The Tatarian Ildar Muhhamedsin who was born in Estonia during the Soviet times, remembers how in his childhood he had many Arabic books at home but he could not read them. His grandmother did not tell him about the books either because old people were only allowed to read religious books but not to tell their children about them. Thus when Estonia gained independence the five thousand Tatarians living in Estonia also felt a sense of freedom. Ildar Muhhamedsin discontinued his studies at the Tallinn Technical University and moved to Syria and then to the Arabic Emirates to learn Arabic language and Islamic law. Also his wife graduated from the Islam University there.
A communication link
But now Ildar Muhhamedsin is back in Tallinn and can speak Estonian as well as Arabic – in the Soviet times he had learned in a Russian high-school in Tallinn and spoke only Russian with his friends and acquaintances. Now he is the chief mufti in Estonia and has founded the cultural centre Turath which supports Tatarian and Islamic culture in Estonia. One can learn Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other language, read books or pray there. The Turath centre is open to everybody and also students from Tallinn Universities attend language courses there. The Arabic world has started to open up again not only for the local Tatarians but also for Estonians, thanks to the Turath centre, but Turath is also important for the Estonian government, Ildar notes, serving as a communication link to develop relations between Estonia and Islamic countries.
Problems can only arise from outside
If Islamic religion is a problematic issue in several European countries, then in Estonia this is not at all the case. Ildar Muhhamedsin: “Estonia is, thank god, a tolerant society. When I say that I’m a Tatarian most Estonians immediately tell me about other Tatarians that they know, have studied or worked with or served time with in the Soviet Army. Small nations understand one another. The problem can only arise when it is created from the outside. For example after the attack on the World Trade Centre, Tatarians were all of a sudden looked at more suspiciously also here. Luckily this passed rather quickly because Estonian Tatarians are not “some senseless Moslems”. My children attend Estonian kindergarten and school. When my 4-year old daughter Latifa is singing Estonian songs which she learned in the kindergarten in public transport the co-passengers listen to her kindly and smile.”
After the attacks on World Trade Centre the Moslem people living in Estonia signed a declaration which clearly condemned the action as an act of terror. The Estonian mufti Ildar Muhhamedsin signed together with everyone else.