Staunton, October 1 – Because the Russian authorities have not been willing to allow the construction of new mosques in Moscow, the city’s two million Muslims and the two million more who come into the city each day from surrounding regions increasingly are visiting underground mosques where a variety of ideological trends are on offer.
In a 3,000-word article published in “Novoye vremya” yesterday, journalist Sergey Khazov visited one of these unregistered and hence illegal religious centers, spoke with some of those who visit them, and compared the Russian experience in this regard with that of European countries (http://www.newtimes.ru/articles/detail/71780).
Khazov describes his visit to such a mosque near the Dubrovka metro station, a non-descript building with space for up to 400 Muslims to pray and meet with one another. Among the parishioners were ethnic Azerbaijanis and ethnic Russians who had turned to Islam after becoming disenchanted with their lives.
This particular underground mosque, the journalist continues, is considered Salafi, a trend in Islam that focuses almost exclusively on the Koran and the sunna rather than later commentaries and that many non-Muslims view as dangerously radical. The Salafis with whom Khazov met, however, struck him as entirely regular people.
One striking feature of those at this mosque, Khazov continues, is that “for many, faith is becoming the single point of self-identification.” As Akhmet Yarlykapov, a specialist on Islam in the North Caucasus, says, “before this, they were Avars, Ingush andNogays but having turned up in a big city, they suddenly recognized that they are Muslims, and this Muslim identity has become the main one.”
Part of the reason for that, the specialist says, is that these “Islamic communities are veery active, people find support and moral calm there. As a result, people suddently become active believers. A certain portion is radicalized and begin to follow stricter trends. But when they return to their motherland, there problem also arise with them because they begin to think that Islam at home is not correct.”
But a larger reason for the radicalization of Muslims in Moscow is the actions of the Russian officials there who “de facto persecute the Muslim minority.” Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has worked not only to expel migrants but to close unofficial and underground mosques, actions that offend many believers.
Mullahs at the six registered mosques in the Russian capital suggest that the city’s Muslims should have about 100 mosques to meet their needs. (Other Muslim leaders argue that the number should be even greater because of the various trends within Islam and they say the Tatar mullahs at the official mosques are not pushing hard enough.)
Attempts to secure official permission for more “official” mosques have been blocked by those living in the neighborhood, Khazov says, but he adds that many Muslims in the Russian capital and experts on ethnic conflict like Emil Pain believe that Moscow residents would agree and that the authorities themselves are orchestrating opposition.
The comments of Sobyanin certainly make such beliefs credible. As one city official told Khazov, “first there will be a mosque, then a Muslim cemetery, and then what? As long as there is no mosque, there is the chance to expel the migrants; when it is built, we’ll have to live alongside them. And then what should the Russians do?”
But until the authorities agree to open more official mosques, they face the prospect that ever more Muslims will use underground ones, something that will invest their religious experience with more political meaning and possibly lead to precisely the kind of radicalization that the Russian authorities say they oppose.