Friday, August 2, 2019

Yekaterinburg Officials Uncertain How to Talk with Muslims about New Location of Mosque

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 31 – Yekaterinburg officials say they are willing to negotiate with Muslim leaders over where a new mosque will be after a corporation reclaimed the land on which the one in the center of the city had been built as a temporary measure. But the officials have a problem: there is no one Muslim leader with whom they can talk.

            According to one count, there are at least a dozen with pretensions to that status, ranging from those who are prepared to defer to the political elite to those who have a radical agenda and are prepared to lead their followers in the streets, and such divisions within Islam have often been exploited by officials to keep the Muslim community weak (

            But now officials fear, URA’s Konstantin Dzhultayev says, that these divisions within Islam may no longer work to their advantage. If the authorities involve only the moderates, the radicals may take to the streets; and if the powers that be include all with pretenses to speak for the community, no agreement is likely – and all the Muslims may be radicalized.

            And that last outcome is all the more likely if politicians try to raise the issue of the location of the new mosque in the upcoming election campaign or if businesses with their own political interests funnel money to one Islamic group or another in order to provoke or prevent others from getting their way.

The URA news agency journalist provides a detailed list of all the names and titles the various Muslim leaders in a single city of Russia have and the problems the city now has in finding interlocutors. Perhaps not surprisingly, the city has done what most officials do when confronted with such a problem: Today, they put off talks for two months.

What remains to be seen is how Muslim leaders will react, especially as their old mosque in the center is being torn down and the city so far has offered space only in the distant suburbs. If some of these leaders believe the city is trying to delay things so as to create new facts on the ground, the Muslims of Yekaterinburg could follow the Christians into the streets.

The most likely consequence of this delay, however, won’t be in Yekaterinburg itself. Instead, what is taking place there is likely to trigger a new fight over whether the Muslims should seek to unite under some all-Russian Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) so as to have more influence or to remain divided so that they will have more flexibility and independence.

The Yekaterinburg events will likely be invoked by those opposed to any centralization of control as evidence of the ways in which the political authorities will make use of such institutions just as they do with the Moscow Patriarchate, however much the powers that be have exploited divisions within Islam up to now. 

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