Staunton, December 17 – Muslims have increased their share in the population of the Russian Federation from four percent in December 2009 to 7 percent in November 2012, while the share of Russian residents declaring themselves to be Orthodox has fallen from 80 percent to 74 percent over the same period.
But despite these shifts, Russian officials show no willingness to buck the opposition of Russian Orthodox believers to the construction of new mosques in the city of Moscow, although a new decision by Russia’s Constitutional Court may give new protections to Muslims who congregate outside the existing mosques there for Islamic holidays.
Today, the Levada Center reported the results of a poll it conducted of 1596 Russian residents over the age of 18 in 45 regions of the Russian Federation. The center reported few changes in the pattern of religious affiliation except for Muslims who have almost doubled their share and Orthodox who have declined by seven percent (www.levada.ru/17-12-2012/v-rossii-74-pravoslavnykh-i-7-musulman).
Also this morning, “Izvestiya” featured an article saying that, according to Muslim leaders and an anonymous source in the Moscow city government, the latter had given provisional approval for the construction of six new mosques in the Russian capital, thus doubling the number of Islamic religious facilities in the city (izvestia.ru/news/541657).
Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of European Russia, told the paper that the new mosques will be in Butovo, Lyublino and on the Enthusiasts Avenue, a statement that what the paper describe as “an informed source” in the city government confirmed.
The government source stressed that “the decision is not final” and will become so only after it has been “discussed with residents and officials in the local prefectures.” Just how “not final” this decision was was quickly demonstrated.
While the idea drew some support from Gadzimet Safaraliyev, the chairman of the Duma’s nationalities committee, and from Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group (www.rusnovosti.ru/news/237688/), it was criticized by Russian nationalist Aleksandr Belov, by Vladimir Platonov, the chairman of the Moscow City Duma, and by Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, the head of the Patriarchate’s department for cooperation with the armed forces and law enforcement agencies, among others.
And consequently, within a few hours of the appearance of the “Izvestiya” article, Konstantin Timofeyev, a senior Moscow city official who oversees land use, said that the Moscow city government “had not taken a decision” about providing land for the construction of mosques in the Russian capital (www.lenta.ru/news/2012/12/17/mosque1/).
But another legal development announced today may be even more important for the fate of Muslims in Moscow. Many Islamic leaders have been concerned and some Russians have been angered by the fact that the shortage of space in the mosques of the Russian capital means that believers sometimes block the streets outside of them, especially on holy days.
Now, according to “Novyye izvestiya,” the Russian Federation Constitutional Court has issued a ruling specifying that religious assemblies “conducted outside of religious facilities cannot be considered meetings” and therefore do not need to gain the approval of local officials before they take place (www.newizv.ru/society/2012-12-17/174706-vymolili-pravo.html).
That means that those who take part in such activities “cannot be fined,” a decision that would was undoubtedly prompted by a desire to protect Russian Orthodox processions but that almost certainly will be welcomed by Muslims who, it would appear, can now assemble around the mosques without the likelihood that they will be fined.
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