Sunday, September 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Why Shouldn’t a Mosque Be Russia’s Symbol?” Moscow Commentator Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 1 – With all the back and forth over voting for the Heart of Chechnya mosque as the symbol of Russia, something that appears to have ended now that Ramzan Kadyrov has admitted there was fraud and pulled its candidacy, a Moscow commentator has asked the obvious question: why shouldn’t a mosque be the symbol of Russia?”

            In an essay posted on the portal, Dmitry Razin says that the scandals about the voting for the Chechen mosque simply represent the problems that Internet voting often presents as it did a year or so ago when Stalin won another such competition. Such voting reflects the intensity of feelings of a minority rather than the preferences of the majority.

            But for that and other reasons, albeit not necessarily those supporting the Heart of Chechnya mosque, Razin continues, the mosque itself, votes for it, and the reaction of many Russians to the vote are more than many would like to admit the perfect symbol of Russia today (

                “The very fact that so many people in a small subject of the country voted for a Muslim sphrine speaks volumes,” first of all about “the solidarity of the Chehens, the Caucasians and the Muslims!” It shows that “for millions of people who gave their vote to it,” the Chechen mosque truly is a valued symbol of their country.

             Indeed, Razin says, he personally is “for the mosque” because it is “an outstanding symbol of Russia today. It reflects everything: the injection of federal money into the Caucasus as into a bottomless pit” and the corrupt but “smiling” Kadyrov who supports those the lezginka in Moscow streets and obscurantism in the Russian government.

            “You couldn’t think up a better symbol” of what Russia has become.

            Razin says tht he voted for theAkhmat Kadyrov Mosque three times because that was the maximum number of votes his system allowed him to cast.  And he says that he regrets that “it will not be the unique symbol of Russia however much [he] and [his] colleaues from Chechnya and the other Muslim republics have tried.”

            According to another writer Razin cites, one of the reasons that so many Muslims voted for the Heart of Chechnya lies with the nature of the site where votes were gathered, yet another symbol of Russia today.  The candidates for the symbol were shown vertically: Consequently, for a Muslim, putting a church above a mosque was a problem.

             Finally, the commentator says, “no one gave Kadyrov the right to remove the mosque from the Internet competition.  He is not its master and it is not for him to decide,” but again that too makes the mosque or at least the discussion of whether it should be Russia’s symbol highly symbolic.

            What has angered some Russian nationalists and apparently Russian President Vladimir Putin is that support for the mosque calls into question their notion of a single stream of Russian national history, in which Russians have always been hostile to Islam ever since the days of the Mongol Yoke.

            But of course, not only is the demography of the Russian Federation running against this conception but so too is any honest consideration of Russian history, for as one historian put it, the evidence shows that “Moscovia until Peter I considered itself part of the Islamic world” (

                That assertion is more sweeping than the facts support, but it contains more truth than the alternative comic book histories often now on offer. This article focuses on the exhibits at the Kremlin Armory Museumand shows that until the 17th century, Russian military armor and even political crowns feature Arabic language inscriptions with Koranic verses.

            Russian writers, the article note, often attempt to dismiss this reality by suggesting that Russian armorers simply “copied Eastern arms,” the examples in the museum are imports or even more fancifully Russians put Koranic ayats on Russian armor in order to ensure Russian victories over Islamic groups.
But such arguments cannot easily explain why Russian designers put Arabic inscriptions on the crowns of the early Romanovs, crowns whose only Cyrillic inscriptions were of the names of the tsars.  All the religious language on them waswritten entirely in Arabic and typically drawn from the Koran. Most curiously even some Orthodox church dress was the same.
In Muscovy,the tsars were “in the eyes of the people the representatives of God on earth.” Thus it would seem particularly important that the inscriptions be in Russian. But in fact, reflecting the conservativism of that state, these inscriptions were “’in the old style’ or Arabic” which had been more important at the time of the Mongol conquest.
The first comment appended to this article when it was posted online is instructive: “If there had not been a Ukraina-Rus, Russia would have remained Tatarstan with a central metropolis of Moscovia,” a pattern that suggests that “Ukraine influenced Russia more than Russia did Ukraine.” 

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