Muslims’ Community Until The Restoration of Independence of Lithuania In 1990
In our country Islam emerged in about the 14th -16th centuries. By that time Tatars settled in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by the invitation of the Grand Duke Vytautas. The largest number of the newcomers were immigrants from the Golden Horde and the Crimean Khanate. In the areas that were wider inhabited by tatars, they built mosques, practiced their religion Islam and observed relevant traditions. (Read more here: The Emergence of Islam in Lithuania). For long time tatars were the only Muslims in Lithuania. They could be characterized by their tolerance of other faiths. As the reason of this they did not suffer any serious persecution in the Middle Ages.
However, in historical perspective, Lithuanian Muslims’ religious life had the highs and lows from the beginning of it in here to the present times. This is well reflected in the change of number of Muslims’ houses of worship at the different periods. During various times there were about 50 mosques in total in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the last partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, the Lithuanian Tatars had 17 mosques. Lithuanian Tatars’ religious communities did not experience oppression in the 19th century in Russian empire, therefore more mosques were built. After the First World War there were 17 Lithuanian Tatars’ houses of worship in the territory of Poland, 3 in the Republic of Lithuania and 4 in the territory of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The governments of Lithuania and Poland allowed the religious revival, but mosques in Belarus were being closed and destroyed. After the Second World War Lithuanian Muslims’ religious life fainted. Only two operating mosques remained. One of those were in Belarus and the other one in Lithuania, village of Raižiai, although there were two mosques in Poland working without any hindrance. Other houses of worship were nationalized by government and started to be used in activities not related to faith. Governmental institutions or museums were opened in some of them, others were used as the grain warehouses. Generally, all religions suffered loss of their significance during this period of time, so the houses of worship were not the only things lost by the Muslims’ community. Their faith and spiritual culture faltered as well.
The Revival of Religious Life After The Restoration of Independence of Lithuania
The restoration of Independence in 1990 has started changes in the situation of religion in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Tatars’ national revival occurred. Community turned back to their national heritage and ethnic culture, while at the same time remembered their faith - Islam. Some small Muslims’ communities were re-established and are now functioning in various different cities or villages as well as the Spiritual Center of the Lithuanian Sunni Muslims – Muftiate was re-established in 1998. The property and buildings of places of worship were returned back to the Lithuanian Muslims’ communities. Four currently working mosques are being repaired or reconstructed with the help and funds from local and foreign Muslims’ religious communities. Moreover, international relations with Middle East Muslims’ countries have been updated and this reopened up new possibilities for Lithuanian Muslims to perform pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia).
Although for long time Tatars were almost the only Muslims in Lithuania, Muslims’ community started to change after the Independence. Though consumerism has flourished and the society has become rushed one, need and desire to search for the answers to existential questions and to seek closeness to the Lord arose. After the window to the other countries was opened up, people who were thirsty for knowledge got direct contact to the Muslims from other countries and more opportunities to know and learn about Islam. Foreign tourists, students, business people of Islamic faith discovered and started visiting Lithuania, settled here and made families or stayed for longer or shorter periods of time for training, studying or working. All this ended up that now more and more Lithuanian men and women are constantly discovering and accepting Islam as their own religion.
As the community has been recently changing, religious life was revived by the efforts of mufti, imams of the mosques, Tatars, Lithuanian Muslims and foreign students. Friday prayers are regularly hold, religion lessons once a week are taught in Kaunas mosque or Islamic Culture and Education Centre, Eid festivals as well as other celebrations such as nikah, aqiqah, etc. are organized. In towns of smaller Muslims’ communities brotherhood relations are strengthened by nice friendly meetings. Lithuanian Muslims are also active virtually - they are willingly spreading and seeking knowledge about Islam and sharing information about activities in their community. Lithuanian Muslims’ religious life is harmonious and of high religious morality, which submits to the will of Allah.
Lithuanian Muslims' Community Today
Totally, there may be over 3000 Lithuanian Muslims, living in Lithuania and abroad. According to the population census conducted in 2011, 2700 of Muslims in Lithuania were Tatars. Most of the new converted Muslims live in foreign countries, mainly in Europe and the Middle East. However, Vilnius and Kaunas are Lithuanian cities with biggest Muslims’ communities that may consist of up to few hundreds Muslims: tatars, converts, foreign inhabitants and temporary students.
Despite of the active and strong community, one of the biggest problem faced by most of Lithuanian Muslims is lack of knowledge of Arabic language. Furthermore, for a long time the Qur'an for Lithuanians was available only in foreign languages such as Russian, English or German. The first Lithuanian translation of the meaning of the Quran, made by Mufti Romas Jakubauskas and approved by the Spiritual Center of the Lithuanian Sunni Muslims – Muftiate, was published in 2010. However, lack of skills in Arabic language makes it more complicated for Lithuanian Muslims to perform their prayers as they have to learn all words sometimes without understanding the meaning of them. Moreover, although Lithuanian translation of the meaning of the Quran is available, most of Lithuanian Muslims can not read or understand the original Arabic one and therefore are limited only to the translation of the meaning without being able to feel the real beauty of the Noble Quran.
Muslims’ Houses of Worship
Lithuanian Muslims’ religious life and related to it daily life as usually takes place in the mosques and in the Spiritual Center of the Lithuanian Sunni Muslims – Muftiate which moved to a new larger building since 2013. A mosque for these Muslims is not only a worshiping place of Allah, but also a community center. It’s a place where Eids take place, marriages are concluded, the birth of children (aqeeqahs) are celebrated. It is also a place for a small library of Islamic literature and lessons of islam, guests’ reception, men's, women's and children's gatherings.
The mosques of Lithuania are simple, without luxurious decorations, their floor is usually covered by carpets. As one of the requirements of the prayer is a clean place, shoes are always left in the entryway before coming inside. All four mosques of Lithuania are with minarets which usually look like small turrets on the roofs. Despite this fact, they are more for decorative reasons than for calling Adhan (call for prayer), which is always called only inside the mosque.
More about mosques of Lithuania can be read here: "Mosques, Islamic center, a tourist place”.
The Prayer - Worship of Allah
A Muslim should remember his Creator in every his step, all his works and actions should be done in the name of Allah, and the daily life of a Muslim should be enclosed by the expression of the highest obedience, humility and gratitude to the Lord - a prayer. An important believer’s duty is to perform it five times a day, no matter where that person is or what he is doing. If it is possible men should be praying with the community and women are allowed to do this at home by themselves, although, contrary to a popular belief, they also can and sometimes are even encouraged to go the mosques.
Currently doors of Kaunas mosque and Muftiate located in Vilnius are always open at the time of five daily prayers. Three other mosques of Lithuania in Nemezis, Raiziai and Keturiasdesimt Totoriu village are unlocked only for Friday afternoons. On this day all the Muslims, men and women, children and elders, are united by Friday prayer (Salatul Jumuah) in the mosque. It is not obligatory for women and travellers, but obligatory for every Muslim man. However, as Lithuanian Muslims’ community is not particularly large and scattered over various cities, this day of a week became a gathering day for all - men, women and children.
Lithuanian Muslims’ community is very diverse and Friday prayers proves this. At that time representatives of many different nationalities meet up and communicate in all kind of languages of the world. Only sermon (khutbah) is often said in two languages (Lithuanian and Russian, Russian and Turkish, Lithuanian and Arabic, etc.), and other important messages sometimes must be said even in four or five languages. Despite these external differences, all Muslims are united by a common love for the Lord and a prayer, performed in Arabic.