7 Outstanding Muslims Changed the History and Culture of Modern Ukraine. Part One

7 Outstanding Muslims Changed the History and Culture of Modern Ukraine. Part One
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О. Степанченко
О. Степанченко's picture

People used to think the history of Ukraine started with the legendary personalities coming: Askold, Dir and Rurik. Volumes of historical and fiction literature are about these fairy-tale heroes, while real historical personalities are often overshadowed by ancient myths. For more than a thousand years, Islamic states have existed on the territory of modern Ukraine, but only a small number of historians understand it, and try to put materials about the Muslim past of our country into the scientific practice. We easily notice and accept the changes the modern Ukraine faces, caused by the complicated processes of becoming an independent state. It is much more difficult for us to accept that long-ago history may be subject to correction, caused by new historical data or by a new interpretation of well-known facts. For more than a thousand years, almost the entire south and a large part of Left-Bank Ukraine were settled by the Turkic peoples, who built cities, grew wheat and grapes, and grazed cattle. On the territory of current Kharkiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Odesa and Kherson, not so long ago there were a lot of Muslim cities and villages. Few people know that a number of prominent Muslim figures have had a significant impact on the politics and culture of modern Ukraine. These were the people, who determined the development of civilization processes for decades, and sometimes for centuries.

Marwan II ibn Muhammad

He is a representative of the Umayyad dynasty that was ruling the Arabian Caliphate (688 - 750). He was also an outstanding commander and statesman. In 737 he made a campaign against the Khazar Kaganate. During this campaign, it was for the first time, when Arab troops entered the land of present-day Ukraine. The campaign resulted in an agreement was reached between Marwan and the Khazar Kagan, according to which the Kaganate’s ruling elite converted to Islam. Following the retreating Khazars, Marwan reached the banks of the “Slavic River” - Sahr al-Sakaliba. "Slavic River" is supposed to be the River Dnipro, because nowhere except this river were a lot of Slavic settlements, mentioned by Arab chroniclers. Therefore, 737 should be considered the first year of significant contact between the ancestors of Ukrainians and the Islamic religion adherents. It is very important that during this campaign Marwan sought not to gain new territories and war down the population, but to spread Islam. This would stop the bloody wars between the Khazars and the Arab Caliphate. And, although, the new religion did not immediately gain traction on the Ukrainian territory, the seeds, planted by Marwan, have been still yielding.


Berke, Genghis Khan’s grandson, (1209-1266), was one of those, who follow in Marwan ibn Muhammad’s footsteps. Being in a difficult political situation, the Muslim ruler of Ulus Juchi did not use force to impose Islam. His policy was much more flexible. Berke built new cities with magnificent mosques, invited famous scientists, architects, builders and artisans from Muslim countries. On his watch, the young state turned from the steppe empire of pagans into an Islamic state. Khan Berke’s short reign had a huge impact on the entire future development of not only the Golden Horde, but also the Crimean Khanate, and then Ukraine.

Haji Ist Giray

The emergence of Crimean Tatars’ state is associated with the name of Khan Haji I Giray (1397 - 1466). There is no doubt the Crimean Khanate history is an important part of the history of Ukraine. Thanks to Haji Giray, the isolated camps of the Crimeans, scattered from the Dnipro to the Kuban, were united to protect the interests of not only Muslims, but the neighboring nations as well. Using the contradictions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Moscow and the Great Horde, Haji Giray managed to create a national center of the Crimean Tatar people and defend it from its enemies’ encroachments. Having entered into an alliance with Lithuania, the Crimean Khan became a reliable defender of the Ukrainian lands from the Horde attacks. Several times he successfully crushed the troops of the Great Horde while their moving to Ukraine. Haji Girey is a vivid example of a successful commander and statesman, a figure that fully marks the unity of the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian peoples.

Evliya Çelebi

The modern history of Ukraine is unconceivable without such a bright personality, as Ottoman writer and traveler Evliya Çelebi (1611 - 1682). Evliya got excellent education at that time. After having graduated from Mekteb, he studied in the Sheikh-ul-Islam Hamid-efendi madrasa. In the days of his youth, he already studied the Quran and became a hafiz. In addition, Evliya studied Muslim theology and law. On August 20, 1630, a nineteen-year-old youth saw the prophet Muhammad in his night dream. Being surprised so far, he wanted to ask the Prophet for intercession (shefaat), but exclaimed with excitement “seyia-hut”, which means “journey”. The Prophet Muhammad bestowed upon Evliya the both things. The young man asked people who knew to interpret an amazing dream. In Istanbul Tekke Mevlevi, Sheikh Abdullah-dede said to the young man the following: “Start from Istanbul - go around, look, describe it!”. Evliya's father advised the future great traveler: “ Visit, see and describe places of pilgrimage — the tombs of great saints, steppes and deserts, high mountains, amazing trees and stones, cities, wonderful monuments and fortresses. Write about their conquerors and builders, about the circumference sizes of the fortresses, and make a work, called the "Book of Travels". Evliya listened to the sheikh and her father’s advices, and visited many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. His notes about the Crimea, Bessarabia, Edisan are extremely interesting for us. He wrote a lot of pages about Kiliya, Ishmael, Akkerman, Ochakov, Bakhchisarai, Kerch, and many other cities of Ukraine and the Crimea. Evliya described in detail the numerous mosques of the Crimean Khanate, including those hadn’t been extant. Çelebi was not only a watcher, but also a direct participant of the events. In his "Book of Travels" he reported information that you cannot find in any other historical work of that time.

Oleksandr Stepanchenko

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