Staunton, November 11 – Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), told Russian parliamentarians today that the Russian Federation has 72 times as many mosques now as the republic did in 1991, with the number rising from “under 100” at the end of Soviet times to 7200 at present.
At the same time, Gainutdin pointed out, this number is still “not even half of the number of mosques which were on the territory of today’s Russia” before the Russian revolution, adding that “the number of mosques is almost twice more than the number of officially registered Muslim organizations” (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=38157).
But the SMR leader told the parliamentarians that “it would be only a half truth to speak only about successes” in this regard. On the one hand, there still are not enough mosques “in major cities and small settlements.” And on the other, there is an active “slanderous” campaign against building mosques in Moscow in particular.
According to the SMR press service, as reported by Interfax, “all the guests [at the meeting Gainutdin hosted] expressed their support regarding the construction of mosques in all districts of the capital,” an assertion that raises questions about who was in fact at this meeting given the general opposition among Russians to more mosques in the capital city.
Just how many mosques the more than two million Muslims of Moscow need is a matter of dispute, but it is certainly greater than the five they now have. Shamil Alyautdinov, the imam of the city’s Memorial Mosque, said recently that 100 would be enough, but others have given larger or smaller figures (www.newsru.com/religy/11nov2010/smr.html).
A major reason for the dispute about the numbers needed among Muslims is that many of the faithful make use of smaller and more intimate prayer houses, often organized in the apartments of believers, either to follow their national or religious trends or out of a concern that building more mosques would spark more xenophobia among Russians.
At the same time, there is little agreement on the total number of mosques in the Russian Federation. Gainutdin’s figure is lower than the one many other Muslim leaders give but it is higher than the number many academic experts or Russian Orthodox hierarchs suggest, a reflection of two realities that are often ignored.
On the one hand, building a mosque is considered an act of piety among Muslims, and many wealthy people in the Russian umma have built mosques often in their home villages or even in places where there are no congregations. As a result, some of the mosques that have been erected in recent years have not been used, raising the question of whether they should be counted or not.
And on the other hand, as Russian Orthodox commentators often observe, the requirements for a mosque are such that almost any building can be declared one, something not true in the case of Orthodox churches. As a result, putting up a mosque in almost every case costs less than erecting a church, something that makes it possible for Muslims to boost the numbers of their religious facilities.
But however that may be, the dramatic expansion in the number of mosques in the Russian Federation that Gainutdin pointed to today does reflect the growth of Islam there, a growth fueled both by the new possibilities that have opened up to believers since the end of communism and the demographic growth of traditionally Muslim peoples.
Like other Muslim leaders, the SMR head is proud of that rise, but his decision to talk about just how large it is to a group of Russian parliamentarians has the potential to backfire on the umma, leading some Russians to conclude that no new mosques are needed and others to decide that the Muslim community must be brought under much tighter control.