Staunton, October 6 – Virtually every tea house in Moscow is also a mosque, something that means there are not six mosques as officials say but rather several hundred, religious experts say, although they suggest that the opening of more “public” mosques would be a positive development and prevent both the spread of extremism and the formation of ethnic ghettos.
Dmitry Pakhomov, vice president of the International Christianity-Islam Association, says there are “on the order of four million Muslims” in the Russian capital and that they deserve to have more than the six public mosques they now have. But he acknowledges that there in fact “exist an enormous number of underground mosques” (svoboda.org/a/30198742.html).
Most of these, he continues, are not the conspiratorial groups many Russians imagine but rather prayer rooms in Muslim tea houses where imams of varying degrees of qualification and moderation can lead prayers and believers who can’t easily go to one of the few mosques on a regular basis. These number, Pakhomov suggests, “several hundred.”
But in addition to simple justice and constitutional rights, the activist continues, there are two compelling reasons why Russians should want to see more regular “public” mosques. On the one hand, such mosques almost always will have better trained and more traditional imams than the underground mosques.
And on the other, allowing the Muslims to open such mosques, he suggests, will slow the formation of ethnic ghettos rather than accelerate that process by dispersing the various functions of tea house and mosque into larger neighborhoods and making it easier for Muslims to acculturate by sending a signal that they are welcome as fellow citizens.
If the opening of a mosque or a church for that matter isn’t the occasion for political controversy, people of various beliefs will find it easier to accept these facilities as part of the landscape as they do in Kazan or Istanbul, he says. But if such actions remain controversial and especially if they are for one faith but not another, the consequences could be dire.