Muslims Deeply Rooted in the Cradle of Eastern European Orthodoxy
Ukraine, historically home to Christian belief, has another religious story to tell. Dating back to the 15th century, the Crimean Tatars of Turkic descent spread the Muslim faith through the southern region of Ukraine. Affiliated with the Sunni branch of Islam, by the 18th century, over 18 mosques and educational institutions thrived until invasions and wars drove believers from the region.
Persecution arrived with an invasion orchestrated by the Russian Empire driving over 161,000 Muslims from the Crimean region in the second half of the 19th century. Though Muslims still comprised one third of the Crimean population by 1917, forced deportation by Stalin drove nearly 200,000 believers to Central Asia nearly half died from hunger and disease. Accused of being Nazi collaborators by the Soviet regime, few Ukrainian Muslims resettled in Crimea until the country’s independence.
Today, over 291 communities and 151 mosques accommodate the beliefs of .8 million Muslims in Ukraine. The Crimean region is the community’s homeland, however, and Ukrainian Muslims comprise approximately 12% of the population on Ukraine’s southern coast. Languages spoken are many including Tatar and Turkish as well as Russian and Ukrainian.
As in other parts of the world, tensions between competing religions fuel the fire of political conflict. While a philosophical tug of war has ensued between dogmatic followers of Islam and those with more comfortable ties to European culture, Ukraine’s Muslims appear committed to collaboration and peaceful worship.