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I d ź   m i ę d z y   l u d z i ,
b o   ż y j ą c   z   n i m i   z a z n a s z   i c h   d o b r o c i ,
a   u m i e r a j ą c   w ś r ó d   n i c h ,
u s ł y s z y s z   i c h   p ł a c z .

Ali Ibn Abi Talib VIIw.

       The Białystok Tatar trail will take us to Bohiniki and Kruszyniany. These are the oldest centres of followers of Islam within the contemporary borders of Poland. They remember the first Tatars from over 300 years ago who were settled here by king John III Sobieski. Currently, the villages are home to few Tatars, but operating mosques and Muslim cemeteries make those places very important to them for both religious and symbolic reasons as they illustrate the history of adaptation of this community into the Polish-Belarusian environment, as well as unbroken spirit of this small group which allowed them to survive in this Christian land. Bohoniki and Kruszyniany become bustling and noisy, full of festive atmosphere during the bayrams - Muslim holidays celebrated several times a year. Also the holiday time enlivens those poor, seemingly deserted Podlachian villages. Tourists, students, holidaymakers and Tatar youth visits those places eagerly for their unique climate of Polish Orient. And these are not only the Muslim mosques, architecturally very similar to the local Orthodox churches, or not so old Muslim necropolises that attract crowds of visitors, but rather the atmosphere of borderlands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - the atmosphere of tolerance, mutual understanding and acceptance of variety. The Tatar episode of our history includes numerous events from Polish-Muslim relations which underwent a peculiar journey marked by Tatar raids, whose first catastrophic appearance in our country dates back to 13th century, and wars with Turkey, which eventually led to the times when the East won Polish hearts. Thanks to linguistic, religious and traditional bonds with Turkish people the Polish Muslims provided invaluable services to their new homeland as envoys, writers and translators. Thanks to these people we obtained information about different East than the one known by the war-harried residents of eastern lands of the Commonwealth. Therefore, they favoured the advent of times during which the treasury of Orient culture was opened and views deprived of real knowledge of Tatar life were changed. Currently we may observe a revival of Tatar culture, and it is even well-seen to have a Tatar ancestor in one's own family.

       The Islam followers who began to arrive to Poland in 14th century are Sunnites, followers of legal school established by Abu Hanif (700-767), i.e. Hanafis. Abu Hanif was the first Muslim scholar who left full legal code which created the most common and original legal system of Islam. In the Tatar faith there are some Turkish (pre-Muslim) elements and certain Christian features adopted from the local Slavic people. However, these influences didn't even partially manage to erase the Muslim character of this ethnic minority despite infrequent contacts with Islamic centres in the Near East. During the last years the Polish Tatars' pilgrimages to Mecca, during which they learn more about the principles of Islam, become more frequent. The Polish Muslims - Tatars are proud of their 600-year history on these lands, ability to lead peaceful co-existence with other nations and preservation of their religion, customs and traditions of the ancestors.

       Podlachian Tatar Trail is 150km long: Białystok - Sokółka - Bohoniki - Krynki - Kruszyniany - Krynki - Supraśl - Białystok. The sole sightseeing of the mosques and mizars will take several hours. However, it is also worth seeing other locations on this trail which are briefly mentioned in this guide. This will provide us with a broader picture of Białystok region as a meeting place of followers of different cultures and religions. The northern part of the voivodeship also houses the Lithuanian minority and the Old Believers' molennas whereas the southern and eastern part of Podlasie is inhabited by 350 thousand Orhodox Church followers and includes beautiful, old, wooden Orthodox churches. It might be worth spending several days in here and also visiting Tykocin (synagogue from 1642, first European seminary, monastery and church from 18th century, castle ruins), Sacred Mount Grabarka (the most sacred place of the Orthodox cult), or Drohiczyn (former capital of Podlaskie Voivodeship with numerous temples). And still there is also Białowieża Forest and backwaters of rivers Biebrza and Narwia called "Polish Amazon."

M i e s z k a   w e   m n i e   P o l a k   i   T a t a r
J e d e n   n o s i   m a c i e j ó w k ę   d r u g i   k r y m k ę .
S z a b l ę   w   s n a c h   o s t r z ą   t a k   s a m o
S z a l o n y   p o e z j ą   n a   s t e p a c h   K i p c z a k u
t a t a r s k ą   s z a b l ą   w a l c z ę   o   W i e l k ą   P o l s k ę
W i l c z e   f u t r o z   l i t e w s k i c h   l a s ó w
l e ż y   n a   o b u   t a k   s a m o .

