Saturday, May 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Mosque Suspends Operation after Police Raid

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – Yesterday, the leadership of Moscow’s Darul-Arkam mosque announced that they were indefinitely suspending that religious center’s operation, exactly one week after Russian police raised the mosque and arrested140 of those at prayer on suspicion of extremism.

            According to the mosque’s leaders, they took this step on their own without any pressure from either Russian officials or the owner of the land on which the facility sits and would eventually resume operation after reorganizing (,,  and

            The decision is disturbing for two reasons: On the one hand, it follows a pattern of attacks on Muslim facilities in Russian mosques that is increasingly familiar. And on the other, it means that the more than two million Muslims in Moscow are now left with only four officially registered mosques and are likely to turn to underground and likely more radical ones.

            As the leaders of the mosque pointed out, about a month ago, “a campaign was begun to discredit both the mosque and its leaders” by critics of Islam like Roman Silantyev. Then a week ago, the police swept in and arrested 140 people, releasing all but a handful the same day. And after that, the media filled up with attacks on the mosque as a hotbed of “Islamist radicalism.”

            The fact that almost all of the 140 detained were released the same day is clear evidence that the mosque is not the source of the kind of problems the media have suggested, its leaders say.  And they suggest that closing the mosque rather than reducing extremism is likely to produce more of it.

            Many believers will be forced to seek other mosques, including underground ones where the messages are likely to be more radical, and they will view this latest action as the result of official pressure and thus evidence of the growing hostility of the Russian authorities to the Muslim believers in their midst.

            Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, a political scientist at the Moscow Foundation for the Support of Humanitarian Initiatives, said that the suspension of the mosque’s operation may have been a logical step for its leaders but added that it certainly reflects the efforts of those whowant to drive Islam out of Russia’s public space.

            Because such people lack a legal basis for moving against mosques, he continued, they use media campaigns and other forms of pressure to achieve their goals of discrediting Muslim organizations and Islam in general in the eyes of the Russian population. But such efforts will have unintended consequences.

            “When young people come to a legal and transparent center, headed by constructively inclined and enlightened people, the threat of radicalism declines by an order of magnitude,” Mukhametov observed. “But when they are driven out of a legal mosque and it is in fact closed, then they become an easy catch for those who will present this event as “the struggle of Russia with Islam.’”

            “It is wrong,” he suggested, “to give into the hands of the extremists such cards as the closure” of mosques like the Akam in the Russian capital.

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