Islam in Hungary

It is commonly believed that the Turkish occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries was the sole noteworthy Islamic influence in Hungary's past as well as one of the main causes of her post-medieval backwardness vis-a-vis the West. The extent to which Ottoman rule was really of, Muslim character is not often discussed, nor are the other Islam-related chapters of Hungarian history, while no research has been made at all, until recently, on the rich archival and press sources of the last hundred years of Muslim activities in the country. These latter have indeed been insignificant if compared to most of the Eastern European states: Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina are supposed to have nowadays a majority Muslim population; Bulgaria and Serbia (Kosovo) a large one; Romania, Greece and some formerly Yugoslav republics a notable minority. Even the strongly Catholic Poland's 2000 or so Tatars and those of Lithuania are much more important in number than their very few coreligionists in Hungary, disregarding the immigrants of foreign, mainly Arab citizenship, to whom we will return later. However, the attractiveness, weight and prospect of a religion are hardly a matter of mere statistics: in addition to the ability and qualities of those who take responsibility for preaching its teachings, the addressed society's openness and degree of tolerance may greatly influence the success of the interfaith dialogue.

In this respect, Hungary now appears to be one of the region 's most receptive and least unstable countries, though herself in social, spiritual and intellectual turmoil after a dark period of 40 years. Of course, Islam is not her people's main preoccupation at the moment: unfortunately, they ignore it almost as much as the majority of Muslims ignore them and their history. It may be interesting to note that the first written sources on the Hungarian tribes are Arabic ones: in the 9th century. Djaihani of Bukhara, whose notes are known to us from Ibn Rusta's and Gardizi 's records, described them as a "Turkic race" and as nomads living at the middle reaches of the Volga. According to modern "official" scholarship, the Hungarians - belong to the Finno-Ugrian family of peoples, yet their tribal organization, as well as the vocabulary of their language, could have been influenced by the surrounding Turkic tribes. These contacts were frequent, and some Turks could well have Jomed the Hungarians who arrived, at the end of the 9th century, in the Carpathian Basin, their actual homeland. They settled down and I founded a state under their first king, Saint Stephen, who received his crown from the Pope in the year 1000. The pagan Hungarians' massive conversion to Christianity was the basic feature of their kingdom, becoming gradually an important state of medieval Europe. The Church could hardly tolerate any other creed or belief; nevertheless the extent of this rigour changed from time to time.

The Mu'rib 'an ba'd'aga'ib al-Maghrib of the traveller, merchant and faqih Abu Hamid al-Garnati (d. 1170) is the most detailed report on the Muslims of Hungary of the 12th century. Garnati spent three years in the country, which he called "Unkuriya", as, had done Mascudi and Idrisi. Like Istakhri and Ibn Hawkal, he used the name "Bashghard" for its people, whom he also considered to be Turks, and called their king "Kazali". This term can be related to the Slavic "kral" (king) or to the name of the Hungarian monarch of that period, Géza II (1141-1161), who seems to have greatly respected Garnati 's advice and held his person in high esteem (according to the author's own records, which are! often fictitious, not to say miraculous, as are those of the Arab travellers in general). He must have exaggerated when he spoke of "thousands of Maghribis and countless Khwarizmis" in Hungary: reportedly the former openly professed their Islamic faith while the latter concealed it. Both of these groups seem to have served the King as warriors in his campaigns against the Emperor of Byzantium who was less friendly to his own Muslim mercenaries than Géza II, according again Abu Hamid. This was perhaps the reason why Garnati could term these Byzantino-Hungarian wars as "Jihad". "This king likes the Muslims," he said about the Hungarian sovereign. We also know from the author that he bought, for 10 dinars, a local concubine, who gave birth to his son, Hamid, whom he left in 1153 as a hostage to the King and promised to return, but finally did not do so.

Garnati's description of the cheap and rich Hungary of that time and his discussions with Géza II about the advantages of polygamy and abstention from drinking wine may be less exciting than his words concerning those he termed "Maghribis" or, more exactly, "descendants of the Maghribis" (awladu'I-Maghariba or abna'u'I-Maghariba). It is believed that they were Arabs -perhaps really North-African or Andalusian -whose ancestors had joined, in the 10th or 11th century, the (Turkic) Pecheneg tribes coming from the East to Hungary and eventually merging with her people. There may have been Muslims among the predominantly pagan Pechenegs, as Al-Bakri also claimed. According to his own records, the missionary-inclined Garnati made attempts to improve their knowledge of Islam and Arabic. "Today, sermons of Friday are delivered at more than ten thousand places as their country is enormous," he wrote proudly of the result of his activities. This was, of course, untrue, yet we know from authentic Hungarian sources too that "Saracens" or "Ismaelites" served as royal guardsmen while others were entrusted with tax-collection duties, money changing and even minting, so they played a remarkable role in the medieval economy, just like the Jewish moneylenders did. Their prerogatives and commercial benefits were so important that the Church and the nobles found it necessary to incorporate their sensible limitation in the Golden Bull, the famous edict issued in 1222 by King Andrew II, and in its revised version of 1231 as well. The Christian pressure became so strong that at the beginning of 1232, Archbishop Robert, with the authorization of the Pope, did in fact excommunicate Andrew for his continued employment of Muslim and Jewish moneylenders, and also for restricting the Church's salt monopoly. The King was compelled to conclude a treaty with the Pope's envoy in which he conceded to the demands of the clergy. A few years later the Tatars of Batu Khan invaded Hungary for a while, and the Muslims seem to have disappeared from the scene for the coming three centuries.

As to the relative privileges they enjoyed earlier, we must add that they were, like the Jews, always exposed to the aggressive Christian proselytizing zeal and the spirit of the crusades. Laws of the late 11th century forced them to the so-called "pork test": they could be put to death if they refused to eat the divinely prohibited meat. The abovementioned Khwarizmis' concealment of their belief may be explained by this legal terror, though this latter was not continuously practised at all. However, the influence of just a few hundred Muslims could not be significant, except in finances.