Selim Chazbijewicz "Tatarski sen" / "Tatars Dream"

       The name "Tatar" was originally referring to one of the Mongolian tribes and was known as early as in 5th century. Along with the creation of enormous empire of Genghis Khan the name began to refer to all Mongolian tribes, also Turkic ones. In the 13th century the reigns of Temujin and his successors stretched over the half of Asia and almost whole Eastern Europe. The western part of his empire soon transformed into independent country known as the Golden Horde. The Mongolian conquerors assimilated completely with the local people from whom they adopted culture, language and religion - Islam. And these are the people inhabiting the Golden Horde, who formed the blend of Mongolian invaders and Turkic speaking Kipchaks, whom we call Tatars. They are lineal ancestors of the present-day Polish Tatars, and the Podlachian villages of Kruszyniany and Bohoniki are the westernmost islands of the Tatar settlement.

       The proper founder of this settlement was Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. During his reigns between 1392-1430 bigger groups of Tatar settlers came to Lithuania. Among the incomers were voluntary emigrants, fleeing pretenders to the throne and war prisoners. The Tatars experienced good reception. They obtained not only the guarantee for freedom of religion, but also selected civil rights. The authorities favoured their marriages with Christians and allowed them to bring their children according to the principles of Islam. The incomers received land under condition of military service. The duke Vytautas perceived the Tatar element as a shield against the Teutonic rapacity and in the case of civil war could use the Tatar cavalry as his faithful guard. The oldest Tatar centres appeared, among others, under the cities of Troki, Grodno and Łosośna. They had their praiseworthy share in the Battle of Grunwald. In 1410 both the Tatars who had settled in the Grand Duchy and those who came in 1409 under the command of Jalal al-Din, the oldest son of the murdered khan Tokhtamysh, who sought help in Lithuania to regain the throne of the Golden Horde, fought on the Polish-Lithuanian side. Some warriors of Jalal al-Din settled voluntarily in Lithuania, and echoes of those events survived centuries among the Tatar people, who derive eagerly their families from the participants of this famous battle. They also keep the memory of Vytautas as a ruler favouring Tatars, severe but just, whose name was mentioned during masses.

       The Tatar settlement was developing in Lithuania throughout the whole 16th century as well. In the course of time the subsequent unions transformed Poland and Lithuania into one country, the Tatars became the servants of Polish king, residents of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The main and traditional occupation of these people was art of war. They obtained land for which they were obliged to provide military service in their own, separate banners. The members of more prominent families were legally levelled with Polish nobility, with just one exception - the Muslims couldn't take part in the political life of the country. In bigger settlements wooden mosques were raised and religious schools were established. The Tatars sustained lively relations with Islamic centres in the East, and the rich ones pilgrimaged to Mecca bringing with them the news about religious tolerance in their second homeland.

       In the 17th century an aggravation of the Tatar situation occurred. They were not allowed to construct new temples, and the old ones deteriorated as their renovation was prohibited. Under threat of death the Tatars were not allowed to marry Christians. The Tatar women were accused of occult practices. Many miseries fell upon these people during the times of the Swedish "Deluge." Death and destruction didn't pass the Tatar settlements. The outbreak of war with Turkey provoked complications of different sort. The country exhausted after the Swedish invasion didn't pay the mercenaries forces. These refused to obey and dissolved. The Sejm of 1667 accepted the payment of just one-fourth of the outstanding soldier's pay for the Tatar banners. The fact that most of them hadn't already had hereditary lands and the lands of others were completely destructed was not considered. The bitterness was even stronger as new taxes were enforced on them, from which they were free under the laws and Sejm constitutions.

       In the winter 1671 in the Tatar banners located in Ukraine riots began, and in the spring of the following year - just before the great Turkish offensive - an open revolt started. Dozen or so commanders with their banners deserted to the Turkish side and during 1672 all Tatar banners in the Crown Army went to the Turkish side. The events went down in history as the Lipka Rebellion and are best known to the Polish reader from the pages of "Pan Wołodyjowski" by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The loyalty was kept by the Tatar cavalry in the Lithuanian army, though. Its proof was shown in the Battle of Khotyn in 1673. At the end of 1674 - after the capture of Bar by Polish forces - John III Sobieski accepted return of the Tatar Lipkas,who were staying there, to his army after their prior oath of loyalty to the Commonwealth. In 1676 the Sejm passed amnesty for all the Muslims who returned to Polish service. Their old rights and privileges were confirmed. The Tatars serving in the Crown and Lithuanian Armies were to receive soldier's pay equal to the one obtained by light cavalry units. In 1679 an attempt to settle the dispute over the outstanding soldier's pay was undertaken. As the state treasury was empty, John III Sobieski promised to remunerate soldiers of the Tatar banners with lands in the table lands. By virtue of the privileges with the same date - Grodno, 12 March 1679 - given to each rittmeister, they, along with soldiers from the units, were settled in villages located in royal economies: Brzeg, Kobryń and Grodno.

       In 1683 the Tatars took part in a new war against Turkey and fought courageously under Viena and Párkány.

