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National Name: Respublika Byelarus'

Total area: 80,154 sq mi (207,600 sq km)

Population (2008 est.): 9,685,768

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Mensk (Minsk), 1,769,500

Other large cities: Gomel, 502,200; Mogilyov, 374,000; Vitebsk, 355,800; Grodno, 314,100; Brest, 306,300; Bobruysk, 228,100

Monetary unit: Belorussian ruble

Languages: Belorussian (White Russian), Russian, other

Ethnicity/race: Belorussian 81.2%, Russian 11.4%, Polish 3.9%, Ukrainian 2.4%, other 1.1% (1999)

Religion: A mixed religions adherents from Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim.

National Holiday: Independence Day, July 3

Literacy rate: 100% (2003 est.)

Much of Belarus (formerly the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR, and then Byelorussia) is a hilly lowland with forests, swamps, and numerous rivers and lakes. There are wide rivers emptying into the Baltic and Black seas. Its forests cover over one-third of the land and its peat marshes are a valuable natural resource. The largest lake is Narach, 31 sq mi (79.6 sq km).

In the 5th century A.D., Belarus (also known as White Russia) was colonized by east Slavic tribes. Kiev dominated it from the 9th to 12th century. After the destruction of Kiev by the Mongols in the 13th century, the territory was conquered by the dukes of Lithuania, although it retained a degree of autonomy. Belarus became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which merged with Poland in 1569. Following the partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795, in which Poland was divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria, Belarus became part of the Russian empire.

Following World War I, Belarus proclaimed itself a republic, only to find itself occupied by the Red Army soon after its March 1918 announcement. The Polish-Soviet War of 1918–1921 was fought to decide the fate of Belarus. West Belarus was ceded to Poland; the larger eastern part formed the Belorussian SSR, and was then joined to the USSR in 1922. In 1939, the Soviet Union took back West Belarus from Poland under the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and incorporated it into the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Occupied by the Nazis in World War II, Belarus was one of the war's most devastated battlefields.

When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded in 1986, 70% of its radioactive fallout fell on the Belorussian SSR. Cancer and other illnesses have multiplied as a result.

Belarus declared its sovereignty in July 1990 and its independence in Aug. 1991. It became a cofounder of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Dec. 1991.

Islamic History and Muslims

Islam in Belarus was introduced by Lipka Tatars in the 14th -16th centuries, and now also includes Muslim immigrants.


The Islam in Belarus initially spread from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The process was encouraged by several Lithuanian princes, who invited the Tatar Muslim from the Crimea and Golden Horde as guards of state borders. Already in the 14th century the Tatars were settling into a more sedentary way of life. By the end of the 16th century over 100,000 Tatars had settled in Belarus and Lithuania, including those hired as guards, voluntary immigrants, and prisoners of war.

The Tatars follow Sunni Islam. Interethnic marriages with Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Russians are common, but have not resulted in total assimilation.

Originating from different ethnic associations, Belarusian (and also Polish and Lithuanian) Tatars lost their native language over time and switched mainly into Belarusian, Polish and Russian. However, religious practice is conducted in the Arabic.

Modern times

In 1994, the First All-Belarusian Congress of Muslims was held. As a result, the Muslim Religious Community of the Republic of Belarus was founded. Ever since it has been headed by Dr.Ismail Aleksandrovich.

In 1997 there were 23 communities including 19 of those in the Western regions of Belarus.


First mosques appeared on the territory of Belarus during the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1994, the mosque in Slonim was opened, and in 1996 one in Smilovichi. In July 1997 in memory of the 600th anniversary of settlement of Tartars in Belarus, there took place a ceremony of opening a mosque in Novogrudok. In the 19th century the mosque in the town of Ivye was built; it is considered a monument of Belarusian wooden architecture. Today there are 4 functional mosques in Belarus and a 5th one is under construction. In 1997, the foundation stone was laid for a future mosque in Minsk. There were 27 Muslim communities in Belarus by mid-2002.

According to Mr. Kanapatsky, the Islamic Association will concentrate its efforts on building a mosque in Minsk, as well as on renovating the mosque in Smilovichi and Muslim cemeteries throughout the country. Apart from Smilovichi, there are mosques in the towns of Ivye, Slonim, and Novogrudok in the Grodno region; in Kletsk in the Minsk region; and in Vidzy in the Vitebsk region.





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