Although there were clashes, even wars between the Hungarian kings and the Ottomans during the 14th and the 15th centuries, the former succeeded in resisting and protecting Europe against the "pagans", as they unjustly called the latter. However, the power of the Turks increased gradually as well as the territory occupied by them on the Balkans, while the Kingdom of Hungary was deeply shocked and weakened by the great peasant uprising of 1514. Under the reign of Louis II Jagiello (1516-1526), conditions inside and outside Hungary further deteriorated. Internal dissentions divided her nobility, and the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor could not engage forces for her defence, because of his obligations in the West and anarchic conditions within the German Empire. The "Magnificent" or "Kanüni" Sultan Suleiman I (1520-1566) did not hesitate to launch his grand attack against Hungary, whose small, badly organized army was annihilated on 29 August, 1526 at Mohács. The King died on the battlefield and the Voivoda (Viceroy) of Transylvania John Zápolyai was crowned king (1526-1540) by his adherents. In the meantime, a counter-diet elected the Holy Roman Emperor's younger brother Habsburg Ferdinand I King of Hungary (1526-1564). After the seizure of the capital by the Turks in 1541, the country split into three distinct parts for one and a half centuries: the West and North remained in the Habsburgs' hands, the central and southern counties were occupied by the Sultan, while Transylvania, the so-called "East Hungarian Kingdom" became an autonomous principality under Turkish protection, more-or-less opposed to Vienna and paying a yearly tribute to Constantinople as a reaffirmation of her quasi-vassalage. Constant attempts by these two foreign powers to conquer the estates of the other made the country the scene of continuous battles along the line of border castles reaching from the Adriatic through Croatia, the northern shore of Lake Balaton, up to the Danube band and to the foot of the Carpathian mountains and the Upper Tisza.

It is neither our task here to relate the events of the 16th and 17th centuries in the occupied parts of Hungary and in Transylvania "of three nations and four religions," nor even to take a definite position as to the extent of the damages caused to Hungary by the Turkish invasion and the almost permanent warfare. Historians are far from being unanimous in this respect. Some remarks, however, are inevitable as, in the Hungarians' eyes, Islam was embodied in the Ottomans, who presented a rather unpleasant picture of it. As P. F. Sugar plausibly put it, the very name of the Ottoman Empire, "the divinely protected and flourishing domain of the House of Osman" (al-mamalik al-mafrusa wal-ma'mura al-'uthmaniya) reflected her double character, her two basic traditions: the (Hanafi Sunni) Islamic and the Turkic (tribal) one. To the religious or sacred law (shari'a), a secular legal system (kanun) was added, based on the Sultan 's customary law ('urf) and also often on the conquered regions ' old institutions and practices, such as the Byzantine ones, for example.

The Ottomans could well consider it their divinely ordered mission and duty to extend the realm of the "domain of Islam" (dar al-Islam) at the expense of the "domain of war" (dar al-harb): this was the proclaimed and official raison d'etre of their Empire which, consequently, could not live in peace. This justified not only the rule of a single dynasty, the Osmanlis, but also the supremacy of the warrior aristocracy (ghazis or beys) and other "professional Ottomans" - administrators, jurists, high officers, etc. - over the overwhelming majority of the population, the reaya. These latter could be peasants, merchants, tradesmen, guild members, artisans, etc., Muslims and zimmi alike, even if the rights of the latter two, as prescribed by the sharica, were not the same. But the way in which this multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious state was governed had less and less to do with Islam.

Soon after the occupation of the third of Hungary in the mid-16th century, the Empire's glory was over and its decline began. It was able neither to accomplish further conquests nor to renew its social structure. Its raison d'etre ceased, and the main purpose of its authorities was to extort the utmost from the local population, the Islamization of which could not be in their interest at all. In addition to the land-use tax (kharag) and the poll-tax (gizya), other taxes were collected too, like the tithe on animals and the agricultural sector in general (ashar). Gradually, almost every possible activity of the reaya's life became taxable. In reality, these practices were far from Islam, which was, however, identified in the eyes of the Hungarians with the Turks' unpopular behaviour. Its most inhuman feature was most probably the child levy (devshirme) system, the main source for recruits to the janissary corps. We do not know exactly the frequency of the levy and the number of the youth enrolled, but this Ottoman innovation of slavery or kidnapping left bitter reminiscences in the country.

During the 16th century, an important part of the population of the invaded territories fled away from their homeland, but the occupation was not the only, and perhaps even not the main reason for this migration. In this period, the cultivable soil of the great Hungarian plain, the region between the Danube and the Tisza rivers, considerably deteriorated, though this process had begun before the Turks ' arrival. It remains a question whether this catastrophic development would have happened if the Ottomans had not conquered the country. It was surely not in their interest to force the local peasants to emigrate, but the constant and ravaging warfare did not prevent the latter from doing so. Those who remained suffered from a lack of draft animals, so traditional agriculture had to be replaced by a pastoral-type animal husbandry. Much of the rural population settled down in boroughs (oppida) of the plain, slightly more protected against the tax-collectors' arbitrariness and abuses.

In the terms of the Treaty of Adrianople of 1568, the Hungarian landlords who fled beyond the border were also permitted to levy taxes on their serfs under Turkish rule, and so they did. However, the Ottomans probably bore the main responsibility for the backwardness of the countries they had invaded, and the chaotic and corrupt "Balkan- type" administration prevailing in them. In contrast to contemporary Western Europe, no accumulation of capital was possible in this region, and the sectors of manufacturing, trade and transportation could not develop sufficiently. Hungarians had no reason for feeling unhappy when their country left the "dar al-Islam", as a result of the reconquest by the international Christian "Holy Alliance", at the end of the 17th century.

But the war was used by the Habsburgs to introduce their virtually absolute rule into Hungary. This hit the burghers of the towns and the peasantry at least as acutely as the nobility who saw a significant part of their former lands distributed among the Austrian court aristocracy. The "liberated" population was raped and plundered by the soldiers of the imperial army, and the civilian administration's behaviour did not prove to be better. The inhabitants of whole villages fled again to the woods and mountains to escape the tax-collector, this time the Austrian one.