       When we say about the revival of Tatary, beginning from the second half of 17th, we cannot forget about the connection that occurred between this fact and the ongoing fashion for Orient which started to develop during the reigns of Sobieski. The victories over the Turks brought rich trophies: tents, weapons, horse tacks, fabrics which were collected by Sobieski and the most distinguished knighthood with passion and expertness. The 17th-century chroniclers says about true peaceful 'invasion' of Orient on Poland. Particular services in adaptation of oriental fashions were provided by the Armenians thanks to their extraordinary artistic sense. Sobieski also appreciated highly the Tatar craftsmen who were not only occupied with leather dressing, but also manufactured products made of this material. From the Crimea ornamental Tatar weapons were imported and these are those weapons which our Tatars were often sent for. The Hussars and armoured cavalry competed with each others on copying both the Turkish and Tatar clothes. What's interesting, during the times of slavery the old Polish split-sleeve overcoat imitating the parade uniform of Tatar notable represented patriotic feelings and in spite of restrictions imposed by the partitioning states was worn to manifest Polishness.

       We also owe uhlan traditions to Tatars. The Tatar register mentions Adam Ułan who received land in Studzianka. Ułan appears here as a name, but in the times of the Golden Horde the title was given to youths of ducal origins. Some Tatar families in the old Poland used the title, which was also transformed into a surname. In the turn of 16th and 17th century one of the Tatar banners was named "ułańska" for it consisted of not only many relatives of dukes Assanczukowicze, who held the tile, but also their subject warriors. The wars led by Sobieski pointed attention to extraordinary bravery of Tatars of uhlan descent. Being the pride of the Commonwealth army, the proper uhlan formations were created by means of evolution. They were famous for their discipline and efficiency, were characterized by fabulous appearance and their courage and valour became legendary. Our uhlans constituted an example for similar formations in many European armies. There is even a hypothesis claiming that the four-cornered caps, a symbol of the old Polish uniform, were taken over from Tatars inhabiting Lithuania.

       In the 17th century the Tatars are gradually losing their native language, but they're still faithful to their religion - Islam, traditions and customs. We may see the Tatars' presence in every independence spurt during the times of partitions. The bravery of the Tatars was highly appreciated by Kazimierz Pułaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko, and Napoleon incorporated a squadron of Tatar cavalry into his own guard. In the times of Duchy of Warsaw the Muslims obtained all the political rights. They spared no life during the November and January Uprisings. Also during the World War I the Tatars served in Polish military formations, like colonel Maciej Bajraszewski and Aleksander Sulkiewicz - soldier of the I Brigade of the Polish Legions. He was also a peer and friend of Józef Piłsudski with whom he had operated in the conspiracy as the member of PPS. He died a heroic death during the struggles in Volhynia in 1916. In 1919 with the consent of the Commander-in-Chief Józef Piłsudski a Tatar regiment was formed. Due to lack of sufficient number of men, who were just returning from Russia, the regiment also included Poles and representatives of other nations from the borderlands. During the military actions the regiment was reinforced by soldiers from the former Russian army, mostly representatives of the Muslim Caucasus nations. The regiment was commonly called "Jazda Tatarska" (the Tatar Cavalry), and officially referred to as Mustafa Achmatowicz Regiment of Tatar Uhlans. It participated in the Kiev campaign, and latter protected the retreat of the Polish forces during the counter offensive of Bolsheviks, suffering heavy losses. In the August 1920, along with other units of the Polish army it took part in the defence of Płock, contributing to the victory over the Bolshevik army. Therefore, it had its share in the 'Miracle at the Vistula.'

       In the 2nd Polish Republic there were 6000 Tatars, 1000 Tatars in Lithuania and approximately 2000 in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. In Poland the biggest centres of Tatars survived in the north-eastern part of the country, in the Nowogród and Wilno Voivodeships. Their major religious and cultural centre was located in Vilnius. Since 1926 the city was home to the religious superior of all Islam followers in Poland, who held the proud title of Mufti of Polish Republic. It was D.Phil. Jakub Szynkiewicz. This was also the seat of the Muslim Religious Union in the Republic of Poland created in 1925. There were 19 operating Muslim parishes and 18 mosques in the country. Only the Warsaw parish, created in 1933, didn't have a mosque - but since 1939 there were plans to construct the temple. There were also 28 Cultural and Educational Associations of Polish Tatars. Within the operational framework of the Association clubrooms were established which served social and educational functions and where two magazines were published: "Rocznik Tatarski" i "ŻycieTatarskie".

       In 1936 an appeal to the Tatar military tradition was exercised once more by forming Squadron of Tatar Cavalry operating within 13th Regiment of Vilnius Uhlans. Soldiers dressed in Polish army uniforms had collars with pink pennants with blue band running through their centre and golden crescents on them. The squadron horsetails gave this formation oriental character. In September 1939 the squadron began its fitght for Poland under the command of rittmeister Aleksander Jejaszewicz. On September 28 at the village of Medyka, when reaching the Hungarian border became impossible a decision about the regiment dissolution was taken. During the September campaign the squadron lost almost two thirds of its original number. During the war years many Tatars participated in the resistance movement inside Poland or fought in Polish formations in the East and West.

