Friday 2 November 2018

Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Poland

History of Muslims in Poland and their present status is very different from countries like Spain and Portugal where Muslims rose to absolute power and then saw a total collapse even after a rule of more than five to eight decades. In Poland it is the reverse: Muslims came to Poland though in small numbers, and were granted special jobs in the Polish military, where the fought alongside the Polish army in many campaigns and were a well respected asset. But in the present days, Poles while still respect the services of the Tartars, they seemingly do not have much respect for the Muslims and they are generally viewed with suspicion.

Before commenting on the present status of Muslims in Poland, let us review the earliest presence of Muslims in areas that constituted the  Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
  • The earliest Muslims that came to Poland were the Arab merchants who arrived arrived in Polish lands during the time of Mieszko I, who ruled Polish lands as early as 960 AD. But these were just visitors and merchants with no intention of settling down. Like wise the invasions of the Mongol Muslims has been reported in the 13th century, but that was presence was purely military of character and there are no traces of settlement or conversion of any parts of the Polish population. 
  • The first Muslim settlers Tatar tribes arrived in the 14th century from the lands of the Golden Horde and settled in the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Since they were skilled warriors their settlement was promoted by the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The Tatars who settled in Lithuania, Ruthenia and modern-day eastern Poland were allowed to preserve their Sunni religion in exchange for military service.
  • The Tatars were all granted szlachta (nobility) status, a tradition that was preserved until the end of the Commonwealth in the 18th century.
  • By the beginning of the 20th century, Lipka Tatars had become so integrated into Polish society that they joined their Roman Catholic brethren in the mass migrations for the United States that gave rise to American Polonia, even founding their own mosque in Brooklyn, New York, which is still in use today.
  • The Muslim Religious Association was established in 1917 to preserving the Muslim faith and religious beliefs.
  • In 1929 a Tatar National Museum was created in Wilno and in 1931 a Tatar National Archive was formed. All Muslims people drafted into the army were sent to the Tatar Cavalry Squadron, which was allowed to use its own uniforms and banners. The Army Oath for Muslim soldiers was different from the one taken from soldiers of other denominations and was sworn in presence of Ali Ismail Woronowicz, the Chief Imam of the Polish Army.
  • Before Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe at the end of the eighteenth century it was home to almost 30 purpose-built mosques and prayer houses.
  • With the restoration of Polish independence, the Tatar community of Poland numbered around 6,000 people (1931 national census). A large community of the Lipka Tatars remained outside of Polish borders, mostly in Lithuania and Belarus (especially in Minsk, the capital of the Belarusian SSR). 
  • During and after World War II, the Tatar suffered the fate of all the civilian populations of the new German-Soviet and later Polish-Soviet borderlands. The Tatar intelligentsia was in large part murdered, while much of the civilian population was targeted by post-war expulsions. After the war the majority of Tatar settlements were annexed by the Soviet Union and only three remained in Poland. 
  • A considerable number of Tatars moved across to the Polish side of the border and settled in several locations in eastern Poland as well as in western and northern Poland. Nowadays no more than 400 - 4,000 Muslims of Tatar origin live in Poland and a much larger and active Tatar community lives in Belarus and also in Lithuania. In 1971 the Muslim Religious Association was reactivated and since 1991 the Society of Muslims in Poland is also active. The following year also the Association of Polish Tatars was restored.
  • After the Second World War, only about 10% of the Muslim settlements stayed within the new Polish borders and the country became one of the most religiously homogeneous countries in Europe.
  • According to the 2011 census, there are 1916 Tatars in Poland (including 1251 people who declared composite national-ethnic identity, e.g. identify as both Polish and Tatar).
Since Tartars have played a significant role in the history of Poland, their services have never been forgotten. In November 2010, a monument to Poland's Islamic leader Dariusz Jagiełło was unveiled in the port city of Gdańsk at a ceremony attended by President Bronislaw Komorowski, as well as Tatar representatives from across Poland and abroad. The monument is a symbol of the important role of Tatars in Polish history. The monument is the first of its kind to be erected in Europe“Tatars shed their blood in all national independence uprisings. Their blood seeped into the foundations of the reborn Polish Republic,” President Komorowski said at the unveiling.