Transylvania also came under Habsburg rule in 1687. The shock to her population must have been even greater as the Ottoman overlord ship there had been comparably lighter than in the lands west and east rofher. The tribute she paid to the Porte was not unbearable, and direct turkish interference in her affairs was rare. She enjoyed a large degree of independence as well as a certain Ottoman protection against the Habsburgs and the Counter-Reformation. Around some anti-Austrian Hungarian nobles who had fled to Transylvania, a so-called kuruc army was organized. Paradoxically enough, the origin of this term or nickname goes back to the crusades, deriving from the Latin cruciatus, and had been associated with the peasant uprising of 1514, the participants of which were originally enrolled to fight the Turks but eventually attacked their own landlords. The kuruc guerilla of the late 17th century turned against the Austrian army in Northern Hungary, and were indirectly supported by the Ottomans, who were glad to see the Habsburgs troubled by diversions within their territories. The kuruc leader Emeric Thököly differed little himself from a mercenary and puppet of the Turks, as did his contemporary Prince of Transylvania Michael Apafi (1661-1690). Thököly and his wife, Helen Zrinyi, died eventually in exile in Turkey after the whole country, including Transylvania, became one of the Habsburgs' hereditary provinces. To this day, both of them are considered as heroes of the cause of Hungarian independence.

Such was also the case of Prince Francis II Rákóczi, the leader of the famous and unsuccessful anti-Habsburg uprising of 1703-1711. Of course, it would be erroneous to call him the mercenary of the Ottomans, yet he was on good terms with them. He and a group of his followers ended their lives as refugees in Rodoshto, near Constantinople. In 1849, the eminent Hungarian politician and head of the country's first independent government, Louis Kossuth, also took refuge for a while in Turkey, along with many of his companions, following their revolution's defeat by Austrian Emperor Francis-Joseph I and Russian Tsar Nicolas I.

The more time elapsed, the friendlier Hungarians became with the Turks, especially as they were separated from them by a zone of smaller buffer states. Unpleasant reminiscences dimmed gradually, while the Habsburg rule was a palpable and disagreeable reality. Kuruc and oriental romanticism and nostalgia increasingly influenced public thinking, literature, painting and music in the 19th century. Some intellectuals became keenly interested in the Turks and their religion, even began to like them, perhaps because they were "exotic" and so far in time and space, yet memorable protagonists of Hungary's glorious - anti-Habsburg - history. Nevertheless, the Hungarian politicians in 1867 made a compromise -the famous and advantageous Ausgleich -with the Emperor of Austria crowned, with their consent, king of their country. Hungary then became a more-or-less equal partner of a Dual Monarchy of "two leading nations" which oppressed several others within her frontiers. These frontiers had to be extended at the expense of Turkey, "the Sick Man of Europe", in order to gain Muslim subjects for Francis-Joseph I, though this was perhaps the less important aim or motive of his Balkan policies.

Before treating these events, so decisive to our subject, let us enumerate some "Islamic relics", i.e. the buildings the Ottomans erected in the country during their century and a half long rule, or more exactly those whose remains may still be seen in Hungary today.

Turks hamam


In addition to the buildings that have survived to this day, there were of course many others, which are known only from drawings and records, especially those of Turkish chroniclers Evlia Chelebi, Djelalzade Mustafa and Ibrahim Pechevi. Baths, fortifications, jamis and türbes (mausoleums) remind us nowadays that there existed a rich Islamic architecture and an active religious, cultural and business life in the cities where the Turks, as well as Muslim and Christian Slavs of Balkan origin, settled down and endeavoured to adjust the environment to their liking and to transform conditions to their own way of life.

Four thermal baths (ilidje) of Buda are still used as such: the Császár (Veli Bey's), the Király (or "Cock Gate"), the Rudas (Yeshil Bey's direkli) and the Rác (Debbaghane) baths, while the ruins of Valide Sultana 's bath are to be found in Eger and those of the Güzeldje Rustem Pasha 's bath in Székesfehérvár. The latter two were steam baths (hammam). Their water was not supplied by warm springs as in the case of the former four but by aqueducts, and was heated by a special boiler. The thermal ones had an octagonal bathing-pool with steps, and a hemispherical cupola with pillars around it. All of them have recently undergone considerable enlargement and restoration.

Among the fortifications, the Castle of Szigetvár, built in the late 16th century following the lines of the earlier medieval fortress, is the only one whose four corner bastillons are still in a relatively good state. Many towers, walls and gates had been erected or renewed around Buda, the centre and biggest town of the province, but only the remains of a few survived the recapture of the city and the following reconstructions. The ruins of the strongholds of Esztergom and Várgesztes, important strategic places for the defence of the capital, are noteworthy.

Most significant for us are the jamis built on Hungarian soil, all of them in the second half of the 16th century. After the country's reconquest the majority were destroyed, especially the minarets (except for Eger and Érd-Ófalu, where only the minaret has survived). The few still existing jamis are to be found in Baranya County, in South Transdanubia. Ghazi Kasim Pasha's and Yakovli Hassan Pasha's jamis: in Pécs are the most famous ones. They were built of stone and brick and used, following the Turkish era, as Christian chapels, yet their original architectural character was preserved. The former was restored in the early 1940s and the latter in the late 1950s, including its facade and minaret with its circular balcony. Ali Pasha's jami of Szigetvár served as a church too, from 1712, and the fate of Suleiman Sultan 's jami of the same city was similar, after having been used as a military arsenal and before becoming a granary. Its walls are still adorned with inscriptions, engraved and painted quotations from the Quran. Only a very few of the ornamentations of the Malkoch Bey's jami of Siklós have survived, since the building itself was altered several times: in 1901, the dome and a part of the walls were pulled down, and the minaret had been destroyed long before. The remains of Hadji Ibrahim 's jami of Esztergom are not in a good state either: following the city's recapture it was used as a granary, later as a home. As to Toygun Pasha 's jami in Budapest and Ferhad Pasha 's jami in Pécs, only their ruins could be excavated.