       After the World War II, as a result of change of Polish eastern border most Tatar centres remained on lands annexed by the USSR and only some of them stayed in the country in the Białystok Voivodeship. As early as in 1945 some of the Tatars attached to Poland began to resettle on the Regained Territories as displaced people. At the end of the forties this resulted in formation of larger centres of these people, mostly in Gdańsk, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Trzcianka, Szczecin, Wrocław, Oleśnica. Not all of them left their homeland, they didn't want to leave their houses, mosques and cemeteries. The number of displaced Tatars was probably around 2000 people.

       Currently, there are approximately 4000 residents of Tatar descent who still continue the traditions of their religion. The biggest number of Tatars inhabits the Podlaskie Voivodeship, including 1800 people living in Białystok itself. Currently, out of the prewar Muslim parishes the capital one and the parishes in Bohoniki and Kruszyniany still operate. New parishes established after 1945 are located in Białystok, Gorzów Wielkopolski and Gdańsk, where in 1990 a mosque was opened. Matters of religious life are handled by the Muslim Religious Union headed up by a secular peson - after the war the rank of Mufti wasn't established. In 1992, as a reference to the prewar traditions a social and cultural organization called Association of Polish Tatars was established. The Association was joined by many people, both Muslim Tatars and those who left their traditional faith, but didn't forget about their origins.

       The Polish Tatars forms an ethnic group, or maybe only an ethnographic one, without traces of national minority. They consider themselves not only the citizens of the Republic, but also Poles - Poles of Tatar descent.

W   i m i ę   B o g a   M i ł o s i e r n e g o ,   L i t o ś c i w e g o !
C h w a ł a   B o g u ,   W ł a d c y   ś w i a t ó w ,
M i ł o s i e r n e m u ,   L i t o ś c i w e m u ,
K r ó l o w i   D n i a   S ą d n e g o .
Z a p r a w d ę ,   C i e b i e   c z c i m y   i   u   C i e b i e   s z u k a m y   p o m o c y .
P r o w a d ź   n a s   d r o g ą   p r o s t ą ,
d r o g ą   t y c h ,   k t ó r y c h   o b d a r z y ł e ś   ł a s k ą ,
n i e   z a ś   t y c h ,   c o   z a s ł u ż y l i   n a   T w e   o b u r z e n i e ,
i   n i e   t y c h ,   k t ó r z y   z b ł ą d z i l i .

Koran, sura I, Al-Fatiha

       Islam is a universal religion present on all continents whose followers are people of different races and nations. It was preached by Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah (approx. 570-632) known in Europe under his latinized name of Muhammad. The Muslim monotheism emerged in the area of the Near East, a land which witnessed birth and development of two earlier monotheistic religions: Judaism and Christianity.

       Pre-Muslim Arabs worshipped countless number of gods and idols, yet there were groups following the idea of monotheism, e.g. Jewish communes or small groups of Arabs known as Hanifs.

       Muhammad was born around 570 in the Hashemite family of the Quarish tribe. His uncle AbuTalib brought up the child; Muhammad's father had died before his birth, whereas his mother passed away when he was 6. Around the age of forty he got first vision brought to him by the Archangel Gabriel in a cave located on mount Hira. The first people to believe in his message were his wife Khadija and cousin Ali. During the first period of preaching new faith Muhammad passed mostly doctrinal principles and eschatological visions. New religion gained increasing support, but its followers were persecuted in Mecca. The effect was first emigration of Muslims to the Christian Ethiopia around 615 and next one, referred to as Hegira, to Jasrib in 622. This year also constituted a beginning of the reckoning of time adopted in Muslim calendar, and the city itself was renamed to Medina (the city of the Prophet). This was also the place where Muhammad began to create parish and in consequence confessional state. The Medina period was also a time of struggle against his native Mecca and tribes which rejected his message. In 630 Mecca surrendered to the prophet and statutes of pre-Muslim Arabic deities found in Al-Kaba temple were destroyed. This was a decisive victory of Muhammad over the Quarish people. In 631 a unification of the Arabia occurs, the last pagan tribes adopt the new religion. In 632 Muhammed dies unexpectedly without any hints regarding his succession. This was the beginning of a split inside the Muslim community into Sunnites and Shiites.

       The basis of the Islamic faith is a holy book Quran which includes all the most important doctrinal principles of this religion. Their extension and supplementation is sunnah (tradition) consisting of hadiths, i.e. stories about deeds, gestures and words of Muhammed. Quran and sunnah became sources of Islamic law (sharia) and theology.

