Tatars: Poland’s Muslim Minority

In Poland, the Muslim population is steadily growing. Many of these were students at Polish universities from Arabic countries, who arrived in Poland after the 1970s.
But not everyone is aware that Poland has her own brand of Muslims, who are much older and have lived here for more than 600 years: the Polish Tatars.

Tatars is a name for a Turkish ethnic group of Eastern Europe, as well as a collective name for other various peoples in Asia. Today, Tatars live in the central and southern parts of Russia (the majority in Tatarstan), Ukraine, Moldavia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey and Uzbekistan. They collectively numbered more than 10 mln in the late 20th Century. Polish Tatars arrived in Poland in the 14th Century to reside in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They were welcomed in Poland because of their outstanding and reliable soldiers. For their efficient work in the Polish armies, they received new trappings from every successive duke and king of the lands from where they lived.

The biggest trappings were real estate and titles, which led them to begin purchasing “szlachta” – nobility, which allowed them to have the same rights as Polish and Lithuanian nobility, and even representation in the Polish chamber of deputies.
It was this primary association with the Tatars, many of which settled in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth while retaining their traditions and religious beliefs that led to their close Polish ties. Now, the older places in Poland where Polish Tatars lives (from about 300 years ago) are Bohoniki, Kruszyniany and others small villages near Bialystok.

In fact, Polish Tatars assimilated with their Christians neighbors quite well. For this reason, Polish Islam, for an extended period of time, appeared to be different than the Muslims from Middle East countries like Iran. For example, Tatars rarely prayed five times in a day because they said it was difficult and inconvenient to take a rug to the workplace. However, meetings are held every Friday at the mosque.

Most Polish Tatars don’t speak the Arabic language; they usually know only some parts of their holy book, the Koran, along with a few prayers. They also marry with non-Tatars, such as Christians; even though marrying within the group is equally valued. In fact, traditions within the Polish community and the Tatar community have adjusted, so that all may live in harmony. Some things have begun to change due to the younger generations becoming more interested and involved in orthodox Islam. They have learned the language and begun to travel to Muslim countries to see how they function, they tend to partake in fasting more often than the older generation, and try to meet more people who believe in Allah and share the same faith. Marrying within the Tatar circle has also become an important value to the younger generation of Polish Tatars. Partaking in Tatar celebrations and festivities, to which Tatars from neighboring countries are invited due to the small number of Polish Tatars, has become an incentive for younger generations to continue the tradition.

Today, it has become quite popular to be a Tatar. To have Tatar ancestors in one’s lineage has become a matter of pride. There are not many Tatars occupying Bohoniki and Kruszyniany, but due to frequent visitations from other Tatar neighbors, they are never at a loss. Moreover, every day more tourists come to visit Tatar mosques, cemeteries – mizars – and restaurants where it is possible to sample traditional Tatar cuisines, such as piereczekawnik or cybulnik.

It seems to be that the Tatars have successfully created a long-lasting legacy in Poland, from which everyone can benefit.

One thought on “Tatars: Poland’s Muslim Minority

  • September 15, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Perhaps you know, that a famous Tatar historian-scientist D. Iskhakov wrote in 2000: “the real history of Tatars, of the people in every respect historical, is not written yet”.

    However, recently launched a new book about unwritten (hidden) real history of Tatars, titled “Forgotten Heritage of Tatars” (by Galy Yenikeyev). This e-book you can easily find in the Internet, on Smashwords company website:

    There are a lot of little-known historical facts, 16 maps and illustrations in this book.


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