Poland's Muslim Tatars hope for cultural revival

Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:18pm EDT
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By Gabriela Baczynska

KRUSZYNIANY, Poland (Reuters Life!) - In a remote rural corner of Catholic Poland, descendants of Muslim Tatars who settled here centuries ago try to revive a culture eroded by time, assimilation, emigration and communist-era oppression.

Poland's Tatar community, mainly confined to the northeast borderlands near Lithuania and Belarus, has been celebrating the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in their two wooden mosques, which resemble churches because they were built by Catholic carpenters who had never seen a mosque.

The 5,000-strong community no longer speaks their Turkic Tatar language, they often celebrate Catholic festivals and mixed marriages with non-Muslims are quite common. Many eat pork and drink alcohol, but Islam remains key to their identity.

With growing numbers of tourists visiting their forested region, the Tatar community has applied for a 5.5 million zloty ($1.77 million) subsidy from Warsaw and Brussels to build a cultural and religious center.

"I hope we will get this center and I will be able to dedicate myself fully to my spiritual obligations," said Janusz Aleksandrowicz, the imam of Poland's oldest mosque in the tiny village of Kruszyniany.

"The handful of Muslims here cannot support their imam as is the case for Catholic priests, so my day job is working in a bank," he told Reuters after leading some 80 Muslims in prayers marking the end of Ramadan.

"I want our children to learn Arabic, to read the Koran, to rebuild this lost spiritual quality in the future generations."

The mosque hosts prayers about 10 times a year. The nearby sister village of Bohoniki also has a mosque.   Continued...