Islam in Mongolia is practiced by approximately 3 to 5% of the population. It is practised by the ethnic Kazakhs of Bayan-Ölgii Province (88.7% of total aimag population) and Khovd Province (11.5% of total aimag population, living primarily in the Khovd city, Khovd sum, and Buyant sum) aimag in western Mongolia. In addition, a number of small Kazakh communities can be found in various cities and towns spread throughout the country. Islam is also practiced by the smaller communities of Khotons and Uyghurs.
The earliest evidence of Islam in Mongolia is dated to 1254 when the Franciscan William of Rubruck visited the court of the great khan Mongka at Karakorum. He celebrated Easter at a Nestorian Christian church but also noted seven temples of the "idolators" (possibly Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist temples) and two mosques. Therefore, historians date the arrival of Islam to Mongolia to between 1222 and 1254. Islam also gained the notice of the Mongols after Genghis Khan invaded Afghanistan. In 1222, on his way back to Mongolia, he visited Bukhara in Transoxiana. It was believed he inquired about Islam, and subsequently approved of Muslim tenets except the Hajj, considering it unnecessary. Nevertheless, he continued his worship of Tengri as his ancestors had done.
Genghis Khan and the following Yuan emperors forbade Islamic practices like Halal butchering, forcing Mongol methods of butchering animals on Muslims, and other restrictive degrees continued. Muslims had to slaughter sheep in secret. Genghis Khan directly called Muslims and Jews "slaves" and demanded that they follow the Mongol method of eating rather than the halal method. Circumcision was also forbidden. Jews were also affected and forbidden by the Mongols to eat Kosher.
Among all the [subject] alien peoples only the Hui-hui say “we do not eat Mongol food”. [Cinggis Qa’an replied:] “By the aid of heaven we have pacified you; you are our slaves. Yet you do not eat our food or drink. How can this be right?” He thereupon made them eat. “If you slaughter sheep, you will be considered guilty of a crime.” He issued a regulation to that effect ... [In 1279/1280 under Qubilai] all the Muslims say: “if someone else slaughters [the animal] we do not eat”. Because the poor people are upset by this, from now on, Musuluman [Muslim] Huihui, and Zhuhu [Jewish] Huihui, no matter who kills [the animal] will eat [it] and must cease slaughtering sheep themselves, and cease the rite of circumcision.
Genghis Khan's grandson Berke converted to Islam due to the efforts of Saif ud-Din Dervish, a dervish from Khorazm, thus Berke became one of the first Mongol rulers to convert. Other Mongol leaders owed their conversion to Islam due to the influence of a Muslim wife. Later, it was the Mamluk ruler Baibars who played an important role in bringing many Golden Horde Mongols to Islam. Baibars developed strong ties with the Mongols of the Golden Horde and took steps for the Golden Horde Mongols to travel to Egypt. The arrival of the Golden Horde Mongols to Egypt resulted in a significant number of Mongols accepting Islam. By the 1330s, three of the four major khanates of the Mongol Empire had become Muslim. These were the Jochi's Ulus, Hulagu's Ulus and Chagatai's Ulus. The Yuan Empire also embraced Muslim peoples such as the Persians.
Although the court of the Yuan Empire adopted Tibetan Buddhism as the official religion, the majority of the ordinary Mongols, especially those who continued living in Mongolia proper, remained Shamanists. After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty, Shamanism once again became the dominant religion. To varying degrees, political and economic relations with Muslim nations such as Moghulistan continued.
The Muslim Khotons were transferred to western Mongolia from Xinjiang in the 17th or 18th centuries by the Dzunger Khanate. Most Khotons today live in Uvs province. A small number of Uyghurs also live in Mongolia and mainly reside in Khovd. A few also live in Bayan-Ölgii.
The Muslim Kazakhs began to settle in the Jungaria and Altai regions in the late nineteenth century. The majority of these Kazakhs were the Kerei and Naiman clans, many of them escaping persecution in Czarist Russia. When Bogdo Khan assumed power in Mongolia on December 29, 1911, the Kazakhs in Xinjiang and Altai regions sought the patronage of the restored Khanate. The government of Bogdo Khan admitted them and allowed them to settle in the western region of Mongolia's Kobdo territory.
Bayan-Ölgii aimag was established as part of the administrative reforms of the Mongolian People's Republic in 1940. As a result of historically high birth rates, the Muslim population in Mongolia increased between 1956 and 1989. However, there was a decline in the Muslim population in 1990-1993 due to the large wave of repatriation of ethnic Kazakhs (so-called oralmans) to Kazakhstan following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Islam is currently practiced predominately in the western portion of the country as well as in Mongolia's capital. Some of the major population centers with a significant Muslim presence include Ulan Bator (90% in khoroo #4 of Nalaikh düüreg), Töv and Selenge aimags, Erdenet, Darkhan, Bulgan, Sharyngol (17.1% of population total) and Berkh cities.
Notable Mongol MuslimsEdit
- Berke - grandson of Genghis Khan and leader of the Golden Horde who was the first Mongol ruler to establish Islam in a Mongol state.
- Ghazan - seventh ruler of the Ilkhanate.
- Muhammad Khodabandeh - formerly a Christian, he was the eighth Ilkhanid dynasty ruler in Iran from 1304 to 1316.
- Mubarak Shah - head of the ulus of the Chagatai Khanate (1252–1260, March–September 1266).
- Nawrūz (Mongol emir) - a convert to Islam; he played an important role in the politics of the Mongol Ilkhanate.
- Negudar - Mongol general and noyan
- Nogai Khan - Mongol general and great-grandson of Genghis Khan.
- Tarmashirin - Khan of the Chagatai Khanate following Duwa Timur.
- Tekuder - Mongol leader of the Ilkhan empire who was formerly a Nestorian Christian.
- Tuda Mengu - Mongol leader of the Golden Horde
- Tughlugh Timur - the Khan of Moghulistan.
- Öljei Temür Khan, also known as Buyanshir Khan after he converted to Islam while he stayed at the court of Timur in Samarkand.
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