News / Europe

Moscow's Large Muslim Community Faces Violence, Suppression

Moscow’s Muslim Community Defined by Street Prayers, Pogromsi
October 16, 2013 12:54 PM
For more than a generation, Paris, London and Berlin have all experienced surges in their Muslim populations. Now it is Moscow’s turn. James Brooke reports on how Russia’s capital is adapting to this religious and demographic challenge.
Moscow’s Muslim Community Defined by Street Prayers, Pogroms
James Brooke
Moscow is now home to 2 million Muslims - more than any other city in Europe.
So when the faithful gathered Tuesday for the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday, tens of thousands of men unrolled their prayer mats on the asphalt of Moscow’s streets. Last year, they prayed outside in rain and snow.
Looming overhead were the new minarets of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, a century-old mosque that is now being expanded. It is one of only four mosques in all of Moscow.
“Certainly mosques are needed. Mosques are needed in each micro-district,” said Abdul Bari Sultanov, a Russian Muslim from Tatarstan, a historically Muslim region, after prayers Tuesday. “As well as madrassas, schools, imams so that people would be morally prepared for meeting their God.”
The Russian Orthodox Church is building 200 new churches around Moscow. In contrast, new mosque projects never win building permits.
Russian Muslim activist Geydar Dzhemal claims that the Kremlin blocks new mosques in Russia’s capital.
“They understand the politics of suppression -- direct suppression,” said Dzhemal, who has criticized Moscow’s policy on Islam since the Soviet days.  “And they don't understand that this will create problems for themselves much worse then those they are trying to understand now.”
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has vowed that no new mosques will be built in Moscow. He claims that the Muslims praying in streets on holidays are largely Central Asians, guest workers who will eventually go home.
“It has turned out that the praying Muslims are not at all Russian citizens and they are not Moscow residents,” Sobyanin recently told Ekho Moskvi. “They are labor migrants. There are only 10 percent of Moscow residents among them and building mosques for everyone who wants it - I think this will be over the top,” continued the mayor.
“Muscovites now get irritated by people who speak a different language, have different manners, with aggressive behavior,” he added.
Sobyanin, a Kremlin ally, won last month’s mayoral elections. He seems to know what voters are thinking. On Sunday, Slavic residents in a working class Moscow neighborhood rioted against Central Asians and Caucasians. “Russia Forward! Russia Forward!” they chanted.
The spark that set off the incident was the stabbing death last week of a young Slavic Russian man. An immigrant from Azerbaijan was arrested in the case on Tuesday.
  • Moscow has one mosque for 500,000 Muslims. On religious holidays, like Eid Al-Adha, tens of thousands of faithful pray in streets specially blocked off near mosques, Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Police line a pedestrian tunnel connecting Prospect Mira (Peace Avenue) Metro station and the Cathedral Mosque area, Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Vendors sell colorful, durable mats for praying on the pavement in Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Twin minarets of Moscow's new Cathedral Mosque rise over the green painted madrassa, a religious school which dates to the original construction in 1904. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Some men arrived as early as 2 am for prayers that started at sunrise -- 8 am in Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Tens of thousands of faithful occupied almost every corner of Schepina Street, near the Cathedral Mosque in Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz)
  • Vendors sell prayer beads and skull caps, Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Men pray in the streets of Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Men complete their prayers on a closed street, Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • A man completes his prayers on a closed street, Moscow, Oct. 15, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Blue construction workers barracks stand next to the concrete shell of the Cathedral Mosque which is to be completed by 2015, Moscow. (Vera Undritz for VOA)

Analysts called the anti-immigrant riot a modern day pogrom. While police released most of the rioters, they detained 2,000 migrant workers for identity checks. Politicians called for banning apartment sales to foreigners and for imposing visa restrictions on migrants from the southern Muslim nations that only a generation ago were part of the Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Isolda Kukushkina moved to Moscow from Ukraine, a nation often seen as Russia’s cultural and religious cradle. On Tuesday, near the Moscow Cathedral, she looked at the rivers of Muslim men who flowed past her Orthodox Church, dedicated to St. Philip and worried about Moscow’s future.
“It will be Muslim, I am afraid,” she said. “Believe me I like them, but Moscow must be Slavic. It should be somehow balanced. But this influx of immigrants influences our life in a bad way,” said Kukushkina.
For now, Moscow’s future is playing out on the streets, defined by prayers - and pogroms.

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Comment Sorting
by: INDIAN from: INDIA
October 18, 2013 8:12 AM
Russia have not at all learned from the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Future disintegration is on the way... In hostile and war like conditions from which countries Russia will get immediate help from Finland,Poland,Ukraine,Estonia OR Kazakhstan,Turkmenistan,Uzbekistan. Muslims are part of Russian society and Russians should accept them as early as possible if not Western Powers are waiting to take rid of it......

by: Just_A_Thought_79 from: US
October 18, 2013 8:00 AM
I don't see anything wrong with this at all. If you study the muslim expansions throughout the last 1,500 years, you will see a systematic approach of friendly immigration, followed by vocal calls for more rights for muslims, followed by violence if those calls aren't met the way they want, then, if the violence is successful, suppression of every other way of life. Russians are smart to take a stand against muslims, I wish more Americans had a backbone like Russians.

by: chiminginwithtruth
October 17, 2013 11:51 AM
And now, you will not allow my comment to appear, because it is perfectly normal for the media to sensor the truth nowadays. I hope I'm wrong though, and you are in fact in favour of free speech.

by: chiminginwithtruth
October 17, 2013 11:49 AM
What are we to look forward to, once the Muslim populations grow even more? Status that is equal to how Christians are treated in Egypt? How about how Christians are treated in Pakistan? How about in Indonesia, particularly in the Aceh province, where Christians are being driven out? Arab Christians are currently leaving the Arab world - their homeland - in their droves. An Arab version of a 'pogrom'. So, VOA... why don't you report on this? Hmmmmm?

And, I've only covered the situation with Christians living in the Muslim world. What I have not covered is how atheists are treated there.

If you are an atheist and living in a Muslim country, do you let everyone know about your non-beliefs? The fact you were once a Muslim, but have now left that all behind? If you live in Pakistan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Yemen, Egypt etc etc, do you talk about how you left Islam, and are now an atheist? No, you don't. You keep that to yourself, because at best, you will be disowned by your family. At worst, you will end up as a murder victim (as Muhammad said 'whoever leaves his Islamic religion, kill him'). Either way, persecution is as certain as sun rise & sun set.

by: chiminginwithtruth
October 17, 2013 11:48 AM
Muslims migrate to non-Muslim lands, then outbreed the non-Muslims that live there. This is how they take over countries. The same is happening in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines, China, India & many African and European countries. Gaddafi said 'We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe - without swords, without guns, without conquest - will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades'.

by: Maithe from: Paris, France
October 16, 2013 2:17 PM
Pogroms?! What??
How can you use such a terrible word ?
I do hope you don't really know what you are talking about. And if you don't know it's amazing... for a foreign correspond based in Russia.
Go to any dictionary and have a look at Cossacks against Jews in Russia. And you will find : slaughters, destruction, cruelty. Death again and again.
It doesn't seem to me it's the case with Muslims in Moscow today.
In Response

by: Jim Brooke from: Moscow
October 16, 2013 2:56 PM
Pogrom is a word used by Russian analysts. Yes, it is overkill, but you had 2,000 migrants detained and hundreds of anti-Muslim rioters slapped on the wrist. A pale version of the Black Hundreds, but a lineal descendant. Jim Brooke/Chisinau

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