By Tsvetelia Ilieva
RIBNOVO, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Fikrie Sabrieva, 17, will marry with her eyes closed and her face painted white, dotted with bright sequins. She lives 'at the end of the world', tending a hardy Muslim culture in largely Christian Bulgaria.
The remote village of Ribnovo, set on a snowy mountainside in southwest Bulgaria, has kept its traditional winter marriage ceremony alive despite decades of Communist persecution, followed by poverty that forced many men to seek work abroad.
"Other nearby villages tried the traditional marriage after the ban was lifted, but then the custom somehow died away -- women wanted to be modern," said Ali Mustafa Bushnak, 61, whose daughter came to watch Fikrie's wedding.
"Maybe we are at the end of the world. Or people in Ribnovo are very religious and proud of their traditions."
Some experts say clinging to the traditional wedding ceremony is Ribnovo's answer to the persecutions of the past.
Bulgaria is the only European Union nation where Muslims' share is as high as 12 percent. The communist regime, which did not tolerate any religious rituals, tried to forcibly integrate Muslims into Bulgaria's largely Christian Orthodox population, pressing them to abandon wearing their traditional outfits and adopt Slavonic names.
The wedding ritual was resurrected with vigor among the Pomaks -- Slavs who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule and now make up 2.5 percent of Bulgaria's 7.8 million population -- after communism collapsed in 1989.
But today it is still performed only in the closed society of Ribnovo and one other village in the Balkan country. Young men return from abroad to the crisp mountain snows, just for the winter weddings.
People in Ribnovo identify themselves more by their religion, as Muslims, than by their ethnicity or nationality, and the wedding ceremony is an expression of their piety. The village has 10 clerics and two mosques for 3,500 inhabitants.
Read the complete article and view the slideshow at the Reuters site
Labels: Muslim practices, Muslims around the world, Muslims in the West