Saturday 10 October 2020

Islam in Lithuania

Islam in Lithuania dates back to 14-15th centuries when Tartar Muslim warriors were brought by Grand Duke Vytautas the Great from the southernmost limits of his lands to defend Vilnius and the boundaries. And from then on the Tartar Muslim soldiers who stayed back added the Muslim tinge to Lithuanian landscape.  The Tatars, soon became part of Lithuanian culture and became to be known as the Lithuanian Tatars, lost their language over time and now speak Lithuanian. Due to the long isolation from all the greater Islamic world, the practices of the Lithuanian Tatars differ somewhat from the rest of Sunni Muslims, however, although some of the Lithuanian Tatars practice what could be called Folk Islam.
Graves of Tartars at the mosque in Nemezis [Photo]

The Muslims suffered a lot when much of the Lithuanian Tatar culture, mosques, graveyards and such were destroyed by the Soviet Union after it annexed Lithuania. It was only after Lithuania got freedom from the Soviet yoke in 1990 that freedom of religion brought a revival of Islam in Lithuania.
Kaunas Mosque i(above) s the only mosque in the city and district of Kaunas, one of only four mosques in Lithuania as well as the only brick mosque in Lithuania and the Baltic countries. It is located in Centras eldership, Tatars Street 6 Kaunas. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Source / Author: Lee Fenner)

As of now, several thousand Lithuanian Tatars remain, making up an estimated 0.1% of the country's population; however, with the restoration of Lithuanian independence, they are experiencing a kind of national revival with evidence to suggest there are several hundred non-Tartar converts to Islam. The Tatars, who have been living in Lithuania for more than six centuries, have perfectly integrated here for three reasons: the nature of Islam (folk Islam is flexible enough to get culturally integrated), small communities (numerous populations resist assimilation), and the society that they needed to get adapted to. “The exact opposite is today’s Europe, accepting a huge number of migrants, who were hardly integrating before the last wave of migration,” writes Vytautas Sinica [3].

The 20th century brought new Muslims to Lithuania, firstly from the Soviet Union and after independence – from the volatile Middle Eastern and African lands. These new Muslims may be already outnumbering the traditional Tatar community. But, as of now, there is not even a mosque in Vilnius since the Soviets torn down the old wooden Tatar one that until 1968 stood in the old district of Lukiškės, notes Augustinas Žemaitis. [2]

The square wooden mosques (19th century) are more reminiscent of Lithuanian village houses than Arabic religious buildings. These mosques are unique and with only three left (in Raižiai, Nemėžis and Keturiasdešimt Totorių, the latter two near Vilnius) – a sight not to miss for anybody interested in Islam.
A traditional wooden mosque in Raižiai village (Alytus district municipality, Dzūkija), famous for its minbar made in 1686. The current mosque itself was built in 1889. Minaret is above roof but is not used for the original purpose. The door to the left is used by the women whereas the door to the right is the entrance for men. [Photo ©Augustinas Žemaitis ] [2]

How do Muslims in Lithuania live? Well to start with their way of life is far different from mainstream Sunni Muslim  from the rest of the world. In fact they are more Lithuanians than Muslims. A study shows that The public opinion polls conducted by the Ethnic Studies Institute in 2016 and 2017 show that Lithuanians’ opinion of Muslims has recently worsened. More than 40% of people would not want to live in the same neighbourhood with believers of Islam or rent them housing. According to the expert, male Muslims even go to meet potential tenants without their wives, so that the flat owners do not get scared by the hijab on the head. In the meantime, the Lithuanian Muslim community is already tired of explaining to the media after every Islamist terrorist attack in the West that they do not support it and condemn violence. [3]
Eid Festivities - Uzbek Pilaf [Photo]

However, despite all odds the Muslims of Lithuania continue to live their lives as per their faith and participate in gatherings, Friday congregations and Eid festivities. Traditionally, after this festive prayer, the Muslim community in Lithuania hurry to meet in one place, where they could congratulate the members of the community who live in different corners of Lithuania, and celebrate together. Recently, such festivities took place in the Forty Tatars village Muslim community center. One of the hallmark event on such gatherings is Quran recitations contest and Islam related quizzes. The winners and even the participants are given gifts at the end.
While there may exist an aura of Islamophobia, there are efforts for creating inter faith harmony. On the photo above a visit by 11th grade students of Jesuit High School is being briefed about Islam in the  Kaunas mosque. This trip was organized by their teacher of Religion, who every year take time with his students to visit other then their religious communities and their places of worship in Kaunas – mosque, orthodox church and synagogue. The purpose of such lectures is to introduce people to the religion of Islam, dispel the scary image of Islam and Muslims which is gratuitously created by the media and to explain the way of life of Lithuanian Muslims, which is sometimes labeled as "radical“ or "extreme“. [9]

Now listen to beautiful azan at "The Minaret of Kedainiai ( Kedain):
Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

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.
References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |
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