The Polish Tatars are the most numerous and consolidated group of Polish Muslims, and have a tradition of a few hundred years. In the XIIIth century, the name Tatar was given by Slavonic people to one of the Turkish-Mongolian tribes who were descendants of the armies of Genghis Khan. During the next century the princes of Lithuania established the first Tatarian settlements on the territory of the Lithuanian Principality, soon to be unified with the Kingdom of Poland.
The settlers were captives or political exiles from the Golden Horde (the westernmost state of the Mongolian empire, founded by one of Genghis Khan's descendants). Later the number of settlers increased and became concentrated in the vicinity of important political and commercial centres, such as Wilno, Troki, Kowno, Grodno, Nowogrodek, Minsk and Stonim. The region of Sorok Tatary village, near Wilno (the present capital of the Lithuanian Republic), is one of the oldest settlements in the Great Lithuanian Principality. The colonisation by Tatars continued until the XVIIIth century in the territory of Lithuania and the Russian Principality, (a part of present day Ukraine, which formerly belonged to Poland).
Tatars living today in Poland are mainly descendants of settlers from the second half of the XVIIth century. Jan Sobieski III, a great Polish military commander and later king of Poland, was their protector. The villages of that period, Kruszyniany and Bohoniki, have the oldest existing mosques. Muslims have enjoyed religious freedom at all times in Poland. The city settlers used to do handicrafts and worked mainly as tanners or tradesmen. The leaders or landlords, who were noblemen in Poland, were descents of former khans. The famous Tatarian cavalry served in the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian state until its fall at the end of the XVIIIth century.
During the twelve decades when Poland did not exist as an independent state, the Tatars took part in national uprisings and the struggle for freedom. They were not allowed to create their own cultural or social organizations. It was only after 1918, at the end of the First World War when Poland regained its independence, that the Tatarian society was set up in Poland. A number of social and cultural organizations were established, among them the Cultural and Educational Society for Tatars of the Polish Republic. The Society published various magazines and books on Muslim Tatar history and tradition. In 1935, a squadron of Tatarian cavalry was formed within the 13 Regiment of Wilno Cavalry. The religious protector of the squadron was Dr. Ali Woronowicz, the imam of the Warsaw community, and henceforth, the General Imam of the Polish Army.
During the Second World War the Tatarian Muslims, like all other Polish people, took part in the struggle against Germany and the Soviet Union. The intellectuals, and in particular persons actively engaged in religious life, were persecuted by the secret police of both aggressors. After the war many Tatars from the districts of Wilno and Nowogrodek that were incorporated into the Soviet Union, moved west into the newly demarcated Poland. Over time two Muslim Tatarian centres were formed, one in Bialystok and the other in Gdansk. The Muslim Association and the Association of the Polish Tatars were also established and both organizations have been actively engaged in social, religious and cultural life. They publish a number of popular and scientific magazines, and arrange exhibitions and scientific conferences. The arrangement of the current exhibition is possible thanks to the many Tatars and people connected with the Tatarian society in Poland.
Polish Muslims and Tatars who live in Poland are Sunni Muslims and many elements of their older beliefs, common to Turkish nomadic people, can be found in their customs. Through the centuries they have adopted many Polish as well as Russian customs. Religious tolerance is a time honoured tradition in Poland and minority religions have never been persecuted by Polish Christians. Mosques have been built in Tatarian areas, the oldest of which are in the villages of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany.
The Muslim Community in Poland has established close contacts with Arab Countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 1988 a delegation of the Islamic World League visited the regions populated by Polish Muslim Tatars. In 1992, Sheikh Mohammad Al Aboudi, who led the delegation, published his book in Riyadh. In 2000 the first Polish Muslim graduated from the Faculty of Islamic Law in Al-Madinah.
Ramadan Bayram -is the first day of the Eid-al-Fitr holiday. People go to the mosque after making an offering gift (Zakat al Fitr) to the imam. After praying, they congratulate each other, offer some sweets (sadoga) and go to their houses for breakfast. Later people visit the graveyard (mazar), where they pray at the graves of their family and friends. At the mazar, people share sadoga with other Muslims. During the three day holiday, people visit friends and relatives.
Kurban Bayram Eid-al-Adha -Muslims celebrate the sacrifice of Prophet Abraham, who wanted to offer his son Prophet Ismail to God. On the first day of the holiday, following prayers, by the side of the mosque and in the presence of the imam, a sacrifice of a cow, and sometimes a cock, is made and the meat is divided among the people. The donor is allowed to keep only one piece of meat. After the prayers and sacrifice, people go to the graveyard to pray at the graves of their family and the neglected graves of co-believers. This ceremony, however, is strictly connected to religious duties in a tradition which dates from pre-Islamic times. Nowadays, Kurban Bayram is sometimes celebrated without any sacrifices.
Ashura Bayram or the Day of Ashura the Martyr. The death of Hussein, the son of Ali and Fatimah, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is commemorated. On this day women make compote, usually seven or nine kinds of fruit - always an odd number. The compote is drunk after the ceremonial dinner.
Mewlut Bayram is the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The most important parts of the celebrations are prayers at the mosque and visiting relatives and friends.