The Tatar of Byelorussia
The physical appearance of the Tatar ranges from blue-eyed blondes to those with more Mongoloid features. In general, they have oval faces with little facial hair. They are mostly peasants and merchants, who have completely lost their previous tribal and clan structure.
The Tatar have maintained a strong urban civilization since the tenth century. It survived both the Mongol invasion in the 1200's and the Russian conquest in the 1500's. In the nineteenth century, Tatar cities ranked among the greatest cultural centers of the Islamic world.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Tatar in Byelorussia live in urban areas. In the cities, their lives are no different from contemporary Russians; however, in rural areas some still cling to pre-Revolutionary traditions. For example, as many as three generations may live in the same house.
The Tatar's social structure remains strongly patriarchal. The father is the head of the household, and his word is final. He is in charge of the family income and determines how it is spent. The women usually cook meals, carry water, wash clothes, and tend to the livestock.
What are their beliefs?
The Muslim Tatar follow the five "pillars" of the Islamic faith. (l) Each day they recite the shahadah, affirming that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Salat, or daily prayers, are said five times a day, facing Mecca. (3) Zakat, or almsgiving, is considered an important duty. (4) Sawm, or fasting, is expected, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. (5) Hajj, or a pilgrimage, to Mecca is to be attempted at least once in a person's lifetime.
Men pray in the mosque under a prayer leader, when possible. Women usually pray at home, but if they do worship at the mosque, they are separated from the men. Despite their belief in monotheism (one god), many Tatar also honor saints and holy places. Some beliefs in supernatural powers, such as the "evil eye," still persist from pre-Islamic days.
The Tatar view of Christianity has been marred by the attempts of the Russian Orthodox Church to convert them through force and tax incentives. During the nineteenth century, their mosques were frequently burned or destroyed. The few who were "converted" by these measures returned to their Islamic faith as soon as the repression stopped, or the taxes were removed.
What are their needs?
Byelorussia is a young republic. Having freed itself from Communist Russia in 1991, it has set up a democracy with freedom of religion and separation of powers. The citizens of Byelorussia desperately need God's wisdom as they make choices concerning the future of their nation. Only through prayer and the demonstrated love of Christians can their wounds of the past be healed.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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