Ukraine Muslims pray for victory, end of occupation


By the point the Russians invaded, 43-year-old Mufti Mentioned Ismahilov — one of many Muslim religious leaders of Ukraine — had already resolved that he would step other than his spiritual duties to struggle for his nation.

On the finish of final yr, as warnings of an imminent assault grew louder, Ismahilov started coaching with an area territorial protection battalion. By then he had served as a mufti for 13 years.

Born and raised in Donetsk in jap Ukraine, Ismahilov had already fled Russia as soon as earlier than, in 2014, when Moscow-backed separatists captured his metropolis. He ultimately moved to a quiet suburb exterior Kyiv referred to as Bucha — solely to seek out himself, eight years later, on the coronary heart of Moscow’s assault on Kyiv, and the location of atrocities that shocked the world. It felt as if the specter of Russian occupation would by no means finish.

“This time I made the choice that I’d not run away, I’d not flee however I’d struggle” he stated in an interview with The Related Press in Kostiantynivka, a city near the entrance strains in jap Ukraine the place a battle for management of the area is intensifying.

Ismahilov started working as a army driver for paramedics evacuating the wounded from entrance strains or besieged cities. Tasked with driving in extremely harmful situations, but additionally emotionally supporting the critically injured, Ismahilov says he sees his new job as “a continuation of my religious obligation earlier than God.”

“In case you are not scared and you are able to do this, then it is extremely vital. The Prophet was himself a warrior,” Ismahilov says. “So I observe his instance and I additionally is not going to run, or disguise. I can’t flip my again on others.”

Ismahilov was one of many dozens of Ukrainian Muslims who gathered on the mosque in Kostiantynivka Saturday to mark Eid al-Adha — an vital spiritual vacation in Islam. The mosque is now the final remaining operational mosque in Ukrainian-controlled territory in Donbas. Ismahilov informed the AP that there are round 30 mosques within the area in complete however that the majority at the moment are within the fingers of the Russians.

Final week, Russia captured town of Lysychansk, the final main stronghold of Ukrainian resistance within the jap province of Luhansk. The governor of the Luhansk area stated on Saturday that Russian forces at the moment are urgent towards the border with the neighboring Donetsk area.

Muslims make up virtually 1 p.c of the inhabitants in Ukraine, which is predominantly Orthodox Christian. There’s a massive Muslim inhabitants in Crimea — dwelling to the Crimean Tatars and illegally annexed by Russian in 2014. Numbers there bounce to 12%. There’s additionally a sizeable Muslim group in jap Ukraine, the results of waves of financial migration because the area industrialized and lots of Muslims immigrated to the Donbas area to work within the mines and factories.

The battle in 2014 pressured many Muslims from Crimea and Donbas to relocate to different elements of the nation the place they joined long-established Tatar communities or constructed new Islamic facilities alongside Turks, Arabs and Ukrainian converts.

However the invasion has pressured many to flee as soon as once more. The mosque in Kostiantynivka used to cater for an area Muslim inhabitants of a number of hundred folks. On Saturday, few native residents have been current, having journeyed west with their households. As a substitute, the congregation was made up of troopers or fight medics from totally different models: Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian converts from Kharkiv, Kyiv and western Ukraine.

In his sermon following the normal Eid prayers, Ismahilov informed the congregation that this yr’s Eid had a symbolic significance within the midst of the struggle, and requested them to recollect Muslims residing in occupied territories, the place many have misplaced their houses and several other mosques have been destroyed by shelling. Referencing a collection of arrests of Crimean Tartars within the wake of the 2014 annexation, Ismahilov stated Muslims in occupied territories don’t really feel protected.

“There’s a variety of worry. … The struggle continues and we do not know what is occurring within the occupied territories and what scenario Muslims are in there” he stated.

Ismahilov informed the AP that he considers Russian Muslims invading Ukraine, together with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s notorious Chechen battalions, as “criminals.”

“They’re committing sins and … they’ve come as murderers and occupiers, on a territory that’s the dwelling of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Muslims, with none justification. Allah didn’t give them that proper” says Ismahilov. “They’ll reply for all this earlier than God.”

Olha Bashei, 45, a lawyer turned paramedic from Kyiv who transformed to Islam in 2015, says Russia is making an attempt “erase Ukraine from the face of the earth.” Bashei started working as a frontline paramedic in Donbas in 2014. She considers this struggle her ‘jihad,’ a time period to indicate a holy struggle or private wrestle in Islam.

“This struggle is my struggle, and I defend my jihad as a result of I’ve nephews, I’ve a mom and I defend my dwelling. I are not looking for my nephews to ever see what I, sadly, noticed on this struggle” she stated.

“Islam even helps me as a result of in Islam, in prayer, you by some means distract your self from the struggle since you learn the prayer and you’ve got a reference to the Almighty. For me, Islam is a pressure that helps me even in struggle.”

Because the troopers ready the customary sacrificial sheep for the Eid feast, a residential space in Kostiantynivka a number of kilometers away got here underneath violent shelling. The incoming artillery shook the bottom. Some troopers ran to the mosque’s bunker. Others shrugged it off and continued to drink their tea and eat dates. The shelling triggered a number of fires, injuring a number of inhabitants and burning roofs to cinders.

Ismahilov stated they might pray for victory and the liberation of the occupied territories.

“We pray that our Muslim compatriots will probably be protected, that our households will probably be reunited, that the slain Muslims will go to heaven, and that each one the Muslim troopers who’re defending their nation will probably be accepted as shahids (martyrs) by Allah.”

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