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Muslim communities in Poland

Poland is unique for two reasons, when it comes to its Islamic community. Firstly, it is one of the smallest Muslim communities in Europe, in terms of the number and proportion of the population. Although no hard data exists, various estimates set the number of Muslims in Poland, a country of 38 Million inhabitants, at around 30-40 thousand, i.e. around 0,1%. Secondly, Islam in Poland has one of the longest presence in Europe, as it came with the second phase of massive Muslim inflow to Europe, i.e. the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe. The Tatars, the offsprings of people who came to Poland back then, have been living in Poland for over 600 years.
The Muslim community in Poland is ethnically and nationally diverse. The Tatar community inhabits the Eastern part of the country and gather some 3 to 5.000 people. They are to a great extend assimilated because of the duration of their presence, and are officially recognized as an ethnic minority. Another social category is constituted of economic immigrants (around 30.000). The bulk of them came from Arab countries to Poland for their studies in the 1950s-70. After graduating, they decided to settle. They are very well integrated into the Polish society, and often have Polish wives and nationality. One can also find immigrants only recently arrived to Poland. However, comparing to most of the ancient EU countries, Poland is a rather unattractive country in which to settle down or work. There are also around 5.000 Chechen refugees, who perceive Poland as a transit country on their way to Western Europe. Finally, there are around 1.000 of converts to Islam, mostly women, many of whom live abroad in Western Europe with their Muslim husbands.
Islam is officially recognized in Poland, according to the 1936 Law regulating the status of the Muslim Religious Union in Poland. Five Islamic religious organizations are officially registered with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Muslim Religious Union is the oldest one, it is also the sole official representative of Muslims in the state of Poland. The majority of its members are Tatars. The Muslim League in Poland is an organization founded in early 21st century in response to the growing number of Muslim immigrants who also wanted to have their voice heard. The three other organizations are: Association of Islamic Unity (a Shi’a organization), Islamic Ahmadiyya Association and Western Sufi Order. There are three mosques in Poland – two small wooden ones in villages inhabited by the Tatars – and one in Gdańsk. A new mosque is currently under construction in Warsaw, the capital. Its construction is financed by the Muslim League (so far local Muslims have only a prayer house).
The Polish attitude towards Islam is unambiguous. While the Tatars are perceived as Poles of a different ethnicity, non-Tatars are treated with anxiety. To some extend, this might be explained by the “geographical rule of dislike” according to which Poles generally dislike southern and eastern nations, which is where the majority of Muslims live. According to the yearly CBOS survey, Arabs are in the top three least liked nations of the Polish people. One must however stress that the Polish anti-Islamic discourse is to a great extend transplanted – i.e. refers to challenges related to Muslim populations in the West, or to deeds of Muslims from the Islamic world.

D 27 May 2014    AKatarzyna Górak-Sosnowska

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