Staunton, October 28 – Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam in the Russian Federation with close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, says there are currently six major mosques and “about 100 smaller” ones in Moscow, a statement which will only exacerbate the fight over whether officials in the Russian capital should approve building additional Muslim facilities.
Silantyev, who is notorious among Muslims for his sharp attacks on the leaders of Islam in Russia and who most recently attracted attention with an interview in which he said that there were far fewer Muslims in the Russian Federation than Muslim leaders claim, is injecting himself into the fight over new mosques.
In an interview published today in Moscow’s “Trud-7,” Silantyev says that “at present there are about 500,000 Muslims” in Moscow. Many Russian officials and Muslim leaders have suggested far higher numbers, ranging up to 2.5 million, but Silantyev dismisses such numbers (www.trud.ru/article/28-10-2010/253119_moskva_minaretam_ne_verit.html).
It is not clear from his remarks whether Silantyev is referring to Muslim believers or “ethnic” Muslims, the latter term including all those who are members of traditionally Muslim nationalities. If the latter, his estimate is too small. And in this connection, it is worth noting that Silantyev, like most Russian Orthodox, counts all ethnic Russians as Orthodox Christians.
But however that may be, the specialist says that Moscow’s Muslims currently have the use of “six major mosques and about 100 small ones.” The six include the four that existed from Soviet times, and two that have been built in recent years. The 100 smaller ones he refers to presumably include prayer rooms without any official registration.
Counting such prayer rooms as mosques is at the very least a stretch. These temporary facilities recall the kind of “underground” mosques that existed in Soviet times when believers held prayers in private apartments and houses when there was no mosque available. What is striking is that Silantyev is reintroducing this Soviet-era measure now.
Moreover, the Orthodox specialist on Islam continues, Muslims have had opportunities to build more but haven’t taken advantage of them. Former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov offered them eight [additional] pieces of land during his tenure – Muslims have sometimes spoken of 11 such offers, Silantyev says, “but over the last 14 years, nothing was built on these parcels.”
Whether new Mayor Sergey Sobyanin will change that is very much an open question, Silantyev says. On the one hand, he has expressed his support for building more religious facilities, but as the specialist says, the new man in charge could hardly do otherwise. But on the other, in the near future, the situation for Muslims with regard to facilities may get “still worse.”
That is because, Silantyev says, there is mounting public opposition to the construction of mosques, opposition that is fueled by anti-immigrant sentiments and that is encouraged by opposition in Western Europe and the United States to the construction of mosques any new mosques there.
And it is also because, he points out, the Muslim leadership lacks the funds to pay for the reconstruction of the major mosque on Prospekt Mira. Rebuilding that facility would cost as much as a half billion US dollars, and that is an amount that the Russian Muslim community cannot hope to raise on its own. As a result, reconstruction may in this case mean closure.
According to Silantyev, “the question of the construction of mosques can be resolved without scandals,” arguing that “it would be logical to construct a major mosque not alongside apartment buildings but for example next to the [capital’s] Muslim cemetery which is located in a convenient place.”
Such a location would be less offensive to others, Silantyev suggests, but he ignores the reality that this would treat Muslims very much as second class citizens because his own church leadership has called for the construction of Russian Orthodox churches within walking distance of every Orthodox Muscovite.
Silantyev’s interview is contained within a larger article by “Trud” journalist Dmitry Ivanov who not only describes the growing tensions between ethnic Russian residents of Tekstilshchiki who oppose building a mosque there and Muslim leaders who say any failure to do so will provoke an explosion of Muslim anger.
The Russian opponents of building a mosque there have launched a website, www.mecheti.net, and collected more than 6500 signatures on an appeal to Russian leaders not to allow a mosque to be put up where they could not erect a church and where its construction would deprive them of a public park.
Muslim supporters of a mosque in that Moscow neighborhood also have had held demonstrations and circulated a petition backing the idea, and they have expressed hope that the new Moscow mayor will back them not only as a matter of policy but because of his experience in Tyumen, where Muslim groups are now quite active.
But some Muslim leaders are skeptical that Sobyanin will support the construction of that mosque or any other. Geydar Dzhemal, the president of the Russian Islamic Committee, for example, says that he doesn’t think that the new mayor will agree to the construction of any new mosques.
What he does expect, Dzhemal told “Trud,” is that there will be “a growth in the activity of nationalist organizations” and an increase in “inter-ethnic clashes and in the general tension of society,” something he suggested will contribute to “a process of destabilization [of the Russian capital] from below.”