       Quran consists of 114 chapters called suras arranged from the longest (306 ayats, i.e. verses) to the shortest (3 verses). The first Opening sura (Al-Fatiha), consisting of 7 ayats and acting as a basic prayer in Islam, is an exception. Translations of Quran are seen as merely its interpretations as according to the Islamic doctrine the language and style of the Quranic text are treated as inimitable and impossible to express in other language. This miraculous inimitability is called ijaz. Quran should be recited only in Arabic language. Quaran is recited publicly by specially trained reciters. There are seven schools of Quran recitation which differs from each other in method of text recitation.

       Quran is supplemented by Muhammad's tradition (sunnah) which includes his words and relations from his actions called hadiths. The prophet's traditions were collected and classified from 9th century by the traditionalists. Among numerous collections of traditions six were recognized as canonical and two of them - Al-Bukhari's (d. 870) and Muslim's (d. 875) - are said to be especially reliable. The Sunnites consider sunnah to be a source of religious knowledge almost equal to Quran. Quran and sunnah formed the basis of Muslim law (sharia, i.e. the way) which is seen as revealed and unchangeable. It deals with matters relating to this life, e.g.: trade, social relations, family, state administration; as well as religious ones (prayer, pilgrimage) and ethics. The Muslim law is divided into several schools (mazhab) out of which four survived: Malikiyya, Shafiyya, Hanafiyya and Hanbaliyya. Disputes between lawyers as well as practical needs for teaching basics of law of different type for administrative officers contributed to the development of Muslim educational system. In the 11th century an institution of madrasa was established, i.e. school where different law systems were taught.

       In Al-Bukhari's hadiths we find answer given to the Archangel Gabriel by Muhammad to the question: what is faith (iman)?: "Oznacza ona wiarę w Boga, w Jego Aniołów, w Jego Pisma, w Jego Wysłanników, w Dzień Ostateczny, oraz wiarę w to, że Bóg określił dobro i zło". The basis of Muslim faith is formed by strict monotheism. Allah is translated from Arabian as "God" and Quran stresses strongly that there is only one God, that He is a unity in himself. This unity and oneness of God is the basic dogma of Islam. Allah is one and only and "there is no one equal to Him." He is the Creator of everything and nothing exists without his will. Everything is his creation which repeats itself continuously, determines fate of all creatures. No law of nature can exists here and everything is a God's sign. There is no greater sin than attributing partners to God. Muslims believe in prophets and messengers, including biblical prophets (Noah, Abraham, Moses and others) and Jesus, among whom Muhammad is the last one. The holy revealed books also include, apart from the ultimate revelation, i.e. Quran, Torah, the Psalms of David and gospel.

       The basic religious acts obligatory for Muslims, the so called "Five Pillars of Islam," are: the creed - shahada, prayer - salat, alms-giving - zakat, fasting - sawm, pilgrimage to Mecca - Hajj.

       The creed is a confirmation of strict monotheism and Muhammad's mission by means of a phrase: "There is no god except Allah and Muhammad is a messenger of Allah." Recitation of shahada is equal to acceptance of Islam, thus every Muslim should recite it at least once in his lifetime. Shahada is whispered to newborns' ears immediately after their birth. The second act obligatory for every Muslim it the ritual prayer - salat. The prayer is said five times a day at exact hours, and it is announced by Muezzin's call: at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and after nightfall. A follower must maintain ritual purity achieved by performing major and minor ablutions. The prayer is said in any clean place, usually on a prayer rug. Only the afternoon prayer on Friday should have a group character and be said in a mosque. In it a whole community of a given land gathers under the guidance of imam. During the prayer all Muslims face Al-Kaba temple in Mecca. The prayer includes selected fragments of Quran and most of all the opening Al-Fatiha sura. Saying prayers is accompanied by bows and obsequious nods. Kneeling and prostration is required in Islam while worshipping only the God. In the Shiite Islam the followers celebrate the canonical mass only three times a day, and the first Shiite imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib admonishes: "Pewny sen jest lepszy od modlitwy w zwątpieniu". Alms-giving is enforced by law and is a method of cleansing oneself from worldly goods by giving them away, as well as a symbol of social solidarity. This tax is calculated according to specific principles - it constitutes 2,5% of the value of the owned property and above certain minimum - it was established by Muhammad in Medina. Zakat should be given to poor people who need support. Quran also mentions voluntary alms-giving - sadak, meant for everyone irrespective of faith.