Left to right: Siklós City Malkucs bey Mosque every Friday "Salat" Bosnian Muslim group, Pécs City Jakovali Hassan Mosque every Friday "Salat", Eger City Kethüde Minaret

We know from Evlia Chelebi about the Baktashi and Mawlawi orders' numerous dervish monasteries (tekke), which vanished, leaving hardly any trace. One of these was built on Rose Hill of Buda, near the türbe of the Baktashi "saint" Gül Baba, "the Father of Roses", born in Merzifun, Shivas, in Asia Minor. According to the legend recorded by Chelebi, Gül Baba died on a Friday, in September 1541, during a thanksgiving service held to celebrate the victory, i.e. the seizure of the capital, in Our Lady Church -the present Matthias -which was transformed into a mosque. Sultan Suleiman himself attended the burial of the dervish, and reportedly declared: "Gül Baba being the guardian of Buda, let it be placed under his protection!" Some years later, an octagonal building covered with a dome was erected above the grave, one of two such mausoleums, which have survived to this day in Hungary. The other is the türbe of Idris Baba, situated on Rókus Hill, in Pécs. In 1695, the latter was converted into a chapel, then used as a powder-magazine, and restored twice: in 1912 and 1961.

Gül Baba 's türbe - relevant in our story - remained intact during the recapture of Buda m 1686, and was then given to the Jesuits. Later it came into private ownership, that, of an Austrian architect named Johann Wagner who built around it, m the 1860s, an ugly structure of neoclassic style, with three towers. According to another legend related to this strange place, a Muslim visitor threatened Wagner that the Angel of Death would come to take him if he erected the fourth tower, thus eventually he did not do so. The mausoleum had several further owners: it now belongs, since 1941, to the Municipality of Budapest. The building's remodelling began in 1943 and was only finished in 1962, according to the plans of Egon Pfannl. The surrounding "Wagner-house" was fortunately demolished, and the türbe became a small museum. Some of its furnishings were donated by the Turkish Republic in 1973.

Several different sources report that Gül Baba 's türbe became, in the 19th century, a venerated place of pilgrimage and was regularly visited by travellers from the Balkans and the Orient, even by Afghans and Indians. Of course, the capital 's population and authorities were aware of this but they seem to have been little concerned about the relics of Islam whose followers passed by their city just like tourists, merchants or beggars. For simplicity's sake we may say that we do not know of Muslim residents in Hungary after her reconquest in the late 17th century. Quite understandably, interest in Islam, still conceived as "the Turks' religion" could only be limited. The situation changed dramatically as a result of the events of the late 1870s.

Pécs City Jakovali Hassan Mosque


In compensation for her neutrality during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, the Dual Monarchy obtained the assent of the Congress of Berlin, in June 1878, to the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for an unlimited period. The defeated and humiliated Sultan remained nominally the sovereign of the two provinces, which were in fact transferred, from 1882, to the control and jurisdiction of the Joint Ministry of Finance in Vienna. As a result of the Bosniaks' armed resistance, this occupation cost the lives of 7000 soldiers of Austria-Hungary, yet her great-power status was strengthened and the formation of a great Slav state on the Balkans avoided. Although the anti-Slav attitude among the Hungarian political public opinion was almost unanimous, great demonstrations were organized in Budapest by the opposition against the occupation, considered a robbery from Turkey, as there had been similar manifestations of protest during 1877, against the government's so-called pro-Russian policies, i.e. neutrality instead of the support of Turkey. Because of the bad memory of 1849, the anti-Russian feeling was stronger than anything else. Students of Budapest and Constantinople had visited each other, solidarity with the Turks and even with Islam had repeatedly been expressed, but after the conquest of Bosnia-Herzegovina other considerations came progressively into prominence.

References were made to the 12th century when these southern countries had belonged to the Hungarian Crown. More and more Hungarians thought of enlarging their country's domains, though the two new provinces had been, in 1878, common acquisitions with Austria. In the eye of the Hungarian entrepreneurs, they were especially attractive for their forests and raw materials like coal and iron, as well as their abundant water power and cheap labour. Because of the importance of the Bosniak production of corn, wheat, potatoes, tobacco, barley and grapes, the Austro-Hungarian "colonial" authorities were interested in a good relationship with local landlords, who were almost exclusively Muslims. These Serbo-Croatian speaking Muslims numbered more than half a million: at that time, their proportion was only 39% of the population, nevertheless they were more-or-less courted by Budapest, to the disfavour of the Orthodox Serbs (43%), who were suspected of sympathizing with the "archenemy", Belgrade. Muslims were preferred even to the Catholic Croats (19%), having no mother-country outside Hungary at that time. All of these three communities spoke the same language and belonged to the same ethnic entity but it was the Austro-Hungarian occupants' interest to accentuate their religious and social differences.

During the foreign rule over the two counties not much was done in order to promote development in the really backward local landownership relations: most of the Orthodox Christians continued to work on their Muslim masters', the begs', estates as half-serf kmets. Quite understandably, Serbia, under the sharply anti-Austrian Karadjordjevic dynasty became their only hope, after its coming to power in 1903 and taking up more and more openly the mission of uniting the South Slav peoples of the Balkans. This threatening international situation and the outbreak of the Young Turkish revolution hastened Francis-Joseph I to annex formally Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 1908, gaining several hundred thousand Muslim subjects on the one hand and a lot of enemies on the other, by this provocative step. It was more than symbolic that the sign and pretext for the Great War were given by the Orthodox assailant of "Young Bosnia", in Sarajevo. Muslim and other soldiers of the two provinces were enrolled in the Dual Monarchy's army, among them a young captain of Bosna Krupa, Huszein Hilmi Durics.

