Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 39

May/June 2014
At that time, the communist authorities did not accept any
national and ethnic minorities. Thus the “Tatar Trail,” estab-
lished in the 1960’s, was promoted as a mere tourist attraction,
a ploy to reduce the Polish Tatars to an ethnographic curiosity.
Polish Muslims were forced to fraternize with immigrants from
the Middle East and North Africa on the basis of “religious
community.” This contributed to the reduction of ethnicity and,
in many cases, the complete loss of it. Many Tatars who were
born at that time do not know today how to pray in Arabic.
Not wanting to be identified by name, a Tatar woman in
Sokółka says, “I have not learned religion as it should be done.
I do not know and cannot do many things. Every now and
then, a Tatar would come to our house to teach us how to
pray, and my grandparents taught me to read Arabic letters.”
After the fall of communism in 1989, the Tatar community
began to revive itself in Poland. The Muslim Religious As-
sociation of Poland now has eight communities—Białystok,
sk, Warsaw, Bohoniki, Kruszyniany, Pozna
, Bydgoszcz,
and Gorzów Wielkopolski—that embrace the population of
about 5000 Polish Tatar Muslims. The association represents
Polish Muslims before the state, provides religious and spiri-
tual services, and maintains historic sites and cemeteries, such
as the one in Kruszyniany. It also hosts marriages, funerals and
prayer services. The association organizes the celebrations of
Muslim holidays—Kurban Bayram (
‘Id al-Adha
and Rama-
dan Bayram (
‘Id al-Fitr
)—and other ceremonial occasions.
Today, many of the Muslim community’s rituals are per-
formed not only for Muslims, but also for non-Muslims
interested in inter-religious dialogue. “It is conducive to learn-
ing about each other, building respect, discovering common
values in both religions and breaking stereotypes,” says Agata
Skowron-Nalborczyk, an associate professor at the Faculty of
Oriental Studies at the University of Warsaw.
Today, about 20,000 to 30,000 Muslims live in Poland, and
they comprise a mere 0.6 percent of Poland’s population. Al-
though the community is small, it is diverse: The largest group
of Muslim newcomers hails from Arab countries, but also
there are Turks, Bosnians and refugees from Somalia, Afghani-
stan, Chechnya and Syria.
Of the 5000 Tatars in Poland, most live in Białystok and
other cities. Tatar villages such as Kruszyniany and Bohoniki
are mostly deserted except during Muslim holidays when Mus-
lims travel there with their families to pray in mosques and
visit cemeteries. It is then they taste the increasingly famous
dishes offered by Bogdanowicz.
Polish Tatars are keenly aware that the survival of culture
depends on children. For several years schools in Tatar com-
munities have begun to offer curriculum for Tatar children,
and community-based cultural and religious instruction is
increasingly common. They also get to know Tatar tradition
and history from the stories and values handed down by the
family, especially grandparents, and from activities of Tatar
organizations and associations.
For many years, Tatars often dreamed and prayed that
they once again could teach the forgotten
Tatar language. They realized their dream in
2012, when the opening lesson of Tatar lan-
guage was held in Białystok. “After over 400
years of ‘silence,’ we have the opportunity
to use the language of our ancestors,” an-
nounced the Central Council of the Union of
Tatars of the Republic of Poland.
Because of their heritage, Tatars may well
be Poland’s strongest bridge between the West
and the East, between Islam and Christian-
ity, as they retain their religious roots while
comfortably living among people of other
heritages and faiths. “Tatars,” as Mi
says, “who feel Polish, should never forget
about their origin and belief, but as Tatars
they should always remember that Poland
has been their homeland for 600 years, and
that they will always be an integral part of the
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Scan here to link to the video.
Katarzyna Jarecka-St
) holds
a doctorate in humanities from Jagiellonian University in
Krakow, where her research focuses on how society and
culture influence the effectiveness of international aid.
She also runs workshops in intercultural communications.
Aga Luczakowska
com) began her career with the Dziennik Zachodni (West-
ern Daily) newspaper in Poland, and she currently freelanc-
es from Bucharest, Romania. Her work has appeared in the
New York Times’ “Lens” blog, The Washington Post and
The Guardian.
In a Bia
ystok classroom, Maria Aleksandrowicz-Bukin, who chairs
the Muslim Religious Association in that town, leads a lesson
about Islam.
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