A characteristic feature of Belarusians is their limitless tolerance, which ensures the peaceful coexistence of different religions, nationalities and cultures. Two cities in the west of the country are an excellent example of this: Novogrudok (Navahrudak) and Iwje (Iŭje). For six centuries Orthodox, Catholics, Muslims and Jews have been getting along well there.
Your excursion begins with a visit of the service in the Farny Catholic Church in Novogrudok, which begins daily at 8 am. The service is held in two languages, Belarusian and Polish. Belarusian Catholicism originates from Poland, therefore Catholics in Belarus are also called Poles. And indeed, many of them have Polish roots. The priest Jan will gladly tell you more about the history of Catholicism and its coexistence with other religions. The priest is a passionate lover of history who often searches for historical artefacts in Novogrudok and its surroundings. He will be happy to show you his collection of archaeological finds, which he keeps in the church and in the nunnery.
Afterwards you will visit the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas. The church is a late baroque monument rebuilt in pseudo-byzantine style. Most believers in Belarus are Orthodox, but in the west of the country Catholics predominate. After that you will meet Mullah Jakub, the spiritual head of the Tatars in Novogrudok. The Tartars were invited by the Grand Prince Witaut at the end of the 14th century because they had the reputation of being good fighters. Witaut was dependent on their help and support in the Battle of Tannenberg (1410). Since that time Tartars settled in the region and integrated themselves into society. The Mullah tells about his small community with about 150 members, their festivals and traditions. Your meeting takes place in the mosque, which has its own interesting history. It was built in 1855 and served as a mosque until 1953. Then the Bolsheviks confiscated the mosque and converted it into a residential building. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the mosque was returned to the faithful. The mosque was rebuilt and restored to its original form. Jakub will take you to another mosque in Iwje, where you can attend the Islamic service on Fridays at 1 pm. But 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, for their thoughts and views to focus only on God, not on each other. The service is held in Arabic. The Belarusian Tartars have largely lost their mother tongue, Tartar, over the course of six centuries, but all understand a little Arabic to read the Koran. Just behind the mosque you will see many greenhouses with tomatoes. Today, tomato cultivation in Iwje is considered a typical Tatar activity. Originally the Tatars took over this activity from the Jews. At the beginning of the 20th century Jews made up over 80 percent of the population in Iwje. After the Second World War, the last remaining Jews left the city. Today one can study traces of their culture and religion in the local ethnographic museum. 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. On the main square there is not an obligatory statue of Lenin as in 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.