Hungary soon became "the ally of Islam" when Sultan Mehmet - the "Khalifa" -declared Jihad on the Entente Cordiale. Increased by receiving back Rákóczi's ashes from the Turks in 1903 and the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the Hungarians' original turcophilia became coupled with the spirit of brotherhood-in-arms. The hopes for the "Bosniak colony" were not given up, and all these led to the virtually unequivocal parliamentary approval of Act 17: 1916 declaring Islam a "recognized religion", in contrast to Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, Hungary's "accepted" churches enjoying more extended rights than the "recognized" ones, like the Baptists. However, legislation on Islam was a remarkable event as the number of Muslims on the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary was insignificant, except for several dozen Turkish students and about 2000 soldiers from Bosnia, Turkey and Albania who were expected to leave after the war. Apparently, Law 17: 1916 was a gesture towards the Turkish ally, and was called to life more for Bosniak use than for a would-be Hungarian community. In the same year, the idea of the erection of a mosque in the capital was raised at Budapest Municipality, though Hungarian entrepreneurs, ambitious to "colonize" in the South, had already had similar plans a few years earlier.

Hungary lost not only the war but three-fifths of its pre-war population and two-thirds of what she considered her historic territory, including Bosnia-Herzegovina. After four months of republican and another four of communist rule in 1918-1919, she became a small kingdom without a king, and had to sign the Trianon Treaty in June 1920. In addition to the disastrous territorial amputations, the Treaty afflicted on the country a painful war compensation policy, prohibited her from maintaining an air force, tanks, heavy artillery, restricted her to an army of 35,000 volunteers and to gendarmerie and police units of 12,000 men each, while the combined armed forces of her three hostile neighbours, who had recently emerged on her one-time domains as the chief beneficiaries of Trianon (Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia), numbered about half a million. More than three million Hungarians remained beyond the new borders. The truncated, frustrated and impoverished country responded to Trianon by a passionate revisionism claiming the restoration of the status quo ante, "the Lands of the Holy Apostolic Crown of Saint Stephen." Admiral Nicolas Horthy became the Head of State, the Regent of Hungary, and the markedly right-wing regime known by his name was a "Christian and national" one. The former epithet meant, inter alia, antisemitism, as most of the communist and other left-wing leaders were Jewish, while the latter was mainly the expression of irredentism, the dislike if not the hatred of the neighbouring peoples and the wish to take revenge on them for Trianon. Hungary's political public opinion became even less tolerant towards non-Hungarian nationalities than it had been before the war, when all of them had been subordinated and regarded as inferior to the two "leading nations" of the Dual Monarchy, i.e. the Austro-Hungarian nobility. It is also true that the proportion of Hungarians in the truncated country reached 93% in contrast to 54% within the old frontiers in 1910 - without Croatia-Slavonia.

The first, and for a long time the only alteration of the Treaty was the effect of the plebiscite of December 1921 held in the city and hinterland of Sopron (Oedenburg). It resulted in the return to Hungary of a slice of the Burgenland province lost to Austria under the terms of Trianon, and had been preceded by the military occupation of the department by the famous Prónay detachment in order to exercise pres- sure on the local population. In August 1919, the members of the same detachment massacred and tortured to death many persons they captured who had held offices under the Soviet Republic. We do not know whether our protagonist Huszein Hilmi Durics took part in these "white terrorist" actions or not, but he was, along with other Bosniak Muslim officers, among the "brave reoccupants" of the Sopron district. For this, he received a military decoration and, in 1927, the Hungarian citizenship.

Born in 1887 , Durics was educated in Sarajevo, probably in the Ghazi Husrev Bey Medresse, then in Constantinople and Cairo. After having worked in the National Museum of Bosnia, he was engaged in the Dual Monarchy's army, wounded twice, and reportedly became "the Imam of all Muslim soldiers of the Monarchy" in Vienna, "K.u.K. Militar-Imam, Leiter der Islamitischen Seelsorge in Wien". These data are known to us from his own curriculum vitae and have not yet been checked. He added that his late father, Mahmud Aga Durics, the Mayor of Bosna Krupa, had been killed in 1918, by the Serbs who confiscated his 700 hectares of land. Durics claimed that his and his fellow Muslim soldiers lives were in danger in Bosnia. This can be accepted, as those having fought against Serbia were considered " Austro-Hungarian "ragents" as well as traitors of the South Slav cause and state, the: Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. It should be noted here that most of the Bosniak Muslims remained in their homeland and succeeded in articulating their interests through the Yugoslav Muslim Organization (JMO) led by Mehmed Spaho, and in trading their weight in society and parliament for economic and cultural favours.


The Bosniak refugees in the Budapest of the 1920s seem to have been resourceless people, unable to speak Hungarian well, thus considerably handicapped. In 1919, Durics had married the daughter of a noble yet propertyless Hungarian family, and later became a modest employee at Budapest Municipality. Without the help of influential native Hungarian supporters the 300 or less-member strong Bosniak Muslim community could not have been accepted or even tolerated by the xenophobe "Christian and national" authorities, society and churches. Considering the antecedents of Durics 's life it may be surprising enough that this support came not from the conservative or the extreme right-wing, but from the liberal side.

Stephen Bárczy (1866-1943) was Mayor of Budapest at the turn of the century, the main period of the capital 's embourgeoisement and enrichment, when most of its important buildings were erected. In 1926, he had to retire definitively from the Municipality for his freethinking ideas and left-wing Jewish connections. However, as a former influential personality, he continued to enjoy a certain prestige. He felt and expressed sympathy towards Islam, and accepted the chairmanship of the so-called Gül Baba Society formed, in the early 1930s, to help the Bosniak veterans to organize themselves and to create a favourable "Hungarian image" for them. This task was fulfilled by a young employee of Budapest Municipality, Andrew Medriczky, the society's secretary, who had been greatly impressed by his long journey in (Kemalist) Turkey. He and other members of the society -journalists, lawyers, civil servants, hotel-owners and retired army officers -published many articles and wrote petitions to the authorities in order to promote the cause of Islam and the mosque they would have liked to build on Rose Hill, near the türbe of Gül Baba, together with a hostel for Muslim students, a "collegium islamiticum". Grandiose sketches were made for this would-be jami by architects Francis Suppinger (1931) and Lóránd Lechner (1935), without any result. It seems that the main business goal of the Bosniaks ' enthusiastic islamophile patrons was to attract oriental luxury tourism to Budapest, "the gate of East and West," as they called it, its hotels and thermal baths, in the years of the Great Depression of 1929-1933 which had such a disastrous effect on the country's economy.