       Muslims' next duty is fast which needs to be followed in the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar. In this time, from sunrise to sunset the follower is obliged to refrain from drinking, eating, smoking and sexual activity Following the tradition Quran was sent on the 27th day of Ramadan during the "Night of Power." The fasting month is a traditional occasion to meet the whole family and spend time on religious contemplation. It is concluded by the Feast of Breaking the Fast (id al fitr). The last pillar of Islam is formed by pilgrimage to Mecca which should be undertaken at least once in a lifetime by every healthy Muslim who can afford the trip financially and endure it physically. This is interlinked with precise performance of ceremony and rituals for the pilgrimage to be valid. The ceremonies of Hajj are concluded by the Feast of the Sacrifice (id al-adha) which commemorates prophet Abraham's sacrifice of his son whom he wanted to offer to God. During the feast the followers offer animal sacrifice (goats, sheep, camels).

       Islam prohibits alcohol, drugs, eating pork carrion and blood, gambling and usury. It is also prohibited to depict men and animals in sacred art; this affected the development of specific ornamentation and decorative art. The Islamic ornamentation uses plant and geometrical motives as well as Arabic writting, so called Arabesque.

       In the recent years media often use the term "Jihad." In the Muslim theology and law the name "Jihad" refers to the increased and every effort to develop Islam (e.g. through education, economical development). On the other hand, some radical Muslim groups understand Jihad as military action against infidels. Interpretation of Jihad as a "holy war" is connected to the crusades and is a European term.

       Currently, there over one billion Muslims in the world including 20 thousand in Poland. The Polish Muslims, as well as most of their co-religionists in the world, consider their religion as peaceful as Buddhism and Christianity. In Arabic language the name "islam" means "a complete submission to God" and is etymologically related to the word "salam" translated as "peace." Both the co-religionists and "foreigners" are welcomed by Muslims with words "assalam alejkum" - "peace with you."


       An image of Allah worshipper, who kneels and immerse in prayer irrespective of time and place, remains example for worshippers of true God, especially for those Christians who doesn't pray much or don't pray at all, leaving their magnificent cathedrals.

       John Paul II "Przekroczyć próg nadziei", Lublin 1994

       The journey in the footsteps of Polish Tatar will begin in Sokółka. In the first half of the 16th century a royal manor Sokołda was operating here, at the road leading from Grodno to Tykocin. Next to the manor a village developed which then transformed into a market settlement which obtained town privileges in 1609. In Sokółka it is worth seeing classicistic church of St. Anthony from 1848 (expanded in 1904), St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox church from 1853 and visiting Sokółka Culture Centre where a tourist can obtain information about the Tatar community and visit the museum where one of its departments is dedicated to Polish Muslims.

       The historical sources provide a precise date of the privilege which granted Tatars the villages of Bohoniki and Drahle This took place on 12 March, 1679. John III Sobieski's privilege says: "...też włóki i wioski wieczyście onymże i sukcesorom nadawszy i darowawszy, na onych budować się, osadzać iprzedać, zostawić i podług woli i upodobania swego dysponować z obłigiem tylko usługi wojennej wiecznymi czasy pozwolił i ubezpieczył". The villages were possessed by soldiers from regiments of rittmeisters Bodgan Kieński and Gazy Sielecki. The surname of rittmeister Olejowski, who along with his regiment settled in the granted lands, was saved. The old residents of Bohoniki and Drahli were moved to different settlements. The Tatars integrated with Bohotniki for good. They became the centre of the local Muslim communities. A wooden mosque and a cemetery were constructed. The present-day temple comes from the second half of the 19th century. This a wooden, almost square building with a hip roof with one signature minaret topped with a crescent. The interior of the mosque is divided into two parts: men and women ones. They are separated by a horizontal gap covered with a transparent muslin curtain which allows people in the women side to watch the ceremony. Both rooms have separate entrances running from the common vestibule with shelves for shoes. The Islam followers sit in rows on floor carpets and pray faced towards south, Mecca. The direction, so called "kybla" is indicated by "mihrab," i.e. a niche in the temple's wall. Unlike the richly decorated, stone or marble mihrabs in the mosques of the East, the niche is very modest and made of wood. To the right of the mihrab we can see a platform, so called "mimbar" which is a kind of pulpit. This is the place from which imam, called by the locals "mołna" delivers a Friday sermon. Mimbar is the only fragment of the interior which keeps traces of artistic work. Along the wall separating the temple into two parts, on the men side there is a gallery which resembles Orthodox or Catholic choir. Once the gallery served muezzin who fulfilled his duties during the Friday mass. The Arabic language resounds in the mosque. The prayers derive from the so called "chamaiły," which are the equivalent of Christian breviaries, and from the Quranic text. On the walls we see Arabic writings in frames, "muhiry" with verses from Quran.

       During the war the mosque was devastated by the Nazis. After it the temple was renewed several times; there were also plans of its expansion. Their remains in the form of a foundation are present near the old body of the mosque. Almost opposite the mosque, across the street there is a parish house in front of which there is an erratic boulder with a board commemorating 300 years of Tatar settlement on those lands.

