Staunton, September 15 – The embassies of Arab countries in Moscow have organized and registered the Ar Rizal (“The Message”) religious community in the Russian capital to “unite and provide education” for the 50,000 Arabs now living there and the estimated 200,000 additional Arabs living elsewhere in the Russian Federation.
Riyadh ben Mustafa, the deputy head of the community, said it had been established by the embassies of Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine “and others” and would work in close cooperation with the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of European Russia which is part of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR).
Ben Mustafa said that “in [the Russian Federation] according to various counts live 200 to 300,000 Arabs, of whom 50,000 are in Moscow. But there is not a single religious organization which could unite these people.” This new group “gives the opportunity to assemble all of them under one roof” (www.islam.ru/rus/2010-09-14/#33950).
At the present time, he said, the organization is looking for a building where it can hold the five times daily prayers, provide training and offer lectures. “Lectures will be [predominantly] in Arabic, and [only] partially in Russian,” the deputy head of the community told Muslim media yesterday.
“We are focusing attention on the Arab diaspora because the Arabs and their children in Moscow are often ignored even though precisely this people is distinguished by its religiosity,” he continued, because “religion plays a major role in the life of the Arabs.” The new group, he continued, is intended to “strengthen” these ties.
In addition, ben Mustafa continued, the group will “give the children [of Arabs living in Russia] the chance to more deeply become acquainted with Islam under Russian conditions.” And that explains the new group’s slogan: “’Cooperate with all for the good of Islam and the Muslims of Russia.’”
The creation of this Arab center is the latest expansion in relations between the Muslims of the Russian Federation and the Muslims of the Arab world. It has always been important. At least one of the reasons the Cathedral Mosque in Moscow survived during Soviet times is that the Communist government felt it had to provide a place for prayers for Arab diplomats.
Since 1991, such ties have grown, with Arab countries providing much of the funding for the dramatic growth in the number of mosques inside the Russian Federation and opportunities for training Islamic religious leaders in the universities and medrassahs of the Arab world. And Muslim leaders in the Russian Federation have come to count on the Arab embassies as allies.
An example of this occurred this week. At a time when the Russian government suspended the operations of the SMR’s Islamic Cultural Center of Russia for failing to file the necessary paperwork (www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=37339), SMR head Ravil Gainutdin very publically met with the new Egyptian ambassador.
During that session, Gainutdin and Ambassador Alaar al-Hadidi discussed “bilateral cooperation, including the sending of sheikhs” from Al Azhar University in Cairo to “instruct Russian Muslims in Islamic sciences,” a program the two agreed should take place not only in Moscow but “also in the regions” (www.ansar.ru/rfsng/2010/09/14/6611).
Ties between the Muslims of Russia and Cairo’s Al Azhar are now so close, the two noted, that the SMR has “assigned a special representative” there in order to “represent the interests of Russian students” at that institution. And at the same time, that university is sending ever more people to Russia to help the Muslim community there.
Ambassador al-Hadidi expressed his “readiness to provide all possible assistance and support to the undertakings of the SMR in diplomatic circles,” and he “also expressed the hope that the strengthening of cultural ties will help Egyptians learn more about the life of their Muslim fellow believers in Russia.”