As news of developing civil war between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian fighters ripped Ukraine, Mufti Said Ismagilov, the highest seat for Ukrainian Muslims, has urged Muslims to stay out of ongoing war, praising the country’s good relations with the religious minority.
“Everything is good in Ukraine, you cannot even imagine how well things are here! We all find a place in the sun and ground under our feet,” Ismagilov, the head mufti of the Religious Administratino of Muslims of Ukraine "Umma" wrote on Facebook, World Bulletin reported on Saturday, June 7.
“We never faced any Muslim massacres, murder of imams or ethnic cleansing. We built mosques anywhere we wanted and they were never destroyed,” he added.
The imam has praised the welcoming atmosphere Muslims have been living through for decades.
The friendly atmosphere was a stark contradiction with the Soviet-era when hundreds of thousands of Muslims were forced to leave their home country in Crimea under Stalin rule.
“The Holy Qur’an and its translations were never banned. We published Muslim newspapers, expressing our opinion without any censorship,” Ismagilov noted, giving a hint to a recent Russian ban on a Qur’an translation.
“Muslims in Ukraine are an integral part of the country, part of its common history. We feel like home in Ukraine. It is our homeland.”
As threats of civil war escalated in Ukraine, the mufti urged fighters from both camps to leave Ukraine.
“Just take your ‘soldiers of fortune’ by hand and say strictly: There is nothing to do in Ukraine!” Ismagilov said.
The Russian move to annex Crimea followed an earlier vote in March on the peninsula’s future. The referendum, approved by 96 percent, was followed by several steps from pro-Moscow Crimean parliament, issuing a law that allows Russia’s annexation of the disputed peninsula.
The hastily organized March 16 referendum was boycotted by Tatars who rejected as held at gunpoint under the gaze of Russian soldiers.
After Russian annexation of Crimea, fears of Muslim Tatars were doubled, voicing concerns over losing freedom and reviving the memories of exile and prosecution they faced in 1944.
As of 2012 an estimated 1 million Muslims lived in Ukraine and about 300,000 of them were Crimean Tatars. Today Islam is the largest minority religion in Ukraine after various forms of Christianity.
In the 2000 census Ukraine was home to 248,193 Crimean Tatars, 73,304 Volga Tatars, 45,176 Azeris, 12,353 Uzbeks, 8,844 Turks, 6,575 Arabs and 5,526 Kazakhs.
According to the Clerical Board of Ukraine's Muslims there were two million Muslims in Ukraine as of 2009.