       The Muslim cemetery - mizar - is located at the of the village, on its right side, on a forested hill. It was established at the end of the 18th century. The oldest noted inscription comes from 1796. The old graves have sides surrounded by stones and two tombstones: bigger one at the side of the head of the deceased with effaced writing, and small one at feet. Newer graves resemble Christina ones in their form. They are ground and dressed monuments from different kinds of stone. At their top there is a crescent with a star and stylized Quran verses. The most striking deviation from Islam are pictures of deceased found on some plates. Although Quran doesn't condemn directly depicting living creatures, the hadiths, which supplement its rules, do. Some Muslims do not allow anybody to take their pictures during prayers. Therefore the use of cameras during religious ceremonies can be allowed only by imam and the congregation.

       In the eastern part of the village, going from the mizar towards the mosque, on the right side it is worth paying attention to a dig-up hill;. This is the oldest Muslim cemetery in Bohoniki which remembers the beginnings of Tatar settlement. According to the local tradition the former mosque was located next to this mizar, but after the fire a new temple was placed in its current location.

       Similarly to Kruszyniany, Bohoniki is a place where Tatars celebrate together Muslim holidays, so called "bajramy." At that time both villages are visited by the faithful from the whole Poland so during the ceremonies not all of them can get into the mosque. The holidays are an opportunity to strengthen family ties, establish new contacts, spend some time together which contributes to integration of Polish Tatars. This is also a from of execution of at least some duties required by Islam. Today almost nobody celebrates salat five times a day, zakat does not exist in any form and the fast during the Ramadan is also not strictly obeyed. A particularly exalted celebration occurs during the holidays of Ramadan-Bayram and Kurban Bayram. The first one is related to the conclusion of the 30-day fast during the month of Ramadan. The holiday lasts three days during which Tatars attend services, visit graves of their relatives and meet their families. The second one - the Feast of the Sacrifice commemorates Abraham's sacrifice of his son Ismael exchanged for sacrifice of lamb by God. After the service, in front of the mosque a ritual slaughter of lamb or ox takes place witnessed by many Muslims and imam, who recites proper prayers. Then the meat is divided among the faithful. The holiday lasts four days. Other holidays of Polish Muslims include: Mewlud-Bayram (Muhammad's day of birth) Muslim New Year as well as Ashura-Bayram (funeral service commemorating death of two sons of Fatima, Muhammad's daughter), which derives from tradition of Islam followers of Shiite faction and today it is difficult say why Tatars, as Sunnites, celebrate it. This is probably another evidence for Podlasie's ecumenism.


       "Bądź pozdrowiony i błogosławiony Mahomecie, oblubieńcze Boży, Bądź pozdrowiony i błogosławiony Jezusie, tchnienie Boże, Bądź pozdrowiony i błogosławiony Mojżeszu, faworycie Boga, Bądź pozdrowiony i błogosławiony Salomonie, powierniku Boga, Bądź pozdrowiony i błogosławiony Noe, ocalony miłosierdziem Boga, Bądź pozdrowiony i błogosławiony Adamie, czyste dzieło rąk Bożych."

       The prayer of greeting the prophets

       When visiting the Tatar trail we visit Krynki twice. Although Krynki lost their town privileges in 1950 the years of former glory are still visible here at every turn. As early as in 1509 Sigismund I founded the town and granted it a coat of arms. In the second half of the 18th century the spacial arrangement was reconstructed in the baroque style. The town received a radiant plan whose centre was a regular hexagonal market with 12 streets running from it. The plan has been greatly preserved to our times. In the northern part of the town there are two cemeteries located near one another: Jewish and Orthodox ones. The Jewish cemetery in Krynki is the biggest necropolis in the north-eastern Poland. Until now there are 3 thousand matsebahs. In the Orthodox church there is an Orthodox church from the half of the 18th century. The third necropolis is the Catholic church established one hundred fifty years ago. In Krynki there are also: two former synagogues and ruins of the Great Synagogue, neo-Gothic Catholic church from the beginning of the 20th century, brick Orthodox church from the second half of the 19th century. Do not stint your time on sightseeing Krynki as there is no better place to learn about the specificity of the borderland area which is a mix of nationalities and religions.

       A 12-kilometre distance separating Krynki from Kruszyniany is a picturesque route among hills and forests. A beautiful and clean river Nitupa at which we can see an old water mill. In its upper part a nature reserve is located in order to protect habitats of beavers.

