Islam in Mongolia

A Mongol prince, Ghazan, studying the Quran
The Main Mosque in Ölgii
Mosque in Tolbo village in Bayan-Ölgii aimag
Muslim mosque in Bulgan village in Bayan-Ölgii aimag

Islam in Mongolia is practiced by approximately 3 to 5% of the population.[1][2] It is practised by the ethnic Kazakhs of Bayan-Ölgii Province (88.7% of total aimag population) and Khovd Province (11.5% of total aimag population, living primarily in the Khovd city, Khovd sum and Buyant sum) aimag in western Mongolia. In addition, a number of small Kazakh communities can be found in various cities and towns spread throughout the country.


The earliest evidence of Islam in Mongolia is dated to 1254, when the Franciscan William of Rubruck visited the court of the great khan Mongka at Karakorum. He celebrated Easter at a Nestorian Christian church but also noted seven temples of the "idolators" (possibly Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist temples) and two mosques. Therefore, historians date the arrival of Islam to Mongolia to between 1222 and 1254. Islam also gained the notice of the Mongols after Genghis Khan invaded Afghanistan. In 1222, on his way back to Mongolia, he visited Bukhara in Transoxiana. It was believed he inquired about Islam, and subsequently approved of Muslim tenets except the Hajj, considering it unnecessary. Nevertheless, he continued his worship of Tengri as his ancestors had done.

Genghis Khan and the following Yuan emperors forbade Islamic practices like Halal butchering, forcing Mongol methods of butchering animals on Muslims, and other restrictive degrees continued. Muslims had to slaughter sheep in secret.[3] Genghis Khan directly called Muslims and Jews "slaves" and demanded that they follow the Mongol method of eating rather than the halal method. Circumcision was also forbidden. Jews were also affected, and forbidden by the Mongols to eat Kosher.[4]

Among all the [subject] alien peoples only the Hui-hui say “we do not eat Mongol food”. [Cinggis Qa’an replied:] “By the aid of heaven we have pacified you; you are our slaves. Yet you do not eat our food or drink. How can this be right?” He thereupon made them eat. “If you slaughter sheep, you will be considered guilty of a crime.” He issued a regulation to that effect ... [In 1279/1280 under Qubilai] all the Muslims say: “if someone else slaughters [the animal] we do not eat”. Because the poor people are upset by this, from now on, Musuluman [Muslim] Huihui and Zhuhu [Jewish] Huihui, no matter who kills [the animal] will eat [it] and must cease slaughtering sheep themselves, and cease the rite of circumcision.


Genghis Khan's grandson Berke converted to Islam due to the efforts of Saif ud-Din Dervish, a dervish from Khorazm, thus Berke became one of the first Mongol rulers to convert. Other Mongol leaders owed their conversion to Islam due to the influence of a Muslim wife.[6] Later, it was the Mamluk ruler Baibars who played an important role in bringing many Golden Horde Mongols to Islam. Baibars developed strong ties with the Mongols of the Golden Horde and took steps for the Golden Horde Mongols to travel to Egypt. The arrival of the Golden Horde Mongols to Egypt resulted in a significant number of Mongols accepting Islam.[6] By the 1330s, three of the four major khanates of the Mongol Empire had become Muslim.[7] These were the Golden Horde, Hulagu's Ulus and Chagatai's Ulus. The Yuan Empire also embraced Muslim peoples such as the Persians.

Although the court of the Yuan Empire adopted Tibetan Buddhism as the official religion, the majority of the ordinary Mongols, especially those who continued living in Mongolia proper, remained Shamanists. After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty, Shamanism once again became the dominant religion. To varying degrees, political and economic relations with Muslim nations such as Moghulistan continued.

The Muslim Kazakhs began to settle in the Jungaria and Altai regions in the late nineteenth century. The majority of these Kazakhs were the Kerei and Naiman clans, many of them escaping persecution in Czarist Russia. When Bogdo Khan assumed power in Mongolia on December 29, 1911, the Kazakhs in Xinjian and Altai regions sought the patronage of the restored Khanate. The government of Bogdo Khan admitted them and allowed them to settle in the western region of Mongolia's Kobdo territory.

Communist era

Bayan-Ölgii aimag was established as part of the administrative reforms of the Mongolian People's Republic in 1940. As a result of historically high birth rates, the Muslim population in Mongolia increased between 1956 and 1989. However, there was a decline in the Muslim population[8][9] in 1990-1993 due to the large wave of repatriation of ethnic Kazakhs (so called oralmans) to Kazakhstan following the break-up of the Soviet Union.


Islam is currently practiced predominately in the western portion of the country as well as in Mongolia's capital. Some of the major population centers with a significant Muslim presence include Ulan Bator (90% in khoroo #4 of Nalaikh düüreg[10]), Töv and Selenge aimags, Erdenet, Darkhan, Bulgan, Sharyngol (17.1% of population total[11]) and Berkh cities.

Muslim ethnic groups of Mongolia[12]
national censuses data

Notable Mongol Muslims

Ghazan's coins were minted with the Islamic declaration of faith


  1. 2010 Population and Housing Census of Mongolia. Data recorded in Brian J. Grim et al. Yearbook of International Religious Demography 2014. BRILL, 2014. p. 152
  2. Muslim Population Pewforum
  3. Michael Dillon (1999). China's Muslim Hui community: migration, settlement and sects. Richmond: Curzon Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-7007-1026-4. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  4. Johan Elverskog (2010). Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road (illustrated ed.). University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 228. ISBN 0-8122-4237-8. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  5. Donald Daniel Leslie (1998). "The Integration of Religious Minorities in China: The Case of Chinese Muslims" (PDF). The Fifty-ninth George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology. p. 12. Retrieved 30 November 2010..
  6. 1 2 Arnold, Thomas Walker, The Preaching of Islam: a history of the propagation of the Muslim faith. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1896; pp. 192, 334
  7. The Encyclopedia Americana, by Grolier Incorporated, p. 680
  8. US State department: Mongolia background note
  9. CIA: The World Factbook
  10. Education of Kazakh children: a situation analysis. Save the Children UK, 2006
  11. Sharyngol city review
  12. "Монгол улсын ястангуудын тоо, байршилд гарч буй өөрчлөлтyyдийн асуудалд" М. Баянтөр, Г. Нямдаваа, З. Баярмаа pp.57-70
  13. State Center for Civil Registration and Information
  14. De Weese, Devin A. Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde, Penn State Press, 1 Sep 1994, ISBN 0-271-01073-8; p. 3
  15. Mahmud Ghazan. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 2 July 2007.
  16. Limbert, J. W. (2004). Shiraz in the Age of Hafez: the glory of a medieval Persian city. Seattle: University of Washington Press. p. 87
  17. Keene, H. G. A Sketch of the History of Hindustan from the First Muslim Conquest to the Fall of the Mughol Empire, London : W. H. Allen & Co., 1885
  18. Khanbaghi, Aptin The Fire, the Star and the Cross: minority religions in medieval and early modern Iran. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005 ISBN 1-84511-056-0; pp. 69-70
  19. The Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. 4 vols. London, 1842-1844. p. 226
  20. Vásáry, p. 71
  21. Runciman, Steven A History of the Crusades. 3 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1951-1954, p. 397
  22. Martin, Janet Medieval Russia, 980-1584: 980-1584. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; p. 171
  23. Newman, Andrew J., ed. Society and Culture in the Early Modern Middle East. Leiden: Brill, 2003 ISBN 90-04-12774-7; p. 30
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