Lithuania: Tatar Muslims face new immigrants

Islam was first brought to Lithuania by Crimean Tatars. But now, many centuries later, their tradition is under threat, mainly by recently immigrated Muslims. Clad in a brown cloak, imam Jukubauskas of the Kaunas Mosque climbs up the steps of the wooden pulpit.

This Friday he gives his sermon in Russian. Prayers are recited in Arabic. The imam studied in Lebanon, but his vision was to return to unite the Tatar community that he himself is a part of:

"The main thing that kept them as a community was religion. Mosque, imam, something like this".

And that's how it's been for centuries. The originally Sunni Muslim nobles and warriors first arrived in the region in the 14th century from Crimea. It was a time when the Polish-Lithuanian Union stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

The Tatars were gradually moved into what we call Lithuania today. There are 4,000 Tatars left in the country, a small but respected minority. The Tatars enjoyed religious freedom in Catholic Lithuania and were not coerced into converting to the Christian faith.

But when Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, the Tatars were forced to leave their villages and move to the city. The Kaunas Mosque, first opened in 1933 and became a rehearsal space for a circus.

What you do mean, Muslim?

The mosque opened its doors again in 1991 - all it needed was its Muslim congregation. There just wasn't a tightly-knit Muslim community anymore, says Lithuanian expert on Islam, Egdanas Racius:

"We once conducted research and we went to a house where we talked to some people. We asked, are you Tatars? Sure. Are you Muslims? Absolutely. Why? Because we are Tatars. But do you read the Qur'an? I don't have time, I do not know the language...Do you pray? No time...Do you fast? Well you know it's not common to fast...So what is it to be a Muslim then? Well, that's to be a Tatar!"

Imam Jakubauskas agrees that the Tatars suffered immensely under communism. And now that Lithuania has become a EU member state, another problem has surfaced: many young people are leaving the country to work abroad.

At the same time, Lithuania is seeing an influx of immigrants. And so the mosques are beginning to fill up again, mainly with young immigrant men from the Middle East.


That few Tatars attend the Friday prayers in the mosque doesn't surprise Lebanese architect student Aladin Lagha in the least. The Muslim Tatars have become just like all the other Lithuanians, according to him:

"Thinking about how to drink, thinking about what to drink, thinking about what to do at night. Nothing about the end of life. For example, as we think, as Muslims think, about heaven and what comes after death."

Some Tatars even go as far as drinking alcohol and eating pork, which has led to conflicts with the newly-arrived Muslims who follow a stricter path. Egdanas Racius:

"They read the Qur'an and then conclude the Tatars are not real Muslims."

The Lithuanian authorities still regard the Tatars as their main contact point with the Muslim population, but the Muslim immigrant voice is becoming more vociferous with time.

Reconciling the differences

If the Tatars are to continue to play a role in the Lithuanian Muslim community, then they will have to become more disciplined. But young Tatars mostly give up during Ramadan. "They find it tortuous", says the Islam expert.

Imam Jakubauskas could only count five older Tatar women in the mosque today. But he is still hopeful that there will be a kind of revival among the youth. He doesn't believe the differences between "his" Tatars and the new immigrant Muslims are irreconcilable. They all believe in the same god, after all:

"I will stay Tatar, but it doesn't matter in which language I pray. Our prophet never told us to forget our origin".

Source: RNW (English)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course the new immigrants reject and persecute Muslims who actually manage to assimilate. Those are the first ones they're supposed to kill off, according to the Sunni school. How dare the Tatars have any semblance of loyalty to their homeland rather the myth of Dark-Age Mecca (which actually is myth, according to trade records, history, and archaeology): . But don't tell muslims. Coping with cognitive dissonance is the only they do worse than evolving.

I also thought this was interesting: "I will stay Tatar, but it doesn't matter in which language I pray. Our prophet never told us to forget our origin." His prophet told him that whoever he is, always be an Arab racist, not a Tatar.