       The beginnings of Tatar settlement in Kruszyniany have legendary character in the folk tradition. 300 years ago colonel Samuel Murza-Krzeczowski came to the village with his soldiers. His arrival was provoked by Sobieski who gave Kruszyniany to Tatars for saving his life in the battle of Párkány in 1683. Several years later, the king visited Krzeczowski on his way to the Sejm of Grodno. There are no souvenirs from the times of John III Sobieski although even today Tatars point to places covered with old lime trees under which the king stayed and Krzeczowski's manor was located. In fact Tatars settled in Kruszyniany and several neighbouring settlements by virtue of privilege from 1679. Soon a moizar and a mosque appeared. According to the local tradition the mosque was founded by the last member of Krzeczowski family. It was considerably bigger than the Bohoniki mosque, wooden, constructed on a rectangle plan with two tower minarets and one signature minaret, it probably comes the second half of the 18th century. The mosque was renovated in 1846. During the World War II the mosque was hit by a bomb which did not explode, though. It also housed a German field hospital for some time. Part of the mosque equipment in Kruszyniany was stolen during the war. There are two separate entrances to the mosque, one leading to the men room with mihrab, mimbarm and a gallery and the other one leading to the women part. The building stands among age-old trees, surrounded by a stone wall. Similarly to Bohoniki, next to the mosque there is a board commemorating the Tatar settlement on these lands.

       Approximately 100 meters away from the mosque, on a sandy hill, there is a mizar stretching among tall old trees. It is surrounded by a wall made of huge stones. The oldest tombstone found there comes from 1744. The first inscriptions on Tatar tombstones in Polish-Lithuanian state didn't appear until 18th century. The writings were always placed on stones located at the head of the deceased. They were texts in Arabic or Polish or Russian language written in Arabic alphabet. Most usually they quoted fragments from Quran. On many tombstones the names of the deceased are written in Cyrillic alphabet. This is a souvenir left after the times of partitions and an effect of the Russification conducted by tsars whose peak-time was the second half of the 19th century when Tatars were not allowed to use Polish language during services and in tombstone inscriptions.

       There is also an Orthodox church in Kruszyniany. It is beautifully located on the hill with an Orthodox church in its centre. Initially there was a wooden Uniate church which was transformed into Orthodox one in the 19th century. It was destructed in a fire in 1983. Currently there is a brick buidling.

       On the way back to Białystok we should find some time to take a walk in the 1863 Insurgents Arboretum in Kopna Góra. It is also worth staying a bit longer in Supraśl. The town, located at a clean river and having the status of a spa, is full of interesting monuments. Since 1500 this is home of Basilian monks who constructed an Orthodox church and monastery buildings, which later were expanded. The post-Basilian complex is one of the most interesting Polish monuments of defensive religious architecture. Supraśl is located in the old Kruszyniany Primeval Forest and can be a fantastic starting point for further trips across Białystok land.

       The collection of Historical Museum in Białystok includes a collection of souvenirs related to life and religion of Tatars. Among 70 exhibits, whose collection effort was initiated in the 70s by Maciej Konopacki, a popularizer of knowledge and history of Tatars, most have religious character. The collection includes: Handwritten and printed Qurans, chamails, muhirs, prayer rugs, funeral shroud, astrological boards as well as documents and photographs.

       The capital of Podlasie is the biggest centre of Tatars in Poland. This is the seat of authorities of Muslim Religious Union. For several years now, on Pomorska street a Centre of Islam has been built with help of Muslim countries. Polish Tatars hope that in 2-3 years this architecturally interesting building will be one of the symbols of Białystok.


  • 1324 - first note about Tatar settlers in Lithuania found in Franciscan annals
  • 1392-1430 - reigns of Grand Duke Vytautas, development of Tatar settlement in Lithuania
  • 1410 - Tatars' participation in the Battle of Grunwald
  • 1605 - Lithuanian Tatars' participation in the Battle of Kirholm
  • 1609 - destruction of mosque in Troki, 1671-1672 - the Lipka Rebellion
  • 1676 - Lipas' case decided during the Polish-Turkish negotiations in Żórawno, amnesty on Tatars who returned to Polish service
  • 1679 - Tatar settlement in Podlasie
  • 1683 - the Relief of Vienna
  • 1794 - Lithuanian Tatars' participation in Kościuszko Uprising
  • 1812 - establishment of Tatar squadron within the Light Cavalry Regiment of the Napoleon's Imperial Guard
  • XIX century - Tatars' participation in national uprisings
  • 1918-1920 - Polish Tatars in Crimea and Azerbaijan fight for throwing off the Russian yoke
  • 1925 - establishment of Muslim Religious Union in the Polish Republic
  • 1926 - establishment of Cultural and Educational Association of Polish Tatars
  • 1936 - establishment of Tatar squadron within the 13th Regiment of Vilnius Uhlans
  • 1945 - repatriation, Tatars in the Western Lands
  • 1947 - re-establishment of Muslim Religious Union in Poland
  • 1966 - first postwar Tatar publication in Poland, a one-off issue "Muzułmanin Polski"
  • 1990 - opening of mosque in Gdańsk
  • 1992 - registration of Association of Polish Tatars
  • 1993 - first volume of "Rocznik Tatarów Polskich"
  • 1994 - initiation of construction of Islamic Centre in Białystok
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