Islam in Latvia

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The presence of Muslims in Latvia was first recorded in the early 19th century. The Muslims had mainly Tatar and Turkic backgrounds, and most had been taken to Latvia against their will. These included Turkish prisoners of war from the Crimean War and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.


After the Siege of Plevna in 1877 a few hundred Turkish prisoners were taken to the town of Cēsis, of whom 19 fell ill with several respiratory diseases and died from typhoid during the following winter or spring of 1878. They were buried in a cemetery next to the barracks they resided in. By 1879 most of the remaining Turks had returned home, however some chose to stay.[1]

In 1902, a Muslim congregation was officially established and recognized by the government. The community elected Ibrahim Davidof as its leader and a prayer hall was inaugurated. The majority of Muslims residing in Latvia in the early part of the 20th century were conscripted in the Russian army. After release from service, most would leave for Moscow.

During the creation of the Soviet Union and amid civil war, many refugees entered Latvia, including Muslims of various ethnicities. They were however known to Latvians as Turks. In 1928, Shakir Husnetdinov, a Turkic priest, was elected leader of Riga Muslim community. He held that post until 1940.

According to the The Central Bureau of Statistics there were seven Islamic groups registered in 2011, a number that had dropped to five a year later and included Idel, a Muslim organization led by Rufia Shervireva, and Iman, a Latvian Chechen congregation led by Musan Machigov.[2]

In 2009 the total Muslim population in Latvia was estimated at about 2,000 by Pew Forum.[3] Virtually all Muslims in Latvia were Sunni, but there was also an active presence of Ahmadi.[4] That same year poet and translator Uldis Bērziņš finished the translation of Quran into Latvian.


At the beginning of 2015 Oleg Petrov, head of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Latvia, when asked to comment on the Charlie Hebdo shooting, pointed out that Islam prohibits killing innocent civilians, but expressed a belief the editorial team deserved to be punished in a lesser way, like "had their fingers broken or something else", prompting an investigation by the Internal Security Police.[5][6]

On March 29, 2015 the Islamic Cultural Centre expressed concern on the growing Islamophobia in Latvia after a mosque in Riga was sprayed with a graffiti in English: "Your Allah – your problem! Go home!" on the night to March 27.[7] On September 24 the Riga municipal police broke up an unsanctioned Muslim outdoor prayer at a courtyard in Brīvības iela attended by around 30 men for violating the public statutes on organization of public entertainments and festive events.[8]

Later that year representative of the centre Roberts Klimovičs sparked another controversy by declaring that Latvia will become a Muslim country in 50 years. He would later go on to clarify that "using democratic means, the majority of Latvians will elect a parliament that supports Sharia law. And we are moving towards that, without any violence or anything."[9]

In 2016 a video of Petrov appeared on a Daesh propaganda wire, in which he encouraged Jihad and praised the Charlie Hebdo shooters, becoming the third public case when a citizen of Latvia had joined Daesh. His comments were disowned by the new head of the Islamic Cultural Center Jānis Luciņš who said that the country's Muslim community felt betrayed.[10] On October 19, 2016, a man was sentenced 140 hours of community service for hate speech against Muslims in online comments.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Krejere, Dace (January 30, 2016). "In the footsteps of Turkish POWs in Latvia". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  2. ^ Banks, Elena (January 24, 2004). "Latvia's Muslim community reaches out". The Baltic Times. Retrieved November 15, 2005.
  3. ^ Mapping the global Muslim population; A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population; October 2009; p.31 Archived 2009-10-10 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Göran Larsson (2009). Islam in the Nordic and Baltic Countries. Routledge. p. 111.
  5. ^ "Security Police investigate 'finger break' Muslim leader". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. January 15, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  6. ^ "SP to assess statements made by leader of Latvian Islamic culture centre". Baltic News Network. LETA. January 16, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  7. ^ "Islamic Culture Center worried about growing Islamophobia in Latvia". The Baltic Course. September 27, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  8. ^ "Riga Muslims face fine for prayers without a permit". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  9. ^ "MPs explore Islamic Center for collaboration opportunities". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. October 15, 2015. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  10. ^ "Former Muslim leader investigated by Security Police". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. March 1, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  11. ^ "Latvian pays price for hate speech against Muslims". The Baltic Times. October 19, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2017.

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