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Tatars of Finland Are Example for Muslim Immigrants In Europe

14.01.2009 10:38

Muslim community in Finland is presented by many nations but Tatars make its largest part and the oldest one too. Migration has changed Finnish ummah and Tatars now face new problems in keeping their ethnic and religious identity. Christy Westphalen shares her views on these problems and how Tatars manage to cope with them as a Counselor in Engagement with the Islamic World in Ministry for foreign affairs of Finland.

N.V.: There is a large Tatar community in Finland. How do they get on with local communities and do they have opportunity to keep their national identity?

C.W.: Tatar community in Finland is dated back to may be one hundred years or even more. And they perfectly integrated into Finnish society. This actually would be the model of integration for many newcomers in Finland. The community is rather small: to my knowledge the number would be from 200 to 1,000. Most of them are living in big cities, most of them in the capital of Finland in Helsinki but also in Southern Finland. They all are predominantly professional people — entrepreneurs, commercially, financially very successful people. And they have a very respected position in the society. Though they were able to solve some issues that many Muslim newcomers that are now coming to Finland are now facing.

N.V.: Do they anyhow help the newcomers integrate into the Finnish society since they have the experience?

C.W.: To some extent but not very much I would say. The Tatars have their own mosque in Helsinki. And they cherish very much their own language and their own culture which they are very proud of. But the rest of the Muslims in Finland are ethnically, culturally, linguistically and religiously very diverse. There are tremendous differences among them. And the relations between these various communities are not very strong.

N.V.: How do Finnish Tatars contribute to Finnish society?

C.W.: Absolutely. In the mainstream of the society they contribute in every possible way. I think Tatars are the second oldest Muslim community legally recognized in Europe apart from Austria. And that goes back to 1914. At that time Finland still was a sovereign part of Russia.

N.V.: Are they socially active?

C.W.: They live pretty much within their own community. And there are no social issues problemwise like needy for example. They all are relatively well-to-do people.

N.V.: Do they hold any social activities to help those in need? Because local Tatars are very active in holding social oriented events.

C.W.: The crucial reality of Muslims migrating to Europe these days is very different. Many come from very underprivileged conditions, economic reasons mainly drive people to move. In Finland where the total population has only 5 million people we have around 30 thousand migrants. So it’s a very small population, but a very rapidly growing population also. And out of these we have Tatars may be one thousand. And the rest of our Muslims are mainly Somali, and then we have Kurds, Palestinians, North Africans, very little people from Indian subcontinent. So that would be the profile of Muslims living in Finland.

N.V.: How do newcomers get on in new community? Do they tend to live in their separate communities or do they integrate?

C.W.: Finland is a very new country having experienced multiculturalism. And we have this experience only for about 15 years. And earlier on Muslims who did come to Finland were mainly refugees. And now they come more for economic reasons.

If you ask if Muslims are aggressive in Finland the answer is no. Many people have two reasons for being unhappy. Because of some of the social conditions. The statistics tell us for example that unemployment amongst all Muslim population is double or even triple of that of the ordinary population. And it is particularly spread among some groups. Somalis for example are having much difficulties in integrating themselves which of course causes all sorts of social problems. Alienisation and not radicalization that you see in some of the European countries. We don’t have it yet but it is a very good thing that we recognize that the path is very much into that direction unless we try and address many of the crucial problems that migrants are facing.

Interview by Natalya Vasilieva Interview was published in “Medina al-Islam” newspaper (issue 25, January 2007)

 

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