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26 I SPECIAL FEATURE Passion Islam I October 2008
Muslims in
Poland
The first noticeable presence of Islam in military. The largest of by the monarchs
Poland began in the 14th century. From such groups to arrive to the o f the Polish-Lithuanian
this time it was primarily associated with area was a tribe of Tokhtamysh, Commonwealth allowed the Tatars
the Tatars, many of whom settled in who in 1397 rebelled against to preserve their religion, traditions
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth while his former protector Tamerlane and culture throughout the ages. The
continuing their traditions and religious and sought asylum in the Grand Duchy. most notable military clans were granted
beliefs. The first significant non-Tatar The Tatars under his command were all with Coats of Arms and szlachta status,
groups of Muslims arrived in Poland in granted with szlachta status, a tradition while many other families melted into the
the 1970s. Currently the total number of that was preserved until the end of the rural and burgher society. The first Tatar
Muslims in Poland is estimated at around Commonwealth in 18th century. Light Tatar settlements were founded near the major
30,000 or 0.07% of the total population. cavalry, used both as skirmishers and towns of the Commonwealth in order to
In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth reconnaissance troops took part in many allow for fast mobilization of troops. Apart
(14th - 18th century) Poland had little of the battles against the foreign armies in from religious freedom, the Tatars were
prolonged contact with Islam until the the 15th century and afterwards, including allowed to marry Polish and Ruthenian
14th century with the advent of the first the battle of Grunwald in which the Tatars women of Catholic or Orthodox faith,
Tatar settlers. Although Muslims were fought commanded by their leader, Jalal uncommon in Europe of that time. Finally,
involved in earlier Mongol invasions in the ad-Din khan. the May Constitution granted the Tatars
13th century, these had a purely military In 16th and 17th century additional with a representation in the Polish Sejm.
character and there are no traces of Tatars found refuge in the lands of the General Józef Bem nominally
settlement or conversion of any parts of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, mostly converted to Islam in 1849 after fleeing to
the Polish population. of Nogay and Crimean origin. Since then the Ottoman Empire.
On the other hand, the first accounts of until the 1980s the Muslim faith in Poland Perhaps the only moment in history
the Polish state of Mieszko I were written when the Lipka Tatars fought against the
by a Jewish merchant and diplomat of the Commonwealth was during the so-called
Caliphate of Córdoba Ibrahim ibn Jakub Lipka Rebellion of 1672. The “Deluge” and
and later published in an Arabic chronicle the ensuing period of constant wars made
of Al-Bakri. Other Muslim merchants, the szlachta of central Poland associate
arrived in Polish lands at that time, as can the Muslim Lipkas with the invading forces
be seen by a large number of Arab coins of the Ottoman Empire. This, combined
found in numerous archaeological sites with the Counter-Reformation promoted by
throughout modern Poland. the Vasa dynasty led the Sejm to gradually
In 14th century the first Tatar tribes limit the privileges of the Polish Muslims.
settled in the lands of the Grand Duchy Although King John Casimir of Poland tried
of Lithuania. Skilled warriors and great to limit the restrictions on their religious
mercenaries, their settlement was freedoms and the erosion of their ancient
promoted by the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, rights and privileges, the gentry opposed.
among them Gediminas, Algirdas and Finally, in 1672, during the war with the
Kęstutis. The Tatars who settled in Ottomans, the Lipka Tatar regiments
Lithuania, Ruthenia and modern-day
Meczet Gdansk Mosque
(numbering up to 3,000 men) stationed in
eastern Poland were allowed to preserve the Podolia region of south-east Poland
their Sunni religion in exchange for military abandoned the Commonwealth at the
service. The initial settlements were mostly start of the Polish-Turkish wars that were
temporary and most of the Tatars returned to last to end of the 17th century with the
to their native lands after their service Peace of Karłowice in 1699. Although the
expired. However, in the late 14th century Lipkas initially fought for the victorious
Grand Duke Vytautas (named by the Turks, soon their camp was divided onto
Tatars Wattad, that is defender of Muslims) the supporters of the Turks and a large
and his brother King Władysław Jagiełło was associated primarily with the Tatars. part of Tatars dissatisfied with the Ottoman
started to settle Tatars in the Polish- It is estimated that in 17th century there rule. Although after the treaty of Buczacz
Lithuanian-Teutonic borderlands. The were approximately 15,000 Tatars in the the Tatars were granted lands around the
Lipka Tatars, as they are known, migrated Commonwealth[1] for a total population fortresses of Bar and Kamieniec Podolski,
from the lands of the Golden Horde and in of 8 million. Numerous royal privileges, the liberties enjoyed by their community
large part served in the Polish-Lithuanian as well as internal autonomy granted within the Ottoman Empire were much
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