If you would have told me a few months ago that there is an Islamic region in Russia, I wouldn’t have believed you. This was not until I came across a documentary that shared the history of Russia, its diverse locals, its diverse religions, and Russia’s relationship with other countries; especially Mongolia. These new-found facts were so intriguing to me that I went deep into research. Then, I found Zelfine on Instagram! Zelfine is a Tatar from Kazan, Russia. She shares with us her history, culture, and the coexistence of Islam in the country in hopes that you’ll visit Tatarstan.
Zelfine from Kazan-Visit Tatarstan-
Salaam world! My name is Zelfine.
I live in Russia but I am not Russian. I am a Tatar. I would like to share a thing or two about my culture with you. The Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group living mainly in Tatarstan and the wider Volga region which is in Russia. There are more than 10 million Tatars, of whom about 26 percent live in Tatarstan, an ethnic homeland that is located within the Russian Federation. Tatarstan has nearly 4 million inhabitants which is about the size of Ireland or Portugal. The vast majority of Tatars today reside in post-Soviet countries, primarily in Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
The Tatar folk speaks Tatar, a Kipchak Turkic language. There are two Tatar dialects – Central and Western. The Western dialect (Misher) is spoken mostly by Volga region Tatars, the Central dialect is spoken by Kazan and Astrakhan Tatars. All two dialects have subdialects. I represent the Misher dialect of Tatar.
Culture and Traditions
Our culture itself is very beautiful and unique. There are different customs and traditions that are connected with both religion and secular life. Well-known religious holidays are Kurban-Bayram and Uraza-Bayram, or Festival of Sacrifice and Festival of Breaking the Fast (Ramadan). Probably the most famous Tatar holiday is called Sabantuy. Sabantuy is done to commemorate the end of the spring harvest and is celebrated in summer. The name of the holiday means “The Plow’s Wedding”. The celebration falls into two parts: giving and receiving gifts, and a variety of competitions, such as the national wrestling called “Koresh” which consists of long and high jumps, running, and horse racing.
Modern Tatars wear normal casual clothes. But nearly a century ago the clothes such as the ones you see in the photos were called цщкт (Seshekate). Nowadays they are used as folk costumes.
In the Tatar families, the recipes of national cuisine are kept and handed down from generation to generation. Our favorite traditional dishes are hearty and tasty. These dishes are mostly made from meat such as lamb, beef, and poultry. Among them is Echpochmak which is the symbol of the Tatar cuisine. This triangular pie is the king of multifarious Tatar pastries. It is made from yeast dough, with lamb stuffing, potatoes, and onions. Another traditional dish is Tokmach: a traditional Tatar noodle soup. Its name, Tokmach, is translated as “noodles.” Tokmach can be cooked with meat, chicken, or mushroom broth.
Tatars mostly don’t consider themselves Russian. They truly believe to be Tatar folk with their own culture and history. However, there are Tatars who have assimilated with the Russian populace. Tatarstan is one of the autonomous Republics of Russia and it is part of the Russian Federation.
In order to get acquainted with Tatar culture and history better, you can check out these resources:
Islam in Tatarstan
Most Tatars are Sunni Muslims, with the exception of the Kryashan Tatars, who are Christians. Islam is not new to us. Many centuries ago our ancestors were Pagans, but in 922, the Tatars’ predecessors, the Bulgars, converted to Islam. Islam is still an evolving religion in Russia. Tatars living in the Volga region practice Islam. They pray, fast, make the pilgrimage to hajj (mecca, Saudi Arabia), and pay zakat. There are many Islamic middle schools, high schools, and universities in Tatarstan. However, Muslims still focus more on ethnic partitions rather than on being part of a united ummah (Muslim community).
Tourism in Tatarstan
Tatarstan is becoming a popular tourist destination in Russia. People who come to visit can get the best experience. While traveling here you can visit Kazan city (with its inner-city attractions, such as Suyumbike Tower, Baumana pedestrian Street, Old Tatar Sloboda, Kul Sharif Mosque and many more.
Tatarstan is also a Muslim and Halal-Friendly zone in Russia. Here travelers can easily find places to pray (there are even prayer rooms in many cafes). When coming to Tatarstan you can download the App called Halal Guide, where you can find all Halal-friendly attractions including their descriptions.
I would highly recommend you to come to Russia, visit Tatarstan and experience our incredible Tatar culture. I hope that after reading this article people will stop mixing us, the Tatar people with Kazakh nor Kirgiz nationalities.
We are different, we are unique. We are Tatar!
Zelfine is a German and English teacher from Russia, Tatarstan. She continues her master’s studies at the University of Kazan. According to Zelfine “Being teacher is hard work but at the same time it helps me to stay motivated because I can contribute to this system.” Her occupation as a teacher is a means for self-development. She believes that she is what she studies, reads, and observes.
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