(Hat tip: Our own N.S.) Muslims in Moscow may be forced to pray in Orthodox churches because of a lack of mosques, though they would prefer not arrive at such an “extreme” decision. The warning comes from the imam of the main mosque in the Russian capital Ildar Ayautdinov, responding to citizens’ protests against the planned construction of a place of Islamic worship in the district of Tekstilschiki. The Orthodox Church says it is ready to accept the Muslim faithful, but scholars of Islam argue that Muslim religious leaders are magnifying the situation which in reality is not so dramatic.
“Moscow is the only place in the world where over one million Muslims are served in only four mosques. We lack premises for praying. Muslims are allowed to conduct their religious ceremonies in Orthodox churches, but we would rather avoid this extreme measure, “he said yesterday in an interview with Russian daily Ayautdinov Metro. On Sept. 11, residents of Tekstilschiki took to the streets, along the Volga road, to say no to the plans to build a mosque in a green area, the only one for several kilometres. According to locals, who are gathering signatures for a petition, the mosque “would create parking problems and would represent a threat to the owners of dogs”, animals considered incarnation of the devil by the faithful of Islam. Previously, the residents themselves had asked to have an Orthodox chapel in the area, but permission was denied. For their part, supporters of the construction of the mosque, such as Arthur Urmanshin, ensure that originally there were more mosques in Moscow.
Dmitri Smirnov, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Relations with the Armed Forces, says that “the doors of our churches are open to our Muslim brothers.” “Even now – he continues – some are Muslims involved in the construction of churches, Sunday schools and the restoration of our religious heritage, such as our Uzbek and Tajik brothers to whom we are very grateful.”
The archpriest’s words are part of a strategy of tolerance towards the Muslim component, typical of the policy of premier Vladimir Putin concerned about containing separatist forces within the Muslim Caucasus. The Orthodox Church has adapted to the government policy in exchange for recognition of its supremacy at acultural and social level in Russia.
According to the expert on Islam Roman Silantyev, interviewed by Interfax, the demand for new mosques by Muslims in Moscow is baseless. “It ‘s time to end any speculation about discrimination against Muslims in the capital,” he said. He corrects the mufti Ayautdinov, adding that the actual number of Muslims is estimated “around 400 thousand and there are not four mosques available, but six.” Besides these, he continues, there are dozens of other small mosques and prayer rooms, which are sufficient for the entire community. According Silantyev, complaints about the shortage of mosques in Moscow “do not arise from the need to take care of the faithful, but by a desire to concentrate all donations in a few places controlled by a one Islamic organization rather than another.”