Muslims in Poland: Strength in Character [Archives:1997/49/Culture]

December 8 1997

An exhibition on the lives of Muslims in Poland is being held during 1-10 December at the Yemeni Center for Strategic Studies and Research in Sanaa. Part of the Exhibition of the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw, the event also included several lectures on this topic.  Polish Muslims are tartars who are mainly Sunni Muslims. They number about 5,000 to 7,000, out of 40 million – Poland’s population. Many elements of the older beliefs common among Turkish nomadic people could be found in the customs of the Polish Muslims. Through the centuries, however, they have also adopted Russian and Polish habits.  The tartars were not from freely practicing and teaching their religion. In the areas where they lived, mosques can be found the oldest of which are in the Bohoniki and Kruszyniany villages. A new mosque has been built in Gdansk, and in Warsaw and Bilystok there are prayer houses.  Tartars constitute the most numerous and consolidated group of Polish Muslims with a tradition of a few hundred years. Tartars is the name of one of the Turkish-Mongol tribe. They were given the name tartars by the Slavs whom they attacked during the 13th century A.D. The Lithuanian kings granted the tartar refugees, who escaped the persecution of one of Genghis Khan’s descendants, lands on which they settled.
The tartar population grew and prospered. They started to live in and around the major political and economic centers in Poland. The tartars living in Poland today are the descendants of those who arrived there in the second half of the 17th century and were under the protection of the Polish King Jan the Third.  The tartars who lived in urban areas worked mainly in trade and leather tanning. Some of them were part of the landed gentry and the nobility. They showed great bravery in the wars fought by Poland with other countries until the end of the 18th century when the Polish Empire disintegrated.  After Poland gained its independence – in which the tartars played a major role – from Germany, Russia, and Austria, they participated in establishing several cultural and social societies. Books and magazines were published in the tartar language.  In 1935, the tartar knight legion was established as part of the Polish army. They were led by the Imam of Warsaw. During the Second World War, the tartar Muslims, like all other Polish people, took part in the fight against Germany and the former Soviet Union. Many Muslims went to Warsaw to escapee religious persecution in Russia.  The Muslim Religion Association and the Association of the Polish Tartars were founded. Both organizations have been active in social, religious, and cultural life. They publish some popular and science magazines, arrange exhibitions, and scientific conferences.