First Muslims Presence in Finland

Sep 16, 2022
Minorities in Finland Social Issues

Can you guess when was the historic presence of Muslims in Finland?

Was it in the 1900s when Finland became an immigrant receiving country and received mostly Somali refugees?

The answer to this question goes far deeper in the Finnish history as Muslims have lived in Finland since the 19th century. The arrival of the first Muslims in Finland was a result of population movements across the nineteenth-century Russian Empire.

In 1809, Finland was occupied as a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, where Russian troops where among them were Muslims. These Muslims were mainly Tatars and Bashkirs from the Volga-Ural region.

The Tatars community in Finland

In 1836, there was a military imam at the Sveaborg Fortress next to Helsinki, from which he also served Muslim civilians. The religious center for Finnish Muslims at the time was the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly, as it was for all Muslims in European Russia.

While some of the Tatars were among the military, the formation of a Tatar civilian community was mainly of farmers, who operated as peddlers during the winter. Some had also peddled in St Petersburg before coming to Finland. They were more positively identified in Finland than in Russia itself.

The early attitudes towards Tatars from the Finnish majority resembled the attitudes which were towards the Jews in that time, both were generally tolerated but could change quickly. Negative representations were not so much linked to religion but to” race” and the peddling profession.

In the 1930s, there were about 120 Tatar families in Finland, with an average of 5.5 members per household. They began to receive Finnish citizenship from 1920, and by the Second World War about half the Tatars were Finnish citizens.

When Finland became independent in 1917, Tatars were granted the right to organize themselves as a religious community.

Tatars & Finland in World War II

In 1939, about half of the Tatars were Finnish citizens, while the rest had “Nansen Passport” that the League of Nations issued to those fleeing the communist regime in the USSR. There was no conscript training or wartime placement but still many Tatar members volunteered. They were accepted because they knew the Russian language and were assigned to tasks involving propaganda or the management of POWs.

There were 156 Tatars who served as soldiers, 9 of them died and 13 were wounded. Also, about 20 Tatar women served in the women’s auxiliary corps Lotta Svärd. They have a place of honor in the Islam Center in Helsinki, where their names and pictures are presented.

 Like many Finns today, the Tatars take great pride in their participation in these efforts, when even publishing a register of Tatar war veterans (Suomen Islam-seurakunta 2006).

As we see, the participation of Tatars in the Winter and Continuation Wars has a significant role on their Finnish identity. They also been highly apricated for their service as it mentioned in KIRKKO JA KAUPUNKI newspaper (30.1.20) “The Tatars are a patriotic people and proud of their Finnishness. The picture of (the commander-in-chief of the Finnish forces in WWII) Mannerheim is in the parish office at the place of honor, and a book has been made of the Tatar veterans. - Finland is our home country, and it must be defended. Period!”. They were also mentioned last year on Finland’s Independence Day in the newspaper HELSINGIN SANOMAT, “patriotism, according to Bedretdin, is an important part of the identity of Finnish Tatars. "We immediately set out to defend the new homeland, there was no question about it."’

During recent years, the total number of members from the two Tatar communities has remained at around 550, with a trend of slow decline. There are only two purpose-built mosques in Finland, one wooden mosque which was built by the Tatars in Järvenpää in 1942, and another is the “Islam house” in central Helsinki, where one floor is used for worship. The Finnish Tatar community has its own cemeteries in the cities of Helsinki and Turku.

In the 1990s, Finland began to accept UNHCR refugees from Muslim dominated areas of the Middle East at the same time as independent asylum seekers were arriving. The largest group consists of immigrants from the Middle East, especially from Iraq and Iran. The next are Somalis and people from the Balkans. They are followed by people born in Turkey, North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia.

Thank you for reading this far! I hope you found this article interesting; you learn something new and understand better the different minority groups in Finland.

This article is based on my recent academic studies in the University of Helsinki in a lecture regarding Muslim Finns.

For further reading,

"Muslim Population: History and Demographics" from: Konttori, J. & Pauha, T. (2020). Finland. In E. Račius, S. Müssig, S. Akgönül, A. Alibašić, J. S. Nielsen & O. Scharbrodt (Eds), Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, Volume 12. Leiden: Brill.

TUOMAS MARTIKAINEN’s article, Finnish Muslims’ Journey from an Invisible Minority to Public Partnerships (2020). From the Migration Institute of Finland in NORDIC JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE RELIGION.

Written by: Dana Graydi


emine 27.01.2022 12:32
it was very informative, thank you
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