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Reviving Hungary’s Lost Religion

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Reviving Hungary’s Lost Religion


By Nadia El-Awady



Bundled up against the November cold of Eastern Europe, Gyorgy Jakab waited to meet me outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as dusk turned to night. I pointlessly worried that I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a possible small crowd standing in front of the academy, and had instead told him to look for the Muslim woman wearing the large beige veil. I found and knew him at a moment’s glance. It might have been the stubble of blondish beard that covered part of his face, or perhaps just his demeanor of humbleness that shines from the devout. Nevertheless, I smiled as our eyes met when I had hardly walked out of the door, and beckoned for him to join me inside the warmth of the academy’s main lobby.


This was my first trip to Eastern Europe, let alone Hungary. I was interested to learn from Yaqub, as Gyorgy now prefers to be called, a bit about the country’s Muslim community. I had always assumed that because of the country’s long historical relationship with Islam, there would be a group of indigenous Hungarian Muslims within its bosom. This assumption turned out to be very wrong.


Yaqub, a 32-year-old high school teacher of geography and French, explained that although indications show that Hungarians have known Islam as a religion among their countrymen since the country itself began forming in the 8th century CE, not one of their ancestors remains in the country to this day. Islam practically disappeared or was prohibited as a religion thrice in Hungarian history: at the end of the 13th century when King Laszlo IV prohibited the practice of the religion, despite the fact that his mother was reportedly Muslim; after Ottoman rule of the country ceased in the 17th century and Austrian rule commenced; and with the arrival of communism after World War II when religions went “underground.†As a result, in 1988, when the first modern Islamic group was being founded in Hungary, only 14 Muslim converts to Islam could be found. Another group of six non-Muslims would have to be added to the list of founding members of the Hungarian Islamic Community for the organization to be officially recognized.


A Hungarian Sinbad


Yaqub was only 15 at that time and was just getting to know Islam through his travels around the world, frequently in his father’s company. His first recollection of acquaintance with the religion was during a trip to Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, where a third of the population is Muslim. Both he and his father were impressed with the city’s Masjids, and went from one Masjid to another in search of one that was open. Finally they found an open Masjid and entered in the hope of finding someone who could explain its architecture and history. But alas, only an old man was to be seen, who happened to know only his native Albanian tongue.


You can read the rest of it here:


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