Although this project was unrealistic, Durics accepted the role intended for him. He named himself "Mufti", later "Great Mufti" of the "Gül Baba Hungarian Autonomous Mohammadan Community", formed in August 1931, and appointed his Bosniak fellows to its leading offices. As far as we know, no native Hungarians were members of this community firmly supported by the above-mentioned society. Of course, Durics was not able to write his public speeches in Hungarian, or perhaps write any at all. These and other declarations we know reflect his total identification with Hungarian chauvinism and its symbolism, perfect loyality to the Horthy regime and the anti-Trianon spirit of that age: "No, no, never!" True enough, these Bosniak veterans could consider themselves victims of Trianon at least as rightly as the Hungarians did. In order to subsist, the Muslims had to adopt their new country's leading ideology and phraseology.

Medriczky, who was supposedly the author of the Mufti's "image" and speeches, did his utmost to convince everybody, from newspaper readers to the Prime Minister, that Hungary was indebted to her former Bosniak soldiers for the war and Sopron, that Islam was indeed very close to play a great role "Islamic centre", and that the whole Islamic world was deeply interested in the local Muslims' destiny. Not much of this was true but the authorities refused to recognize or to register officially the community for other reasons: the Bosniaks were considered to be neither serious nor Hungarian, in spite of their citizenship, declarations or supporters. The Christian churches' press was not friendly towards them, and the Turkish Embassy acted against them too by sponsoring its own candidate: a certain Abdul Latif who had arrived in Hungary in 1909 to become the spiritual leader of the local Turkish students.. He settled down near the Türbe, and seems to have worked at Budapest University and also for his embassy. There were perhaps two hundred Turkish immigrants in Hungary in the 1930s and some of them recognized him as their "Imam" though he could not be legally accepted as such for he was not a Hungarian citizen. However, he held the semi-official title of "Guardian of the Muslim Tombs". There were and are such graves- mainly of soldiers of the Great War -in the cemetery Rákospalotai Új Köztemető of Budapest. Islamic burials are performed in it up to this day.

Islamic Cementary

Not much love was lost between Abdul Latif and Durics: the two adversaries attacked and ridiculed each other in the Budapest press, presenting a rather comical picture of their movements for the readers. The Turkish and the Bosniak communities celebrated separately the Muslim feasts at Gül Baba 's mausoleum, and at these occasions the papers treated more the enmity between them than the conciliatory spirit of Islam. There was, however, one insignificant weekly magazine, the Budai Napló, which reported thoroughly, and regularly the news of the Muslims, i.e. Durics's followers. This paper, firmly upholding the cause of Islam and the mosque, is one of the most important sources of our story. Beside the Bosniaks' Hungarian patrons, it mentioned some foreign supporters too, like King of Albania Zog I, reportedly Durics's on-time brother-in-arms, and Chekib Arslan, the outstanding personality of the Panarabic and Panislamic movements of that period, editor of the review La Nation Arabe in Geneva. We know from the latter of Durics's participation at the Congress of European Muslims in October 1935 in the same city. The Christian and well-educated Medriczky seems to have been a much more intimate mend of Arslan, according to their correspondence, than the "Great Mufti of Buda."

Beside Turkey, Albania was the only European state having a majority of Muslims so her sovereign could have a certain influence; nevertheless he contented himself to send friendly letters to Durics and to receive him in Tirana. Other dignitaries of the Contemporary Muslim world were also unwilling and/or unable to contribute to the creation of an Islamic Centre in Budapest though Durics visited many of them during his long and unsuccessful money-collecting tour, in 1935-1936. He travelled, with his secretary, to Cairo and Damascus; in Jerusalem he met Hadj Amin al-Huseini, was received by the King in Baghdad and by the Nizam in Hayderabad, but returned without result. The mosque could not be built and Durics eventually died in 1940, four years after he had joined a shady extreme-right movement, the so-called National Front, we do not know why. He was buried in the Muslim part of the above-mentioned cemetery, as was Abdul Latif, in 1946.

In 1936-1937, Medriczky made a 1ast attempt to realize his islamophile dreams together with two Ahmadi missionaries of Qadian without much success, if we do not consider the abundant coverage of the Ahmadiyya by the Hungarian press. His last record we know dates from 30 November, 1944, when he arranged to leave the capital, which was encircled by the Soviet army. Just before he did so, he deposited in the archives of Budapest Municipality the documents relating to the Islamic movements of the 1930s, rendering a valuable service for future research. When I found, in 1985, the bulky dossier, it was still covered by dust and a piece of green cloth of ca 20x50 cm on which a Quranic verse had been embroidered in Arabic: "Lo! thou wilt die, and they will die" (39:30). The "malediction" was to be accomplished on all the protagonists of this story, while the unfortunate country was defeated again and entered a sad period of its history. The more than four decades following the Second World War were difficult times for religious activities in communist Eastern Europe.

Hungarian muslims


A few months before the communists took absolute power in the country, Act 33: 1947 had be en voted by the Legislation effacing the legal difference between "accepted" and "recognized" religions. During the parliamentary debate of this law, Islam was mentioned and called a "curiosity" by Minister of Education Julius Ortutay, and its theoretically declared legal equality with the other religions could not have, of course, any practical consequence. For almost 40 years one could hardly speak of Islam in Hungary. Religious denominations fell under the Communist Party's strict control, not to say persecution, exercised directly by the State Office for Church Affairs.

