Tuesday, Oct 13 , 2015 ( Thul-Hijjah, 1436)

Updated:03:42 PM GMT

Poland Muslims Building Bridges

Polish Muslims
Polish Muslims are working to build bridges with the wider society. (DW courtesy)
Poland, Muslims

CAIRO – As part of efforts to reach out to the wider society and change stereotypes about their community, Polish Muslims are building a multi-functional center in the capital Warsaw that would serve followers of other faiths.

“We want to build bridges and forge contacts," Salim Ismail of the Polish Islamic League told Deutsche Welle on Wednesday, October 13.

Designed to fit Polish architectural tradition, the center houses a prayer room, a gallery, a multimedia center and a library.

"Our idea was to make the center multi-functional,” Ismail explains.

To win local support, the center architects avoided building any symbol that could irk Poland’s Roman Catholic majority.

“There is no minaret to remind the faithful of prayer times," Ismail said.

Building mosque minarets, from where the Muslim call to prayer is issued five times a day, is facing fierce opposition in many European countries.

Last year, Swiss voters backed a right-wing initiative to ban minaret construction in Switzerland.

Sweden and Italy are likely to follow suit.

Despite initial opposition from conservative Polish Christians, the center has won support from Liberal, Christian and Jewish groups.

“Major churches, especially the dominant Roman Catholic church, are involved in regular consultations with the authorities to thrash out problems,” leftwing politician Tadeusz Iwinski said.

“I believe Polish Muslims should enjoy the same rights as Christians."

There are nearly 5,000 Muslims among Poland’s 38.4 million population.

Living Reminder

The center architects are also turning to Poland’s established Muslim community, the Tatars, to show that Muslims are part and parcel of the society.

"We Tartars are part of Polish culture," writer Selim Chazbijewicz told Deutsche Welle.

“We want to preserve traces of our culture in libraries and archives, because we realize that within two to three generations, Polish Tartars may melt into the rest of Polish society."

Historic wooden mosques in traditional Tatar villages like Kruszyniany have been an attraction for tourists in the country.

The Tatars are a religious Muslim minority who came from the Crimea to settle in Poland 600 years ago.

They are mainly confined to the northeast borderlands near Lithuania and Belarus.

The Tatars have traditionally provided warriors for Polish armies.

They settled in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth from the 14th to the 17th centuries, helping to protect its eastern borders and being rewarded with land.

"Tatars settled Kruszyniany at the end of the 17th century ... the locals know the Tatars from that time," said Talkowski, head of a Muslim community organization in Kruszyniany.

"And there's no animosity between Catholics and Muslims like you read about in certain places. That doesn't happen here."

There are also a number of prominent Polish academics and artists who are descended from the Tartars.

"In fact, we are probably the only living reminder of how diverse Poland's society used to be in past centuries,” said Chazbijewicz.

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