For the second year running, thousands of Muslims brought chaos to the streets of Moscow on 30 August through staging mass prayers to mark Eid ul-Fitr, or Uraza Bayram as the Russians call it. Although the Mayor of Moscow – Sergei Sobyanin – arranged one of the pavilions in Sokolniki Park to be equipped with sufficient prayer mats for 9,000 worshippers, this was left largely empty, whilst practising Muslims preferred to show their strength by blocking the streets, with most of them – some 50,000 – congregating near the city’s ‘Cathedral Mosque’, causing great disruption to commuters. A further 15,000 gathered at and around the mosque on Bolshaya Tatarskaya Street. The end of prayers brought problems too, with crushes being experienced at the Prospekt Mira and Rizhskaia Metro stations. The English-language version of Pravda reports:
The prayers ended at 10:00 a.m., and thousands of people headed back to the metro. A human stampede was formed near the entrance to the station. Police officers were trying to ask the believers to walk towards two other stations nearby. Another stampede appeared at 10:30 near Rizhskaya metro station. The people were storming the entrance to the station. Muscovites were hugging the walls, children were crying. Hundreds of people were late for work.
This spectacle never used to occur in Moscow, so one must pose the question: why now? What is it that has prompted tens of thousands of practising Muslims to purposefully bring sections of the capital to a standstill in a display of mass strength? How does the Russian political elite view this, and what are the opinions of non-Muslim Muscovites and Russians more generally?
Moscow possesses four mosques, yet the Muslim population of the city is growing at a rapid rate fuelled largely by Muslim immigration from the former Soviet Muslim states of the ‘near abroad’. However, its size is also augmented by internal migration from the traditionally Muslim-inhabited regions of the Russian Federation itself, such as Tatarstan (see this article for information on generational radicalisation amongst the Tatars) and Bashkortostan. Provisional figures from the 2010 census suggest that Moscow has a population of circa 11.5 million, but there are also many illegal residents who will not have been included in this figure. A considerable proportion of the city’s Muslim population falls into the category of ‘illegal guest workers’
Estimates for the number of Muslim residents vary considerably, with most settling on a figure somewhere in the region of 1.2 to 2 million. These seem credible, but one suggestion that this figure could be as high as 5 million seems untenable to me. Naturally, even if only 10% of Moscow’s Muslim population were to be classed as ‘practising’, four mosques would not be able to accommodate 120,000 to 200,000 people. Thus, as in Paris and Nice, many Muslims have decided that they will pray in the streets and disrupt everyday life in the city if need be with their mass displays of ‘piety’. As is the case with many modern European metropolises, other notable examples being London and Paris, a declining indigenous birth-rate and mass immigration from the former colonies – particularly Muslim ones - is having a negative impact on the character of Moscow. Although the process is not as far advanced as in London, Muscovites could soon start feeling themselves to be strangers in their own city, as many remaining Londoners do in theirs. If current demographic trends continue, Russia itself will be a Muslim majority state by 2050: one in possession of thousands of nuclear warheads.
Returning to the question of the attitude of the Russian political elite to Islam, we find a number of comments from leading politicians on the recent end of Ramadan in the left-wing newspaper Komsomol’skaia pravda. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was quoted as saying:
“Reviving traditional Islamic values assists in the conservation of Russia’s cultural diversity.” Moreover, in his Ramadan message the paper stated that he “remarked upon the contribution of Muslim society to the strengthening of peace in Russia, declaring that the ummah inculcates amongst its youth a sense of tolerance and respect for members of other peoples.”
Current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was reported as having “valued the contribution of Muslim society to the life of the country” and “remarked that the position of the Muslim Ummah with respect to extremism, in particular, to attempts to transform the traditional values of the religion, sowing enmity and intolerance, needed attention.” He concluded by stating that Islam “receives the support of the whole of society, aiding in the preservation of civil peace and agreement in the country.”
Most gushing of all in his Ramadan greetings (evidently with an eye on the Muslim vote) was Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobianin in a special telegram addressed to Muslims: “The joyous holiday of Eid ul-Fitr possesses a great significance in the life of Muslims. This is a time of moral improvement, when the faithful especially deeply acknowledge and respect the high spiritual ideals – the values of goodness, philanthropy and caring for one’s neighbours.”
Quite clearly, these key figures at the apex of the Russian state are propagandising a view of Islam very much in line with the old Soviet doctrine of druzhba narodov – the friendship of peoples – but in this instance substituting Islam for nationality. This however, is not necessarily a position shared by ethnic Russians – russkie.
Following last year’s Eid ul-Fitr disruptions to life in Moscow, Der Spiegel ran a piece on Russian nationalists mobilising a campaign to prevent the construction of a mosque in the Tekstilshchiki district of the city which has been dubbed Moscow's 'ground zero mosque'. It revealed that the proposed mosque would only be one of up to 40 that the Moscow Council of Muftis wish to see available to Muslims in the capital. Local residents, discomfited by the prospect of a mosque being built on a rare green space used for recreational purposes in Tekstilshchiki, have thus objected to its construction on the grounds that it will deny them of use of such a convenient facility. In an effort to prevent it from going ahead, protestors have been planting saplings in the hope that this area of ground can be preserved as a park instead. This campaign has infuriated Muslims, with Der Spiegel noting that Imam Ildar Aljautdinov has warned ‘that some Muslims may become radicalised if they don’t have mosques to worship in.“We must build more mosques,” he says. “Otherwise something bad will replace the religion.”’
As you can see from Aljautdinov's remarks, doctrinaire Muslims are applying the same bullyboy tactics in Moscow as in England and elsewhere in Europe: submit to our demands or we shall not be responsible for the violence unleashed by our co-religionists.
Returning to the recent chaos to hit Moscow, the video and photographs below show the scale of the Muslim assertion of ownership of the city’s streets. Who in Russia will stand up to this? Кто в России защитит русского народа от исламизации?
|Russian Woman struggles to get to Work|
|Sokolniki Warehouse devoid of Worshippers|