The Western Balkans are residence to the most important inhabitants of indigenous Muslims in Europe, however few folks learn about them and their tradition is in peril of disappearing. In a brand new guide, writer Tharik Hussain shines a light-weight on these sudden components whose historical past and identity have been formed by Islam for greater than 600 years.
How did you first come throughout these communities?
‘I knew there was a Muslim presence in Bulgaria, but I had no idea to what extent it still existed in the area. On a family holiday, we drove in from Romania through the mountainous north and suddenly started seeing all these little mosques. Some of them were obviously in use. I was shocked to realise Muslims were living here, in the middle of the Bulgarian countryside, and that they had a long heritage that had been deliberately eradicated. That’s after I determined to plan an even bigger highway journey via the Western Balkans that later grew to become the fabric for my guide.’
Your literary companion for this highway journey was Seventeenth-century Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi. Why him?
‘I wanted everyone to know about this amazing and interesting explorer, who I would say is in the same league as Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta or Marco Polo, but has been widely overlooked outside the Turkish world. He offered a window into an era that we don’t know a lot about, when giant components of Europe have been undeniably Muslim, and he had gone to numerous the locations I needed to go to. But extra importantly, he was the one historic traveller I may discover who had actually written extensively about this area and due to this fact supplied a comparative Muslim perspective on its folks and locations, which in some instances had modified dramatically since his time.’
The people you meet in your travels aren’t post-colonial migrants like many in western Europe – their households have been Muslim way back to they’ll keep in mind. Was that vital on your guide?
‘It was very important. To show that Europe has an indigenous Muslim identity – one that is living – puts a completely different spin on the current debates about culture and religion. It means that when politicians and commentators across western Europe say that Muslims don’t belong right here, that doesn’t arise in any respect. These individuals are nonetheless right here a whole bunch of years later. You can go to them, sit with them, eat with them and listen to the adhan (name to prayer) as you stroll down their streets.’
What have been the standout moments of your journey?
‘Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, was a major highlight. I don’t assume there may be anyplace outdoors Turkey the place I’ve come throughout so many beautiful Ottoman monuments in such stunning situation. I’d additionally advocate Berat and Gjirokastër in Albania, the place the historic centres are UNESCO World Heritage websites and a number of the most fairy-tale-like spots I’ve been to.’
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