Five Polish-Muslim facts everyone should know
- 15 November 2017
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A man takes a selfie as people attend prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha at a mosque in Gdansk, Poland September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Saleh Salem
This week, thousands of Polish nationalists and far-right supporters took to the streets of Warsaw, some of them holding anti-Muslim signs, including one that read “pray for Islamic holocaust”. Aired across the globe, the shocking scenes left many wondering if Poland has forgotten its considerable Muslim heritage.
1. MUSLIMS HAVE BEEN IN POLAND FOR SEVEN CENTURIES
Muslim Tatars first came to Poland from the Crimea in the 14th century, when they were invited to help the Polish-Lithuanian alliance fight the Christian Knights of the Teutonic Order. They famously joined the alliance at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 and saved both nations. As a reward, they were invited to stay and were given land around the borderlands of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, where many families have resided ever since, making them one of Europe’s oldest Muslim communities.
2. POLAND IS HOME TO EUROPE’S MOST INDIGENOUS MOSQUES
The historic mosques of Poland are found in two towns close to the northeastern border. The 18th-century Bohoniki Mosque and the 19th-century Kruszyniany mosque are often mistaken for local churches. Their square, wooden buildings and pitched roofs, where onion-domed turrets point skyward, are reminiscent of local, rural orthodox churches. The only clue that these are Muslim places of worship are the crescents on the top. Five more of these very European-looking mosques survive in Lithuania and Belarus.
Photo: Kruszyniany Mosque: A wooden mosque located in the village of Kruszyniany, in Podlaskie Voivodeship, Poland. This is the oldest Tatar mosque in Poland / Jan Jerman / Shutterstock.com
3. MUSLIMS HAVE FOUGHT FOR POLAND FOR OVER 600 YEARS
Ever since the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, Polish Muslims have fought in every major war for Poland. This included going up against the Ottomans at the 1683 Battle of Vienna, led by Polish King John III Sobieski; the Napoleonic Wars; and the Second World War, in which a Polish Tatar Regiment fought against the German Nazis. To acknowledge their brave and loyal contribution, a statue of a mounted Tatar soldier was unveiled at Orunia Park in Gdansk in 2010.
4. POLAND’S MILITARY HAD IMAMS
Polish-Muslim soldiers were so highly regarded that the Polish Army installed its very own imams at the start of the 20th century. The imams took Islamised oaths from new Muslim recruits and led soldiers in daily prayers. They oversaw funerals, marriages and nightly prayers during the month of Ramadan, when Polish-Muslim soldiers were allowed to fast. The last of these Imams, Ali Ismail Woronowicz, was posthumously awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 2011 after being killed by the Soviet Union in 1941.
Photo: Warsaw, Poland - March 05, 2017: Muslim Cultural Centre in Warsaw in Warsaw's Ochota district headquarters of the Polish Muslim League. / udmurd / Shutterstock.com
5. POLAND HAS ALWAYS SUPPORTED ITS MUSLIM COMMUNITIES
Throughout the nation’s history, Polish nobles and leaders have supported the Polish-Muslim community even after periods of discontent. This began in the 14th century, when they were first granted nobility. After the Tatar Mutiny of the 17th century, when many switched allegiance because their religious and cultural rights had been denied, King John III Sobieski asked them to return and promised to reinstate them. During the 2005 Danish cartoons controversy, which upset many Polish-Muslims, the country’s Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz came out and said that he shared “the feelings of those who may feel offended”. The PM then reminded his nation that “Poland was and still remains a country of tolerance. This fact is confirmed by the 600-year presence of the Muslim Tatar community in the territory of the Republic of Poland.”
(This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk)
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