To the best of our knowledge, most of the Bosniaks and Turks mentioned earlier emigrated, either before 1948 or during and soon after the uprising of 1956. Those who remained died one after the other, and their children did not follow their fathers' faith. The last of them, Abid Csátics, died in January 1977: there was body to recite the Fatiha over this grave. Of course, the existence of a very few other Muslim Hungarian citizens in the country at that time cannot be excluded, yet no data on them are available. Several Hungarian emigrants who converted to Islam are known abroad; Sharif (Stefen) Horthy, the one-time Regent's grandson, residing nowadays in Jakarta, is probably the most famous of them.

Mention must be made of the Jewish-born Julius Germanus (1884-1979), alias Hajj Abdul Karim, who became a Muslim in the 1930s, performed the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca several times, and acquired scholarly fame in the Muslim world and among Hungarian readers acquainted with Islam through his numerous books and articles. At the end of his career, he held the Chair for Arabic Studies at Budapest University. We will not deal here with his extensively documented activities and controversial character, though the effect he exercised on some of his pupils cannot be overlooked. As the "people's democracy's" loyal and esteemed personality and Member of Parliament between 1958 and 1966, Professor Germanus was far from being an enemy of the communist regime: he was, so to say, its "official Muslim" or, as he used to claim, the only one.
After a period of cruel dictatorship and the bloody reprisal following 1956, the communist regime tended to reduce somewhat its oppression by easing the citizens' daily life, if compared to other Eastern European states. Considering the national economy's low efficiency this could only be done at the expense of serious foreign indebtedness, yet Hungary might be called "the merriest barracks of the Socialist Camp". Although the public expression of religious feeling remained under more-or-less strict control, Islam was not regarded as dangerous or even suspicious because of its lack of traditions and adherents in the country. On the other hand, the government developed significant political and trade relations with the so-called "progressive" -i.e. "socialist" or "revolutionary" -Arab regimes, and a prudent approach to their partly or entirely Islamic character and official ideology was considered desirable and advantageous. Hungarian diplomacy also endeavoured to create and promote contacts with the wealthy Gulf states, without notable success, especially after the Soviet aggression against Afghanistan, which was supported by the members of the Warsaw Pact. In 1983, certain government officials cautiously raised again the idea of an Islamic Centre in Budapest, hoping to attract oil capital into Hungary and to facilitate the export of its mediocre products. The project was soon abandoned for "ideological" reasons, despite the keen interest of several Muslim states' embassies. During the summer of 1987, a camp was organized on Rose Hill for young architects and one of them, the British-Iraqi Basil Bayati drew up a remarkable plan for Germanus' memory, but nothing else happened. In August of the same year, talks were held in Budapest of the Saudi sponsored World Muslim League and the State Office for Church Affairs. The latter demanded an impudently high sum for the Hungarian permission to erect the mosque. It is more than doubtful whether the communist leaders intended seriously to give their consent. The most interested participant in these unfruitful talks was probably Dr Abdul Rahman Balázs Mihálffy, a young expert on agriculture, taking the title of "Sheikh- Chairman of the Islamic Community of Hungary."

The Catholic-born Sheikh Abdul Rahman had joined his new belief in 1985 and worked hard in order to have his fold of a dozen members legally recognized by the authorities: this goal was eventually achieved in 1988. He seems to be spiritually close to the above-mentioned World Muslim League and supported by it (though he claims to be independent, greatly conscious of his "Europeanity", "free from bigotry and all kinds of extremism") as well as to have himself prepared a Hungarian version of the Quran. It must be noted here that the outstanding orientalist Professor Robert Simon's integral scholary translation and commentary of the meanings of the Quran were published in 1987. These two translations should not and cannot be confounded or even compared. Sheikh Abdul Rahman claims to have today a community of 200 native Hungarian believers, 70% of whom are female. This appears to be a high and unverifiable though possible number. He makes the new adherents sign a written declaration of faith, and assumes the responsibility to issue certificates of their belief, if necessary. No such documents seem to be required from him for the more than 10.000 non-Hungarian Muslims residing in the country who are mainly Arabs. The Sheikh's spiritual care seems to be restricted first of all to the aborigines. "We have no particular relation with the Arabs living here," he declared in a recent interview (Ring, 26 February, 1991, p. 15), dealing otherwise mainly with current political issues in the Middle East, and concluded by a typical statement of his: "For me, Islam is more than orientalism. The game idea is searched by orientalists from the outside and by believers from inside. I consider myself a believer."

Sheikh Abdul Rahman may not be accused of anti-orientalist attitudes, the most intellectual and entertaining example of which is Edward W. Said's book (Orientalism, New York, Vintage Books, 1979). The Christian missionary-inclined, the Renan-type racist or the Gautier-type "colonial" tendencies of orientalism have never existed in Hungary, where Islamic studies have much wider traditions than the writings of the sole Germanus, even if the latter was the only Muslim, so far, to author noteworthy literature in Hungarian on his religion: H. H. Durics's two "Islamic catechisms" of 1931 and 1935 are rather forgettable, yet harmless, publications. Much more dangerous were and are those local so-called "Middle East experts" who published a lot of superficial articles and books and provided TV and radio commentaries on modern political issues in the Muslim world, during the last decades. Their very limited knowledge of Islam was based mainly on Russian propaganda clichés and foreign reviews of wide circulation. This together with their wish to meet the Party's requirements, the "anti-imperialist" spirit of the age as well as to be "good reading" and, in a certain sense, popular, made them praise the "revolutionary" Arab regimes, write forgeries on Islam, and calumnies on the anti-Soviet Muslim states, like Saudi Arabia. Since Hungary's ideological adherence to the West, some of the game though now "democratic" Middle East commentators, of ten contradict in the media their claims of yesterday, confirming the boundlessness of the formerly communist journalists' capacity to change, and the fact that the opposite of a falsehood may well be another one, since the "Western standpoint" is really not a guarantee of understanding Islam. Unfortunately, their earlier and actual misinterpretations still prevail. Until recently, there were hardly any scholars of Islamic studies to criticize these self-confident "experts", not were and are the Muslims themselves strong enough and/or willing to do so.

