Islam in Lithuania – the background
The last census (that of 2001, in which, among others, a question on religious identity was included) for which there is publicly available official statistics produced the following figures for Lithuanian inhabitants adhering to Islam: 2,860 Sunni Muslims or 0.1% of the total population, 1,679 of whom (or 58.7% of all Sunni Muslims) identified themselves as ethnic Tatars, 362 (12.6%) as Azerbaijanis, 185 (6.5%) as Lithuanians, 74 as Russians, 15 as Belarusians, 13 as Polish, five as Ukrainians and even four as Jewish (Department 2002: 204–5). There is no data available on Shi'is.
The biggest group of Lithuania's inhabitants with a Muslim background, the Lithuanian Tatars (3,235 in 2001, (Department 2002: 188–9)), have been living in the eastern part of today's Republic of Lithuania since the fourteenth century when they started settling in what then was the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL, the lands of which are now divided among Lithuania, Belarus and Poland) as mercenaries and political immigrants (Račius 2009: 16–17).
Though precise data are not available, it can, from anecdotal evidence, be safely assumed that at no time in history did the Muslim population of the GDL exceed 100,000. Despite or because of the fact that Muslims have been only a tiny minority of the citizenry of the GDL, they enjoyed almost all the rights and freedoms that their Christian fellow citizens did.