Murat Suleymanov pictured at the Muhammad Asad Islamic Cultural Center in Lviv, Ukraine. EFE/ Rostyslav Averchuk

The Ukrainian Muslims fighting Russia while observing Ramadan

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Mar 30 (EFE).- Ukrainian Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan experience the effects of the war as much as the rest of the population, as they help defend their country against the Russian invasion and hope for solidarity from the rest of the Muslim world.

“Ramadan is about doing good deeds,” imam Murat Suleymanov, head of Ukraine’s Religious Administration of Muslims (“Ummah”) and director of the Muhammad Asad Islamic cultural center in Lviv, tells Efe.

Large bags filled with products for those in need are lined up in a room where Islamic literature and language classes are normally held, while rows of tables have been set up for the dozens of Muslims expected to gather there to break their fast at sunset.

The center serves the local Muslim community, which before the Russian invasion began over a year ago consisted of some 5,000 people.

Murat Suleymanov pictured during an interview with Efe at the Muhammad Asad Islamic Cultural Center in Lviv, Ukraine. EFE/ Rostyslav Averchuk

Suleymanov smiles as he remembers the heated soccer games they organized before the war between young Muslims, mainly foreign students at local Ukrainian universities.

“Last time we had 14 teams with players from Egypt, Burkina Faso, Syria, from all across the world, as well as Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians,” he says.

But there is no telling now when another tournament will happen again, as all of the community’s efforts are directed at repelling the Russian invasion.

“This war is about defending our homes and families”, Suleymanov explains.

Eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where most of the country’s one million Muslims live, have been hit hard by the invasion. Mosques in Severodonetsk and Bakhmut were destroyed and many Muslims had to flee their homes in Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Many have joined the army, including Said Ismagilov, ex-leader of Ummah.

“It is our duty. Islam teaches men to be brave and protect their homeland,” explains the paramedic, who evacuates wounded Ukrainian soldiers from Bakhmut.

After fleeing Donetsk when Russian-backed separatists took control over part of the region in 2014, Ismagilov has regularly visited the frontline to provide spiritual assistance to Muslim soldiers.

From the very first day of the invasion, however, it became clear to him that this time he had to take up arms to defend his country.

Ismagilov underlines that Ukrainian Muslims are also fighting to avoid the repression that Russian rule would surely bring to Ukraine.

“It is hard to find another land in the world where Muslims are as mistreated and hated as Russia,” he says, pointing to the repression of the Muslim Crimean Tatars in the occupied Crimea, thousands of whom had to flee their homeland.

He underlines that, having suppressed the struggles for sovereignty in Tatarstan and North Caucasus, Russia is using its population as “cannon fodder” in its attempt to conquer new territories.

“It’s a pity that instead of fighting for their liberty, Russia’s Muslims leave their bones scattered around Bakhmut”, he says.

Although he describes the situation in Bakhmut as “persistently difficult”, Ismagilov remains calm.

“Islam teaches that if a warrior dies protecting his home, he will go to paradise. It is the aggressors who will go to hell.”EFE