Since the late 1950s, there were a few students and other visitors from Arab countries who settled down in Hungary and married local women. In the course of time, the number of such cases increased though remaining relatively few: some of these wives and/or the couples' children could embrace their husbands' or fathers' religion. More numerous are the Arabs or other Muslims themselves who asked, lately, for permanent or temporary residence permits, or stay there illegally. "The merriest barracks" or "Gulash Communism," could be an attractive place for foreigners willing to live comfortably on relatively little money and so is today's Hungary, to a lesser extent. Most of these Muslim residents can not really be, because of the language barrier and the low wages, "guest workers" in the Western sense of the term nor real refugees: the majority simply spend their savings less quickly than they would do abroad. A few of them are engaged in illegal activities. In the streets of Budapest, Arabs almost monopolize the market of foreign currencies as had done their 13th century counterparts. This kind of phenomenon and the "workless" Arabs' very presence have increased latent racism in Hungary, perhaps to a lesser extent than in Eastern Europe in general. Racial, national, ethnic, religious and other prejudices and discrimination have always been virulent and nursed by ignorance in these countries. Communist rule did not let them be discussed openly, it swept them under the rug. The regrettable consequences of these narrow-minded policies may well be discerned nowadays, though local Arabs are apparently not the primary victims of the masses' intolerance: the region's peoples and nations prefer to dislike the Gypsies and each other. Many observers find that communism has been replaced by chauvinism.

In Hungary too, the bloodiest political tempest of 1989-1990 whirled communism to the rubbish-heap of history while the communists themselves found unashamedly their flesh-pots in emerging capitalism. A new parliament and government have been elected democratically, the state's sovereignty restored, the freedom of expression and press established, and the bases of a market-economy laid down even if the latter's functioning is still doubtful, because of the difficult financial situation, inherited mainly from the ancient regime. The remarkably progressive Law 4: 1990 granted quasi-total freedom for churches and religious communities. Among the minority problems in and around the country, that of the Muslims is likely to be one of the least acute, except for Bulgaria. "Officially" Islam bids fair prospects in Hungary: several present government members were once enthusiastic pupils of the late "tale-teller" Professor Germanus whose biography was published by the Prime Minister, Joseph Antall, personally. Desirous to serve his country as a diplomat in an Islamic capital Sheikh Abdul Rahman works today in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the Secretary of State declared several times: "There is an 'Arab lobby' in the Hungarian government." It did not only refer to the Germanus effect. Hungary is and will presumably be in a desperate need of solvent purchasers for her products, especially because of the Comecon market's collapse and the insufficiency of Western help to her economy. Rich orientals are welcome again. Nothing is new under the sun. Medriczky's and his fellows' spirit is still alive.

The eager wish to develop political and trade relations with the conservative Arab states has been repeatedly emphasized by the present government's representatives. It remains a question whether they are really aware of the conditions these would-be relations presume as to the competitiveness of Hungary's economy, for example. They do not seem to underestimate their country's and their own importance in the eyes of the Muslim world. For the latter Hungary's friendly attitude towards Islam could indeed be one of her most attractive features, if not the only one. In this perspective, erecting that mosque may be a fruitful gesture and investment, even if not at Gül Baba's mausoleum as the Budapest Municipality's ground around the sepulchral building is not spacious enough, and the proposed expropriation of the surrounding houses would not be easy nor cheap, as Rose Hill is the capital's main residential area.

Regardless of the easily changeable government and its interest, it is a shame for a European capital not to have a dignified place where its Muslim residents and visitors may worship God. As in many Western cities, such an Islamic centre could be a forum for intellectual and spiritual exchange and interaction of different religions and cultures. Since the ancien regime's fall the people's thirst for spirituality has become manifest and many sects launched, from abroad, their ambitious proselytizing campaigns. Such attempts are also made by Muslim Arabs and the Saudi sponsored World Assembly of Muslim Youth, which has its regional bureau for East Europe in Vienna. They appear to be quite active, independent from Sheikh Mihálffy, and less indulgent in religious matters, though perhaps more effective than he so far. As their network is not restricted to Hungary, they were not at all pleased when Dr Mihálffy declared in his adherents' name not to accept any foreign aid, not to "sell ourselves as Muslim communities do in certain neighbouring countries" (HVG, 13 July 1991, p. 95). Sheikh Abdul Rahman's wish is, rather, to benefit from his official attestation of the ritual slaughtering of those animals who se meat Hungarian companies hope to export to Muslim markets. Iran is one of these potential trade partners and Sheikh Mihálffy said, in the same interview, that he was much impressed by Ali Rafsanjani, whom he met as the new regime's diplomat. "The reports of Amnesty International neglect the difference between cultures and interfere in Iran's internal affairs. From the Islamic point of view, I do not know of any revolting injustice in Iran, nor of any unjustified execution there," he stated. The Hungarian authorities seem to support their Sheikh so they cannot be blamed for the still relatively modest degree of islamization of their country, nor can the main local churches which appear to be, however, less tolerant to "alien" beliefs than most of their Western counterparts.

The present governing right-centre parliamentary majority of ten refers to what it calls "national and Christian values and traditions," though it rejects, at least in words, the interwar Horthy regime's ill sounding ideology and social order. The liberal opposition is much more critical of most of these traditions and professes secularism, anti-national ism, as well as the absolute priority of human rights in the European or American sense of the term. As to their attitude to Islam, there is no perceptible difference between the two adversaries, if one could speak at all of such an attitude. The question seems to be when, how and by whom Islam will have its intelligent, convincing and up-to-date word to say to the Hungarians, as it has be en able to do in several Western countries.

Plans of the Hungarian Islamic Community for the future:
- A muslim kindergarten
- A school
- Teaching islam and arabic for Hungarians
- Holding islamic lectures for both muslims and non muslims
- Translating publishing and distributing islamic books and prints
- Sending Hungarian muslims to religious camps

Learn to non muslims

Renovations work