The majority of Tatars are Sunni Muslims, a denomination that took hold in the region back in the 10th century during the times of the Volga Bulgaria, which adopted Islam as a state religion. As opposed to the Muslims of the North Caucasus, Tatars practice what can be called “Euro Islam,” or “reformed Islam” influenced by European culture. Many Tatars don’t follow the ritualistic elements of Islam; the religion simply became part of the culture. For instance, Tatar women never wore a veil and inter-faith marriages make up about a third of the total number.

Nevertheless, patriarchal traditions are still strong and even in modern families the father often has implicit authority, while girls are taught to be submissive to their husbands and do all the household duties.

Artistic Traditions

Islam forbade depictions of people, animals and birds, so up to the end of the 19th century Tatar art was mostly ornamental. The main patterns used were floral, zoomorphic and geometric. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the most popular paintings were religious quotes based on Arabic calligraphy.

Tatars achieved unparalleled craftsmanship in embroidery, jewelry, ceramics, stone and wood carving, and calligraphy. A unique Tatar craft is the art of leather mosaic, which dates from the times of Volga Bulgaria. Traditional Tatar multicolored patterned leather boots called ichigi are the most interesting and practical application of the art of mosaic. Tubeteika, a cap worn by both men and women, is another item of clothing with patterns. Chuvyaki — the local equivalent of flat shoes — are also often made with bright colors and patterns.

In 1895, the first modern art school opened in Kazan, which fostered the development of European-style fine arts such as painting, drawing and sculpture. The most famous painters from Tatarstan are Nicolai Fechin, who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, as well as Baqi Urmance and Ildar Zaripov. Their works can be found at the Tatarstan State Museum of Fine Arts.