The Emergence of Islam in Lithuania
Contrary to many Western or Northern European countries, Islam was known in Lithuania since the Middle Ages. In contrast to the other European societies at that time Lithuania was known by high levels of ethnic diversity and relative religious tolerance. That is the reason why the newcomers from different countries, of different cultures and religions, were easily accepted.
In the Middle Ages The Grand Duchy of Lithuania in The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was extended all the way from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and included several Muslims’ lands in the south, inhabited by Crimean Tatars. A portion of these Muslims migrated to ethnic lands of Lithuanians, now the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, especially during the time of the ruling of Vytautas, the Grand Duke. Together they brought their religion of Islam and its traditions to their new homeland.
Tatars settled in the particular areas of Lithuania. For example, their main communities were established in the lands around Raiziai (in the municipality of the District of Alytus), Nemezis and other places. As the time went by, Tatars completely settled therein, started making families, having their children and integrated into the life of local communities. Over the Time Tatars of Lithuania lost their language and now use Lithuanian. However, they preserved Islam as their religion. Due to the isolation from the rest of the Islamic world, religion practices of Tatars has some differences from other Sunni Muslims, but they are not considered as a separate sect.
After the occupation of Lithuania fair part of Tatars’ culture, many mosques and graveyards were destroyed by the regime of the Soviet Union. Up to now there are only 4 Tatars’ mosques remained and they are being used by all Lithuanian Muslims’ community: three wooden mosques in the villages of Keturiasdesimt Totoriu, Nemezis, Raiziai and one brick-built mosque in the second largest city of Lithuania – Kaunas. There was also a wooden mosque in Lukiskes area in Vilnius, but it was destroyed. Tatars’ community of Lithuania is putting efforts to rebuild it, but they are facing some difficulties such as the shortage of funds and lack of certain actions by the government of the municipality of Vilnius. Also, there is a minaret in Kedainiai, however it was built for aesthetic reasons and not the religious ones.