 The Gdańsk mosque [Photo]

The Tartars live on in Poland and are still respected by those who know their contributions in the Polish history. But thereafter, the immigrants that came to Poland in 1970s and 1980s, things have taken a new turn for the Muslims in Poland.

Since the overthrow of the Polish communist regime in 1989, other Muslim immigrants have come to Poland, mostly Turks and ethnic-Slavic Muslims from the former Yugoslavia. There are also smaller groups of immigrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and from other countries, as well as a refugee community coming from Chechnya.

Today, less than 1% of the population in Poland is Muslim. The majority of Muslims in Poland are Sunni. In the late 1980s the Muslim community community has became more active and better organized. They have built mosques and praying houses in many parts of Poland. However, within the Muslim communities, there is a conflict between Polish native Sunni Muslim Lipka Tatars, who have a unique approach towards Islam and have been living in Poland for 600 years, and an increasingly vocal group of mainly foreign-born, but also native-born convert, group of Sunni Muslims.  

Although, Muslims are no match to the dominating Polish population, yet over the years,  stereotypes, verbal, violent, and physical displays of anti-Islam have become widespread. Vandalism and attacks on the very few existing mosques are reported, and women (especially converts) who cover themselves are seen as "traitors" to their own culture. In July 2016, liberal politician Paweł Banasiak, submitted a document to the criminal justice bodies to ban Islam and Quran in the country because "neither is about religion, but a political ideology of hate and genocide against infidels."

From January 1, 2013, Poland's Muslims and Jews were both affected by a ban on ritual slaughter after lawmakers deemed halal and kosher. In December 2014, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled the ban unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated freedom of religion guaranteed by the Polish laws and constitution. 

Islamophobia seems to be on the rise in Poland and many Polish people are reluctant to help refugees, and Muslims are not very welcome in Poland. Recently, a Polish official who, responding to an attempt at politically correct shaming, unabashedly told a British television host, “We will not receive even one Muslim, because this is what we promised.... This is why our government was elected, this is why Poland is so safe, this is why we have not had even one terror attack.” Analysts say the country has become increasingly hostile to Muslims in the wake of the refugee crisis. In fact whenever the issue of Islam and Muslims is there, it's always [represented] in a super negative way.
Arabic script of a tombstone (Ruthenian language) in the Muslim Lipka Tatar cemetery in Bohoniki, Poland [Photo]

There are three purpose-built mosques in Poland, with another mosque currently under construction. However, many more buildings of this kind existed in Poland in the past, owing to the traditionally tolerant laws for religious minorities, including the Muslim faith. The first record of mosques in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania came from the 16 th century. 

I cam across a good answer someone asking how the life as Muslims is in Poland. Here  is the answer: "If you want to keep living the way you did in your home country, you’ll find many obstacles, and probably decide that Poles are xenophobic and hostile to Muslims. We’re not. We’re just not Muslims. This is how it works:" [2]

  • If you go to school or work in Poland, you need to accept that there won’t be any breaks for five daily prayers.
  • You need to accept that the nearest mosque might be two cities away, while the nearest Catholic Church is waking you every Sunday from across the street.
  • You need to accept that halal food, or anything halal, is a concept that Poles don’t have. You can eat vegetarian, if you wish, but not halal.
  • You also need to accept that many people will have a negative opinion on Islam, either because of the terrorist conflict, or because they disapprove of Islamic principles.
  • That doesn't necessarily mean they have a negative opinion of you. Poles tend to see newcomers as persons, not specimen of a particular group. 
The above says all how to live as Muslim in Poland. As long as Muslims mix up with the locals, exhibiting no signs of being different from the rest and keeping their religious beliefs well under control, there seems to be no problem, generally speaking. However, any terrorist attack anywhere in Europe draws a negative response from the locals which sometimes strain the relations between Muslims and Poles.

Watch a documentary about Muslims in Poland:
To know more about life of Muslims in other non Muslim countries, please visit our page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries.

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
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