Staunton, May 1 – The approximately 3,000 Lithuanian Tatars, the remnant of a community which has lived in that Baltic country for more than six centuries, is struggling to keep its language and culture; but at the same time, it is playing a key role in helping to integrate into Lithuanian life Muslim immigrants from Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
Many are surprised that there are Muslims in Lithuania and the other Baltic states, and they attract only sporadic attention. (For a comprehensive discussion of them, see Ingvar Svanberg and David Westerlund, eds., Muslim Tatar Minorities in the Baltic Sea Region (Leiden, 2016, 182 pp.)
Indeed, they often are referred to only when someone discovers that an individual who has achieved prominence elsewhere, such as the late American actor Charles Bronson, was the descendant of Lithuanian Muslims. That makes any more extensive coverage they do receive especially precious.
That makes a detailed new article by the journalists of the IdelReal portal particularly valuable, because it calls attention to one aspect of that community’s life that seldom attracts much attention: the role of the Lithuanian Tatars as an integrator of Muslim migrants coming to Lithuania (idelreal.org/a/32385885.html).
Viktor Dulko, one of the leaders of the community, says that the Lithuanian Tatars have largely lost their language, one most closely related to Crimean Tatar, and many of their distinctive cultural features; but he says that they have not lost their attachment to Islam. Indeed, it may be what is holding the nation together and has given it a new role.
“Although the Tatars have almost forgotten their language and now remain few in number,” he says, “they to a surprising degree have not given up their religion. When a Tatar woman marries a Pole, she doesn’t accept the religion of her husband. She goes to the mosque while he goes to church.”
That attachment to religion as well as Islam’s proscription against dividing people along religious lines means that the Lithuanian Tatars now help new immigrants from the Muslim world to integrate into Lithuanian life rather than remain isolated as sometimes happens in countries where there is no similar “bridging” group.
How much longer the Lithuanian Tatars can play this role is an open question. There are today only four mosques open in Lithuania, and they are located outside the major cities. As a result, there are fewer and fewer places for Muslims of all nationalities to come together and stand alongside the Lithuanian Tatars.
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