By Meryem Goktas
Muslims in Ukraine lack places of worship, Ukraine's mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims said.
In an exclusive interview to Anadolu Agency, the Muslim scholar Said Ismagilov said it was very hard to obtain land to build mosques, stating that the lack of places of worship was especially visible outside big cities.
"Muslims in smaller cities with smaller communities face more problems as they do not even have places of worship or access to halal food," he added.
The mufti added in his list of grievances that there are not enough cemeteries for Muslims and that Muslim women had to remove their hijab for their passport pictures.
Calling on international Muslim organizations for support in building mosques and Islamic centers in the country, Ismagilov said that it would be essential "for the future of Islam in Ukraine".
Ismagilov said that nearly a million Muslims live in Ukraine, the majority in Crimea and in big cities such as Kiev.
“During the Soviet Union [era], religions -- including Islam -- were forbidden in Ukraine, so when Ukraine became independent Muslims started from the beginning to learn about their religion," he said.
'Ukrainians are tolerant'
The mufti conceded that Muslims in Ukraine were not confronted with problems in their daily lives.
Deputy head of the Ukrainian Muslimahs League and chief editor in the Information Department of the Islamic Center of Ukraine, Olga Fryndak, who converted to Islam in 1998, describes Ukrainians as “tolerant”.
“Islam I knew from my elder sister. At the time she was studying at the university in Kiev and had some Muslim friends. She was the first who gave me the basic information about Islam as a religion. At the time there weren’t any Islamic books in Russian,” she said.
Fryndak said she had not faced “big problems” in Ukraine as a Muslim.
“Ukrainian people are tolerant in general. We have mosques and Islamic cultural centers in big cities, we have halal meat and products, we can work and pray, we have Muslim organizations and volunteers,” she said.
Fryndak said there are also Islamic grammar schools in Kiev and Kharkov, adding that Islamic literature can be published in Ukrainian and Russian.
She added that Ukrainian Muslims still needed more mosques and Islamic centers.
The mother of four added that kindergarten, recreational camps and sport clubs for Muslim children were also needed.
“We have some problems as a minority in the non-Muslim society, but insha'Allah [God willing] we can overcome them,” she said.
Islamic Center open for everyone
Speaking about the activities of the Islamic Center in Kiev at which the Mufti works, Ismagilov said that many needs of Muslims -- including weddings, halal restaurants, Ramadan programs, Islamic education for children and adults and other facilities – were being covered.
“During the month of Ramadan we have around 800-1,000 people at the Islamic Center for iftar [fast-breaking meal] and Tarawih [Ramadan prayers],“ he added.
Ismagilov said the facilities of the Islamic Center offer various seminars, open lectures and festivals which show that Muslim culture and traditions were not only open for Muslims, but for everyone.
Ismagilov stated that he also holds lectures at universities and Christian seminars to educate people on Islam and foster good relations between Muslims and other faiths.