Staunton, September 6 – Furious that Moscow did not consult them before giving its approval, residents in Moscow’s South-Eastern Administrative District are organizing to block the construction of a mosque in their neighborhood, an action they say will deprive them of a park, depress property values, and attract undesirable visitors to their neighborhood.
A year ago, the district administrator met with Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), to discuss construction of a mosque, given that there is now only one mosque in the city for every 500,000 ethnic Muslims compared to one Orthodox church for every 40,000 ethnic Orthodox (www.newsru.com/religy/02sep2010/moskirchen.html).
Muslims have long pressed for the opening of more mosques in the Russian capital, something that officials have sometimes supported out of concern that in the absence of official mosques, Muslims will turn to underground ones but a step that the Russian Orthodox Church and many ethnic Russians oppose as a threat to the historical image of the city.
This issue began to heat up when the local newspaper, “Yugo-vostochny kur’er” reported that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had formally taken a decision to offer Muslims space for “the construction of a mosque and Sunday school” in that Moscow district, a step he took without consulting the local population (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/17068/).
A group of residents of the South-Eastern Administrative District are now organizing to block the construction of a mosque in their neighborhood. To that end, they are calling for a mass public meeting next Saturday and have disseminated an appeal that seems certain to exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions in Moscow.
That appeal reads as follows:
“By a decision of the mayor of Moscow and the prefecture of the South-Eastern Administrative District, the only green section of land in our district across the road from House Eight on the Volga Boulevard has been set for the construction of a mosque and a medrassah. Copies of the corresponding documents and publications in the official press you can find at
“The mosque and the Muslim school attached to it are intended for the Muslims of the entire South-Eastern district who will constantly come here for prayer. That will inevitably create serious day to day problems for us, the residents of the district: noise from the mosque during the calls to prayer and at the time of services.”
In addition, the appeal continues, the construction of a mosque will result in “traffic jams from the arrival of hundreds and thousands of believers and their cars, especially on major holidays, the parking of cars in the yards of apartment houses near the mosque, much trash, and possible conflicts of visitors to the mosque with owners of dogs who walk with their owners in this green space already for many years. (For Muslims, a dog is an ‘impure’ animal.)”
“As a result of all this, the value of apartments in our district will inevitably fall sharply. Besides this simply will be destroyed the last green ‘island’ for rest and walks in our district.”
“We want that the bureaucrats will determine our opinion at a local referendum at which we would take a decision as to whether ether should be a mosque with a medrassah or a well-ordered part for common rest. Until this day, our opinion hardly has been taken into account.”
“We invite you to a meeting of the residents of the surrounding apartment houses on September 11 [this coming Saturday] at 1500 I the green park on the Volga Boulevard, across the street from House Eight, Corpus One.”
Until then, there is an active discussion of the issues involved, the appeal continues at www.volgogradsky.ru/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6349, and the authors of the appeal “propose that everyone acquaint himself or herself with the information posted there and express his or her own position. THIS CONCERNS EVERY RESIDENT!”
Besides its emotional, xenophobic and anti-Muslim content, this appeal is interesting for three reasons. First, the appeal gives evidence that even those who oppose the construction of a fifth mosque in Moscow know something about just how many Muslims there now are in the Russian capital and even something, albeit in a distorted form, about Islamic practice.
Second, it shows that some Russians are increasingly prepared to organize for purposes that would offend liberal democratic ideals. And third, and this is clearly the most important aspect of the appeal and its authors: at least some Muscovites are furious with Luzhkov and his failure to consult with the population about things that affect the people.
This protest may be used by those who want to oust the longtime Moscow mayor, but the issues it raises are likely to echo long after he has departed, putting ethnic Russians in Moscow on yet another collision course with Muslims there and setting the stage for more inter-religious and inter-ethnic clashes rather than fewer in the months ahead.