The main characteristic of Belarusians is their limitless tolerance that allows peaceful coexistence of representatives of different religions, nationalities and cultures. Two western Belarusian cities, Novogrudok (Navahrudak) and Iwje (Iŭje), are an excellent example of this.
For six centuries Orthodox, Catholics, Muslims and Jews have been getting along well there.
First you visit the service in the Catholic church Farny in Nowogrudok, which begins daily at 8 o'clock. The service is conducted in two languages: Belarusian and Polish. Belarusian Catholicism originates from Poland, therefore Catholics in Belarus are also called Poles. And that is true, because many of them are of Polish origin.
The priest Jan tells about the history of Catholicism and its coexistence with other religions. The priest is also a history lover, who often searches for historical artefacts in Novogrudok and the surrounding area which he will gladly show you.
You will also visit the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. The church is interesting as a monument of the Late Baroque, which was rebuilt in pseudobyzantine style. Orthodox Christianity is the most common religion in Belarus, but it is less widespread in the west of the country.
You will meet Mullah Jakub, the spiritual leader of the Tatars in Novogrudok. The Tartars were invited by the Grand Duke Witaut at the end of the 14th century because they were good soldiers. Also Witaut needed their help and support at the Battle of Tannenberg (1410). Since these times the Tatars have remained on the Belarusian land and have integrated well into society.
The Mullah tells about its small municipality (approx. 150 members), their celebrations and traditions. Your meeting takes place in the mosque, which has its own interesting history. It was built in 1855 and functioned until 1953, when the Bolsheviks removed the mosque and made six apartments inside. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the mosque was returned to the faithful. However, they had to rebuild the mosque to its original shape.
After that you see another mosque in Iwje, where you can visit the Islamic service (Fridays at 13 o'clock). But in this case you are not allowed to drink alcohol the day before. The mosque is divided into two rooms, in the first the men pray, in the second the women, to direct their thoughts and views only to God and not to each other. The service is conducted in Arabic.
Belarusian Tatars have lost their mother tongue (Tatar) over six centuries, but everyone can read a bit of Arabic.
Just behind the mosque you can see many greenhouses with tomatoes. Today, tomato growing is considered a typical Tatar activity in Iwje. But the Tartars took it over from Jews. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews accounted for 80 percent of the population in Iwje. But after the Second World War none of those who had survived stayed there. Now traces of their their culture and religion can be found in the Museum of National Cultures. In the museum, besides the Jewish culture, the Belarusian and Tatar cultures are also represented. Jewish traces can also be seen in the architecture of the city, especially on the street leading from the Catholic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul to the city centre. And on the main square there is not the Lenin monument, which is obligatory for many former Soviet cities, but a unique monument dedicated to the four denominations. Each side of the monument is directed to the respective church or prayer hall.