Staunton, July 22 – Even if Moscow gives public approval for a new mosque, local officials follow “an unwritten directive” not to permit the construction of any new mosques in the Russian Federation, according to Shamil Alyautdinov, the imam of the Russian capital’s Memorial Mosque.
In comments on an Ekho Moskvy program on “Islamic Identity and Religious Radicalism, Alyautdinov said that this “unwritten directive” means that “even in certain North Caucasus republics, churches are being built today but not mosques,” a pattern that is radicalizing some Muslims (www.islamnews.ru/news-25550.html).
Indeed, the Moscow imam said, in one of the republics there where 60 percent of the population is Muslims, “there are more churches than mosque.” Moreover, there and elsewhere, Alyautdinov continued, Moscow approves the reconstruction of churches but “not on one mosque is there a sign indicating ‘repair’ or ‘construction.’”
But even in the Russian capital, Muslims have not been able to secure approval from local and regional officials to build new mosques, even when senior federal officials say that they have no objection, statements that many assume are both accurate and determinative but in fact turn out to be neither.
“In Moscow,” Alyautdinov said, “there are a total of four mosques,” while in Beijing, China, there are 70. When his interviewer objected that in Russia there are “more than 6,000 mosques, the Moscow imam responded that in China there are 30,000, even though the number of practicing Muslims in China is roughly the same as their number in Russia – 20 million.
The lack of mosques in Russia, he continued, means that a large share of Muslims there don’t know much about their faith or feel that they are from some other planet. As a result, they all too often lack the internal knowledge and resources to resist the appeals of radicals who tell them what they think Islam is.
Asked directly as to whether there is a radical trend in Russian Islam, Alyautdinov responded that “there is the term, Russian banditism.” And he noted that the way in which people are described depends to an unfortunate degree on their power position: those without power are described in negative terms; once they get power, the descriptions change.
The Moscow imam noted that “Palestinian parties and organizations which the mass media had called terrorists, then came to power, and with them, [the Russian media and the Russian government] began to conduct a conversation on an equal basis” and without such epithets.
Alyautdinov’s comments are important not so much because they are part of a longstanding Muslim effort to build more mosques in the Russian Federation than because they are an indication that Moscow appears to have decided to show more tolerance on this question and allow local officials to take the blame, even if Moscow is the source of the decision.