Due to the restrictions that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) suffers from in its traditional European strongholds, France, Britain, and Germany in west of Europe. It has been observed recently that the MB organization has become active in eastern Europe, especially the Balkan countries, such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania. The organization is benefiting from the economic and security fragility in this region, and from the strong relations between Turkey and the Muslims of these countries.
Although the MB presence is limited on one hand and suspicious on the other, however this presence may be enhanced at any given time according to the political and security status in the organization’s main strongholds.
MENA Research and Study Centre will shed light on the MB current presence in Balkan countries.
In this report, our focus is Poland, the EU country which came to prominence during the Russian war on Ukraine and on behalf of Europe has borne the greatest human and economic burden of war. It has also become NATO’s first repelling wall against Russia, which would strengthen its place in MBs’ future plans, according to observers.
Muslim Presence in Poland:
There are no accurate statistics on the number of Muslims in Poland, because in the statistics, government does not require the religions of its population, however, local estimates indicate that there are some 25 thousand Muslims spread among “lipka” tatars and immigrants from Palestine, Syria, Chechnya, Iraq, Tajikistan and Bangladesh.
The U.S. Brookings Institute estimates that the number of Muslims in Poland is nearly 50,000, equivalent to about 0.13% of Poland’s population of 38 million. About 90% of Poles are Catholics, unlike other people in eastern Europe, who are Orthodox.
Poland includes one of the oldest Muslim communities in Europe; “Lipka” tatars, who have lived since the 14th century in border areas between what is now Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. Today, they are mainly based in Bialystok, near Lithuania, and in the towns of Bohoniki and Crosszinyan in Bialystok, while Muslims of many other nationalities and ethnicities are present in the capital, Warsaw.
Since the beginning of the millennium, Poland has attracted a number of Arab students as school costs are very low compared to other European countries. It has also been an attractive destination for a number of businessmen who wish to start investment projects that do not require significant capital.
According to Halalfood.pl webiste, which contains a list of “halal food” in Poland, there are 19 restaurants in the country suitable for Muslims, 18 of them in Warsaw. They also list six food shops, two organizations and two food suppliers, all in Warsaw.
Halal Trip, a counselling platform for Muslim travellers, lists only nine sites available in Poland. This includes Islamic centres in Krakow, Frutsuav, Warsaw, Poznan, Bialystok, Lublin, Katowice and mosques in Gdansk and Warsaw. The sites in Warsaw are the largest and most modern compared to other places across the country.
Spread of Islamism in Poland:
Until the 1980s, Polish Tatars were practically the only Sunni Muslim community in Poland. They were represented by the Polish Islamic Religious Union (MZR), founded in 1925, Poland’s oldest Islamic organization.
After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, and shortly before that, Islamism, with its Salafist and MB faces, infiltrated the country, which became more open. The Salafist radical movement succeeded in exporting its principles and ideas to the Polish interior from Germany, while elements affiliated with the MB succeeded in establishing 3 organizations: the Muslim Students Association (SSM) in 1986, and the Islamic Society for Education and Culture (MSKK) in 1996. Finally, the “Polish Islamic League” in 2001, which is today the main arm of the Muslim Brotherhood there, which was confirmed by the Polish Internal Security Agency (ABW), where the “Islamic League” is a member of the “European Muslim Council” (“Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe” FIOE Previously).
Generally speaking, the MB’s environment was established in Poland in the late 1990s and early 2000s, by a group of students coming from the Middle East, especially Palestinians.
The exact reasons for the creation of separate Islamic organizations are not clear. Some researchers say this was due to differences in the understanding and practice of Islam by the Tartars and immigrants from the Middle East. Others point out that membership in the Polish Islamic Religious Union (MZR) was restricted to Polish citizens alone.
Reality of Muslim Brotherhood Today
The group is represented in Poland by the Islamic League, which was established in April 2001 at the initiative of foreign Muslims and converts to Islam. It was officially registered in January 2004 in the Department of Religions and National Minorities of the Ministry of the Interior. It is considered the “Muslim Student Association”; It is a youth organization for Muslim Brotherhood students that originated in Poland in the early 1990s. It is the nucleus through which the “Islamic League” was formed.
During its years of activity, the Islamic League established branches in all major cities, including Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, Katowice, Poznań, and Lublin. In 2010, the association began construction of the largest mosque in the country, the Islamic Cultural Center in the Wilanoma district of Warsaw. In this project, the Muslim League decided to rely on foreign donors instead of government funding. The money came at the time from Saudi and Qatari authorities, according to many references, which sparked widespread criticism in the Polish street.
The Palestinian preacher affiliated with the Fatah movement, Nidal Abu Tabaq, held the position of “Mufti of the League” until his death in late 2020, due to his infection with Corona virus. While the association has been chaired for many years by Samer Ismail, a Palestinian pediatrician who came from Kuwait to Poland to study in 1986, he also holds the position of head of the children’s department at Boveat Hospital.
The ways of movement of the MB network in Poland are similar to the rest of European countries, where the “Polish Islamic League” works to exploit mosques and cultural centers to spread its extremist ideology, but tries not to draw attention to it, by creating a false image for it by participating in forums for interfaith dialogue and Islamic integration in Europe.
The Islamic League also seeks to monopolize the representation of Muslims before the authorities, which has created a great rift among Muslims, between Tatar Muslims and immigrant Muslims. The Tatars do not believe in the writings of Sayyid Qutb and other Islamists. In addition, a significant part of the Tartars belongs to Shiite and Ismaili sects, unlike immigrant Muslims, most of whom belong to the Sunni sect.
In conclusion, we can say that although the MB’s presence in Poland is still “new” and has limited influence compared to Western European countries, closer examination shows that the current situation is just a phase difference, as the MB’s organizations in Poland are still in the “establishing the ground” stage that they passed in European countries for decades, according to observers.
In addition, what analysts consider a limited presence of the group in Poland today will turn, in a few years, into a vast network and leaders that are difficult to deal with and combat. This is what happened in Western European countries, especially if we take into account the growing importance of the Balkans in the path of illegal immigration, which is taken by immigrants, the majority of them are Muslims.
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