Thursday, June 7, 2007

Window on Eurasia: How a Pagan Komi Became a Muslim in Estonia

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 7 – A young Komi who had followed the animist traditions of his own nation in north-central Russia converted to Islam in Estonia where he went to study and work, a re-identification that he suggests at least some other members of Finno-Ugric nationalities in Russia may choose given the existential crisis they find themselves in.
In an interview posted on the, Andrei Tentyukov, 30, discussed why he converted to Islam after moving to Estonia seven years ago, why others from Russia’s Finno-Ugric nationalities may follow his path, and also what Islamic resources now exist in Estonia (
Tentyukov said that the beliefs he grew up with led him to be concerned about protecting the natural environment, beliefs that after he moved to Estonia led him to explore what Islam had to say on that subject. Pleased with what he found, he converted. Coming to Islam “in Estonia through Tatar culture.”
Very few Finno-Ugric people have made this shift yet, he acknowledged. On the one hand, until very recently, most of them were satisfied with their own traditional religions, faiths that they believe have allowed them to maintain their distinct identities over the centuries.
And on the other, he pointed out, few Muslim leaders or even ordinary believers up to now have known enough about Finno-Ugric cultures to be able to craft their message in terms that would make it attractive to peoples who felt self-sufficient in religious terms.
But now that is beginning to change: “Finno-Ugric peoples are living through a crisis,” one brought on by the enormous social and political changes in Russia over the last few decades. And ever more Muslims living among these peoples have learned enough about them to be able to reach out and communicate with them.
The situation of the small Muslim community in Estonia, Tentyukov continued, is an example of this. In that Baltic state, “there are almost no conflicts rooted in religion” – Estonia is one of the most non-religious countries in Europe – and consequently, Muslims can live their own life and interact with others in non-threatening ways.
There are no Islamic political parties there, but four key institutions exist: the Islamic Community of Estonia founded in Tallinn in 2004, the Nur Center of Islamic Religion and Culture set up in Maardu in 2001, the Estonian Center of Islamic Research created in Tartu in 2006, and the Islamic Crescent in Estonia established in 2000.
The Estonian Center of Islamic Research maintains its own website, There are two Islamic sites in Estonian, and In addition, there are sites connected with traditionally Islamic national minorities, such as the Azerbaijanis (
Given all that and given Islam’s commitment to environmentalism, an issue of overriding importance to Finno-Ugric peoples, Tentyukov told, it is not surprising that he turned to Islam in Estonia or that other Finno-Ugric people may do the same either while visiting there or even when they remain in their own homelands.

No comments: