Регистрация / Вход
Прислать материал

Mosque as a place for adaptation and socialization of migrants.

Scientific organization
National Research Tomsk State University/Laboratory of social antropology
Academic degree
Scientific discipline
Humanities & Social sciences
Mosque as a place for adaptation and socialization of migrants.
The article explores the process of adaptation of Central Asia migrants in the Muslim community of Tomsk. Particular attention is paid to the role of Muslim clergy as a conductor into the local host society, as well as to the Russian language as a factor of interaction between migrants and locals. It is shown that it is in a mosque that migrants can get necessary information about employment and keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the world of Islam and Muslims. The article draws on interviews conducted in the congregations of the two Tomsk mosques and on expert interviews.
Migrant, mosque, community, adaptation, Russian language.

Fyodor Smetanin

Mosque as a place for adaptation and socialization of migrants


The religious perception of the world is one of the dominant factors that influence people’s minds today. The enhanced role of religion in Russia’s modern society has brought about the increased religiosity of the Russians. Due to sacredness, exclusivity and the concentration of ideas in a confined space, religious ties are much stronger than other forms of connection of people in a society. Despite the high level of development of modern society, science and technology, the religious factor still remains one of the main parameters of identity formation in people’s minds. In Islam, this identity is created in the form of ‘Ummah’ that is a world community of Muslims, part of which is constituted by the Islamic ‘Ummah’ of Russia and the Muslim community of Tomsk is, in turn, part of the Russian ‘Ummah’.       

Studying the Muslim community of Tomsk can help identify the reasons underlying specific relationships among Muslims within it, as well as uncover the role of mosques as a place for communication and adaptation of Muslim migrants.  

 The Islamic religion is one of the major religions in the region of Tomsk. The history of the Tomsk Muslim community dates back more than 400 years. The Tatars of Tomsk that profess Islam have long inhabited the city. One of the main areas of their cultural presence here is called Zaistochie. In the Russian Empire, this was Tomsk Tatars’ traditional place of residence and it was here that their rites and customs had formed. There were places of worship (two mosques) along with cultural and educational institutions, a madrasah and a Turko-Tatar technical school present here as well.             

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the Muslims of Tomsk embarked on a restoration of places of worship and their national autonomy. The two mosques were handed to them and they managed to have completely restored the buildings by the year 2015. 

According to the 2010 Census, the number of local Tatars equated to 17029 which is 1,7% of the total population[1]. Only a small proportion of them go to the mosque. Year in year out, the number of Tatars, who know their national traditions and culture, decreases. Many families have long ago started to mix with the Russian population and have been assimilated. ‘We have a terrible assimilation going on in Tomsk. Here is a family, a big family. Half of them are Tatars and half are Russians. And now you cannot figure out who they are. Here are our children, our descendants, they are hybrids, that is what I call them. Some of them lean toward Christianity, others lean toward Islam. My nephew got baptized’. Some informants (for example, L.K.) do not see themselves as Tatars. There is also a factor of conversion to Christianity which is a departure from Muslim traditions. ‘She is Russian. Her father is Russian and her mother is Tatar, my sister. And so, they are two sisters, one of which did not get baptized. I went on a business trip to Kazan and brought some prayer-books to them. And to her I did not bring one. She had said she was a Christian. She took me to task. ‘Why did not you bring one to me? – But, Lyudochka, you said you were a Christian’. ‘But you do not know who I am in my soul’’. And she does not allow baptize her daughter. Her daughter is 14 years of age. But the younger sister did get baptized as did her son. One family, one mother. But the father is Russian. Assimilation. What kind of ethnicity will their child be of? Unclear. On the one hand, they are Tatars, on the other – Russians’[2].

Today’s ethnic composition of the Muslim community is essentially different from what it was a hundred years ago. If, in the early 20th century, there were local (Tomsk) Tatars and resettlers from the European part of Russia here, now, as censuses indicate, there are also migrants from the CIS countries, mostly from Central Asia, Transcaucasia and North Caucasus that is Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Kyrgyz and Ingush people.

Number of migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus in Tomsk oblast, based on censuses[3]








Proportion of the total population, %




















































According to the Tomsk Statistics Service’s data for 2015, there is a further increase in the number of migrants from the CIS and other countries of the world: from Azerbaijan – 324 people, from Kyrgyzstan – 511, from Tajikistan – 310, and from Uzbekistan – 929[4].

Migration to the region of Tomsk has largely changed the profile of the local Muslim community. The understanding of Islam has changed accordingly, as rites and religious practices exercised by Central Asia Muslims are much stricter than the ones exercised by Tatars including, for example, some of the elements of the Mohammedan prayer.

  Religious boards that are based at the city’s mosques are headed by Muslim migrants as well. Imam of the Red mosque is Tajik, and Imam of the White mosque is Kyrgyz. The Tomsk Imams form their religious space differently. Preaching by the one differs from preaching by the other. The Imam of the White mosque preaches in Kyrgyz and in Russian. The Imam of the Red mosque preaches in Russian. The ways preaching is carried out are also different.

Today, the Muslim community of Tomsk is ethnically heterogeneous; it includes people from various ethnic backgrounds who profess Islam. To communicate, they use their national languages – Tatar, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tajik, and Caucasian languages. In order to learn about Islam, consult the Muslim clergy, understand preaching at the mosques as well as to interact with the authorities, they use the Russian language. Knowledge of Russian helps the community not only adapt to local specificities of the religious space but also to get better integrated in the host society.

Our further research aims to test, drawing on the case of Tomsk, the hypothesis about the formation of a ‘Russian Islamic sociolect’ and its role in the adaptation of Muslim migrants. This sociolect includes several variations (Arabization, Russification), each of which has its own forms of using Islamic terminology, borrowing directly from Arabic, doing literary translation into the Russian language, etc. It is noteworthy that certain variations are not specific to only one group (be it social or political group) within the Islamic discourse and can be used by different actors, even by potential rivals (e.g. rival muftiates or two competing mosques)[5].



[1] Russian National Census: Knowledge of languages by people belonging to the most numerous ethnic groups by region [Electronic resource] http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/Documents/Vol4/pub-04-09.pdf Date of access – 20.05.2016. Free access, date of last access - 30.05.2016.

[2] Interview transcript. Informant L.K. 09.03.2016.

[3] I.V. Nam. National and cultural autonomy as a modern form of self-organization of ethnic communities (the case of Tomsk oblast) // The resettlers’ society of Asian Russia: migrations, spaces, communities at the turn of the XIX to XX and the XX to XXI centuries. Irkutsk, 2013. P. 510

[4] Tomsk oblast in figures – Tomskstat [Electronic resource] http://tmsk.gks.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosstat_ts/tmsk/resources/a7af4180449a4093a2abe720d5236cbc/Томская+область+2015.pdf Free access, date of last access - 30.05.2016.

[5] The Russian Orthodox and Islamic Languages in the Russian Federation (with Michael Kemper) [Electronic resource] https://www.academia.edu/6751530/The_Russian_Orthodox_and_Islamic_Languages_in_the_Russian_Federation_with_Michael_Kemper. Free access, date of last access - 30.05.2016.