Sunday, March 23, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Orthodox Group Condemns Mufti’s Call for More Mosques in Moscow

Paul Goble

Baku, March 23 – A Russian mufti’s suggestion that the two million Muslims in Moscow should have more than the four mosques operating there now has been attacked by the Union of Orthodox Citizens, a nationalist group, as an effort to impose “radical Islamism” on the Russian capital.
Last Wednesday, Nafigulla Ashirov, the controversial co-president of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), told a Moscow news conference that the ongoing expansion of the capital’s Cathedral Mosque would not solve the critical space shortage Muslims there have (
Because there are only four “little mosques” in Moscow now, the mufti said, the large and increasing number of Muslims in the city are forced to pray “in dirt, in the rain and snow, and on the street” because there is no room for them in a mosque – a situation that he said sharply contrasts with the one Orthodox Christians there enjoy.
According to Ashirov, there are now 600 to 700 functioning Orthodox churches in Moscow, fewer than the Orthodox report but more than 100 times the number of mosques. But in most cases, he said, the latter “are not filled up” with believers. Christians have a right to their own shrines but so too do the Muslims.
And the mufti noted that even in Beijing, where the atheistic communists are still in power and where the number of Muslims is significantly smaller than in Moscow, the authorities have allowed “more than 70” mosques to open and serve the needs of the faithful.
Given sensitivities about the rise of Islam in Russian areas and especially in Moscow, the sweep and assertive tone of Ashirov’s remarks, and the controversies he has been involved with, including most recently as a result of his negative remarks about Zionism, it is no surprise that a Russian Orthodox reaction was not long in coming.
The very next day, Kirill Frolov, the head of the Moscow section of the openly nationalist Union of Orthodox Citizens, denounced Ashirov’s call for more mosques in the Russian capital as an effort to impose “Islamism” on the city’s Orthodox people
“We consider the calls of Mufti Ashirov, who is well-known for his extremist outbursts, for the total Islamization of Moscow a provocation and opposed to the interests of traditional Islam whose followers are interested in peace between the followers of traditional religions.”
Were Ashirov’s plan for more mosques to be realized, the outspoken Russian Orthodox nationalist continued, that would lead to “a radical change in the religious balance in the capital of Russia” and thus inevitably generate “only discord” among the city’s people.
At the same time, however, Frolov called for more Orthodox churches to be built in Moscow. “If anyone has a problem with too few religious facilities,” he said, “it is the Orthodox Muscovites – churches in the new regions of Moscow are so overcrowded” that those bringing their children for baptism find it hard to squeeze in.
He held up Greece, whose ten million Orthodox are served by 20,000 churches, as a model, called for the Russian Orthodox Church to ensure that there is at least one church for every 1,000 Russians, and welcomed the development of programs by businessmen that open the way for far more rapid construction of temporary churches.
In the future, Frolov continued, these structures can be replaced with real stone churches, but in the short term, such temporary buildings are needed to address “the spiritual requirements of the Orthodox population of the new regions of Russian megalopolises ‘here and now.’”
But even as he called for the building of hundreds of more Russian churches in Moscow, Frolov and others like him say they oppose the construction of even a single additional mosque, an attitude that will do nothing to reduce inter-religious and inter-ethnic tensions in the Russian capital.

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