Vienna, October 19 – Tensions between leaders of the rapidly growing Muslim population of Moscow oblast and that region's governor, Boris Gromov, appear to be intensifying rapidly, with the former laying out their case against him in ever greater detail and the latter insisting that he seeks “good relations with Muslims.”
Despite the rapidly increasing size of the Muslim population in Moscow oblast, government officials there have permitted only four mosques to be constructed, and since Gromov, the former Soviet commander in Afghanistan assumed his current post, officials have adopted various strategies to block the construction of additional houses of prayer.
In a letter posted on the Muslim.ru site today, Arslan Khazrat Sadriyev, an imam who oversees Muslim communities in the oblast, documents the ways in which officials connected to Gromov have effectively blocked the construction of eleven additional mosques and prayer houses (http://www.muslim.ru/1/cont/8/19/1268.htm).
Sometimes, he said, these officials invoke various legal restrictions that make it impossible for them to approve the construction at a particular place. At other times, they cite the opposition of Russian Orthodox hierarchs and lay activists who do not want to see mosques in what they consider to be an Orthodox Christian region.
But at still others, Sadriyev told Portal-Credo.ru, what officials of the Gromov administration have done “approaches the absurd.” Thus, the head of Kolomna said that Muslims would have to secure the blessing of Orthodox Metropolitan Yuvenaliy of Krutitskiy and Kolomenskiy before the city would approve building a mosque.
And the mayor of the small town of Krasnozavodsk, which adjoins Sergiyev Posad, the headquarters of the Moscow Patriarchate, told the Muslims that he would approve the construction of a mosque only if the Muslims would build an Orthodox church (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/print.php?act=authority&id=851).
Tensions between Muslims and Gromov have been simmering ever since he took office --Sadriyev and others have indicated that they had “normal” working relations with his predecessor, Anatoliy Tyazhlov – but they broke out into the open over the last few weeks because of two public declarations.
The first, by the Muslim community itself, denounced Gromov for what its leaders described as his obstructionism, his tilt toward the Russian Orthodox Church and its laiety, and his role in “the unjust war” in Afghanistan, where he was the last Soviet general in command.
To underscore their anger, the Muslim leaders said that they and their followers would not be voting for Gromov and the United Russia list in the upcoming parliamentary elections unless he and the officials under him change rapidly course, obey the law, and allow more mosques to be built.
The second declaration, by four lay Orthodox groups known for their strident Russian nationalism, denounced the Muslims for criticizing Gromov and the Afghan war, accused Sadriyev of having a criminal past, and demanded that Talgat Tadzhuddin, head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), assume control of Muslims there.
In an effort to calm the situation, Gromov told the media that he has always “tried to have good relations with Muslims, that claims to the contrary are “absolutely untrue,” and that ruling on applications for the construction of mosques was not something that was “in[his] competence” (http://www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=173791).
Neither the Muslim leaders nor religious rights activists accept what he is saying as the last word. Sadriyev for his part said that Gromov was behind what is happening, that it was a violation of Russian constitution and that he and his co-religionists plan to appeal to President Vladimir Putin to override the governor.
And Valeriy Yemelyanov, a Moscow-based religious rights activist said, Gromov was engaged in a most dangerous game, one that might win him some support from Russian Orthodox Christians but that at the same time could threaten the stability of the country (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/print.php?act=comment&id=1316).
“Elementary analysis shows,” he suggested, “that the results of [Gromov’s] approach in relation to Muslims who act according to official rules and actively seek cooperation with the authorities will be to drive their activity underground in whole or in part and the dissemination of all kinds of extremist ideas.”
Putin certainly does not want that to happen, but whether he will be willing to overrule or at least rein in the otherwise relatively popular Governor Gromov in this electoral season remains very much an open question, one whose answer will be awaited not only by Muslims in Moscow but by the faithful across the Russian Federation.