(Re)discovering One’s Religion: Private Islamic Education in Lithuanian Muslim Communities
Egdūnas Račius [+]
Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania
Though Sunni Muslims are officially recognized as one of nine ‘traditional’ faith communities in Lithuania with the ensuing right to provide Islamic religious education to Muslim pupils in state schools within the compulsory subject ‘Moral education’, Islamic religious education, due to lack of demand, has hardly been offered in state schools. This lack is partially explained by the fact that there are simply no sufficient numbers of Muslim pupils at any one Lithuanian state school who (or whose parents) would want such instruction. Therefore, with no private Islamic primary, secondary or high schools in the country, whatever demand there is for Islamic religious education, it is satisfied mainly through ‘weekend schools’ at mosques and community centers. As the biggest concentration of Muslims is in the two biggest cities – the capital Vilnius and the second largest city Kaunas – most of Islamic education is offered there. While the ‘student’ body is mainly comprised of Tatars and (female) Lithuanian converts to Islam (both adult and school-age), the ‘tutors’, as a rule, are Diyanet-supplied Turkish imams and Arab students studying at various universities, occasionally assisted by local Tatars, including the Mufti (a Lithuanian Tatar educated in Lebanon) himself. Islam that is taught in these ‘weekend schools’ is then either of official Turkish version (Diyanet has financed translation into Lithuanian of study materials with much more supplied in Russian, a language common among Tatars) or of individually understood and practiced Arabic variants, depending on the origin of the ‘teacher’. However, it is noticed that while Tatars appear to be contend with the Turkish version, converts expect a more revivalist-based instruction. Therefore, some of the converts have (also) opted for alternative ways to instruct themselves in their adopted religion, namely, through digital means – Lithuanian language-based f-book groups, internet forums and the like where revivalist Islamic trends, among them Salafism, are much pronounced.