Saturday, September 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Now ‘Largest Muslim City’ in Russia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 13 -- While Moscow may be a city which is “Russian by spirit, culture and language, the Russian capital with some 1.5 to 2 million followers of Islam is “at one and the same time the largest Muslim city of Russia,” according to Farid Asadullin, an advisor to the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) who is running for the Moscow city duma.


            “More than 30” of the “more than 160 large and small peoples” of the Russian Federation represented in the capital, Farid Asadullin said in an interview with, are “traditionally” Muslim, and many of them have lived in Moscow “as long as our capital has existed” (


            “All the names in the historical center of the capital – the Arbat, Ordynka, Taganka, Balchut Street – are a reminder of this, Asadullin continued, and Moscow “has a right to be proud” of Muslims who have distinguished themselves as military commanders, scholars, businessmen, and sportsmen.


            Muslims now form “about ten percent” of the 15 million Moscow residents, with many of them being “migrants from the Central Asian states,” Asadullin says. “For them, Islam and its practices are the main marker of their national-cultural identity,” and consequently, “the development of programs of socialization and adaption … is one of the most important” tasks.


            The candidate said that the SMR and the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of European Russia, working together with the Federal Migration Service (FMS), has set up Russian language courses and a Center for Legal Defense attached to the Moscow Cathedral Mosque.


            But for the integration of this community to proceed further, Asadullin said, it is critical that the Moscow city duma “be a genuinely all-peoples body” and that “its composition reflect the entire multi-national palette of the population of the city.”


            “The experience of European megalopolises (Berlin, London and Paris), the study of the composition of their municipal city institutions and councils shows,” he continued, “their multi-national character, where alongside the representatives of the titular ethnos work Arabs, Turks, Bosnians, and others from Asia and Africa.”


            Asadullin is running in Moscow’s 45th electoral district, having won the primary there in May.  That district includes the Moscow Cathedral Mosque which Asadullin described as “the center of religious life of the Muslim community of the city.” Every week, Muslims of various nationalities, mostly young people, gather there.


            The candidate said that these people constitute “a special subculture, a distinctive type of social ties and mutual support” and that they as a community “require particular attention and a [special] approach from the authorities and social leaders of the city where still have not been eliminated cases of inter-ethnic hostility and conflicts on an ethnic basis.”


            Asadullin concluded by suggesting that the increasing multi-national character of Moscow “will dictate new approaches in the work of the city parliament” and that for the Muslim residents of the city to feel at home, there must be Muslim representatives among its members.


            What is striking about Asadullin’s comments is precisely the fact that they are exactly the same that a Muslim candidate in London, Paris or Berlin would make, an indication of the growth in self-confidence of the Muslims of Moscow even at a time when a stress on “Russianness” dominates the country’s political scene.

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