Staunton, September 22 Vladimir Putin and other dignitaries attended the re-opening of the Cathedral Mosque in Moscow today. Russian media celebrated this as the largest mosque in Europe; they mostly did not focus on the fact that Moscow’s Muslim community is the largest in any European capital or that the Russian city has only three other officially registered mosques.
The mosque, first built in 1904 and in the process of being remodeled over the last decade, is now 20 times larger than it was, with space for 10,000 of the faithful, an expansion that both Muslim and secular officials in Moscow have been emphasizing makes it the largest mosque in Europe. Its new minaret rises 78 meters and is visible in many parts of Moscow.
Among those attending the reopening yesterday were Putin and the presidents of Turkey and Palestine and also the heads of Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetiya and Tatarstan as well as the leaders of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of European Russia, but not those of the rival Central MSD in Ufa.
In his address at the ceremony, Ravil Gainutdin, head of the MSD of European Russia and also of the Union of Muftis of Russia, stressed that “more than ten years ago, our national leader Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin became the first of the leaders of our state in its entire history to call Russia a Muslim country.”
“Neither the tsars no the emperors nor the general secretaries of the CPSU Central Committee ever did this.” Moreover, Gainutdin continued, Putin “also stressed that Islam always was one of the foundations of Russian statehood” and that he viewed Russia “as the truest, most consistent and most reliable of the Islamic religion and the Islamic world.”
In his speech today, Putin said the re-opening of the mosque was “a big event for Russia’s Muslims” because “one of the oldest mosques of Moscow has been reconstructed in his historic place. It has become the largest in Europe and acquired a new contemporary aspect, worth of the capital of single multi-national and multi-confessional country and worthy of Russia in which Islam by law is one of the traditional Russian religions.”
“Russia was established via the mutual enrichment of different traditions, cultures, and religions, and it is in this that the strength of our motherland consists,” the Russian president said. “The Muslim community of Moscow was established already in medieval times, as shown by the Tatar roots of its street names.”
“Today,” the Kremlin leader continued, “traditional Islam is an inalienable part of the spiritual life of the country. Its humanist values teach people mercy, justice, and concern about those near to them. We value all of this very highly. Over the course of the last 20 years, the number of Islamic cult institutions has grown several orders of magnitude.”
Many striking new mosques have appeared “in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya and other regions of Russia,” Putin said. And that in turn means there have been established more medrassahs and schools attached to mosques, an important means of blocking the influence of those who attempt to exploit Islam for un-Islamic political goals.
“Today,” Putin said, “efforts are being made to cynically exploit religious feelings for political goals. We see this happening in the Near East where terrorists of the Islamic State by compromising a great world religion are sowing hatred, killing people, and barbarously destroying monuments of world culture.”
“They pervert Islam,” the Russian president says, “and they are trying to recruit people” in Russia as well.
In advance of the ceremony, Moskovsky Komsomolets decided to investigate “how Islamicized” the area around the restored Cathedral Mosque had become and whether one could speak yet of a Muslim “quarter” in Russia’s capital.
The paper reported that approximately 3,000 Muslims have been praying at the construction site every evening, that their participation in religious life has led to the emergence of cafes and restaurants where they can cleanse themselves before prayer, and that the restored mosque is already “a mini-city” with schools, stores, a hotel, and other facilities.
At the same time, Moskovsky Komsomolets continued, most people in the region speak Russian rather than other languages and most of the stores are “’secular’” rather than Muslim-oriented. That means, Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam notorious for his anti-MSD positions, that it is “premature” to speak about the formation of Muslim “quarters” in Moscow.
But he conceded that “it is difficult to predict what will take place in Moscow in this sense in the future.”