Staunton, August 21 – Mufti Abu-Bekir Shabanovich, the head of the Muslim Religious Union of Belarus, has called on both the Belarusian government and the Belarusian opposition to show restraint lest the clashes between the two escalate and innocent people continue to suffer (islamsng.com/blr/news/15993).
Because the indigenous Muslim population numbers only about a thousand and Muslim immigrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus less than 10,000 in total, Shabanevich’s words have largely been ignored in coverage of the position of religious communities in Belarus in the course of the protests there.
While that is understandable, it is likely a mistake because of the ties the indigenous Muslim community of Belarus has with the larger Muslim communities in neighboring Lithuania and Poland. All three groups are descendants of a common ancestor, the Litevtsy, Lithuanian-Polish Muslims who have been in this region for more than 600 years.
There are an estimated 8,000 indigenous Muslims in Poland and perhaps half that number in Lithuania, but both groups have become increasingly active in recent years and has good contacts with their co-religionists in Belarus. Indeed, they often serve as a conduit for news and ideas between the Belarusian Muslims and the broader umma.
That alone makes this community more important than its numbers might suggest, but there is another factor as well. Belarusian Muslims have played a role far greater than their share of the population in opposition groups and thus what the mufti says matters to those who do in particular (belaruspartisan.org/politic/381639/).