is to it."

For the time being, the Muslims are pleased that the government has finally recognized them and that Muslims in the nation's capitol Chisinau can worship freely. Someday, they hope they might even be able to build a mosque.

"Now we have a prayer room and for us this is our mosque. As for building a mosque in accordance with Islamic norms, with a minaret and all, maybe it is not the right time now, not now," a local worshhipper Ismail Wahab Wahab said.


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