Little Islam in Belarus
The Islam in Belarus spread in the 14th -16th centuries. The process was encouraged by great Lithuanian princes, who invited the Tatar Muslim from the Crimea and Golden Horde as guards of state borders. Already in the 14th century the Tatars were proposed the settled way of life, state posts and service positions. By the end of the 16th century over 100 thousand persons of Tatar population settled in Belarus and Lithuania, including those hired to the service, voluntarily moved, prisoners of war, etc.
The Tatars follow to the Sunni Hanafi Islam. Some groups of Tatar in Belarus have accepted Christianity and got assimilated, but mostly they adhere to Muslim religious traditions what ensures their definite endogamy and preservation of ethnic features. Interethnic marriages with representatives of Belarusian, Polish, Lithuanian, Russian nationalities are not rare, but do not result in total assimilation.
Originating from different ethnic associations, Belarusian (and also Polish and Lithuanian) Tatars back in ancient days lost their native language and switched mainly into Belarusian, Polish and Russian. However, liturgy is conducted in the Arabic, which is known by the clergymen.
First mosques appeared on the territory of Belarus in the 14th - 15th cent. In 1994, the Mosque in Slonim was opened, and in 1996 the one in Smilovichi. In July 1997 in memory of the 600 anniversary of settlement of Tartars in Belarus, there took place a ceremony of opening a Mosque in Novogrudok. In the 19th century, the Mosque in the town of Ivye was built. It is considered a monument of the Belarusian wooden architecture. Today there are 4 functional Mosques in Belarus and a 5th one is under construction. In 1997, the foundation stone was laid for a future Mosque in Minsk. There were 27 Muslim communities in Belarus by mid-2002.
On June 14 and 15 2000, a gathering of nearly 100,000 Muslims from 25 communities throughout Belarus was planned to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad. Mr Ibragim Kanapatsky, deputy chairman of the Islamic Association of Belarus then said, “Delegates from every part of the country, as well as representatives of the Turkish Embassy, will gather in a mosque in Smilovichi in the Minsk region to discuss problems faced by the Muslims of Belarus. It is a difficult time for us because of mixed feelings towards Islam in the world, in Belarus too, after the known events in the Caucasus and in other hot spots".
The geographical location and the number of Muslim communities in Belarus keep on expanding. Thus, in 1997 there were 23 communities including 19 of those in the Western regions of Belarus.
In 1994, the First All-Belarusian Congress of Muslims was held. As a result, the Muslim Religious Community of the Republic of Belarus was founded. Ever since it has been headed by Ibragim Aleksandrovich.
According to Mr. Kanapatsky, the Islamic Association will concentrate its efforts on building a Mosque in Minsk, as well as on renovating the mosque in Smilovichi and Muslim cemeteries throughout the country. Apart from Smilovichi, there are mosques in the towns of Ivye, Slonim, and Novogrudok in the Grodno region; in Kletsk in the Minsk region; and in Vidzy in the Vitebsk region. IBC through KC