By Paul Goble
The Russian capital has more than three million Muslims, but the Putin regime has refused to allow them to have more than five mosques. In response, the faithful have organized prayer rooms in private apartments and other places. But now, the Moscow authorities are moving to close down this safety valve.
The consequences of this policy could be dramatic especially if the recent moves represent the opening of a campaign against the dozens, if not hundreds of such facilities in and near the Russian capital, with long-simmering anger among Muslims about the lack of more mosques breaking into violence.
In the last week alone, law enforcement personnel in Moscow have shuttered two prayer rooms, seizing religious literature to be examined for “extremism” and depriving Muslims of places to pray (islamnews.ru/news-v-moskve-opechatali-vtoroy-za-nedelyu-molelnyy-dom-musulman and sova-center.ru/religion/news/harassment/places-for-prayer/2023/11/d48864/).
The Russian authorities have taken this step because they are convinced that such prayer rooms, operating outside the legal arrangements the Russian state has for official mosques, are becoming hotbeds of religious radicalism. Thus, closing them down seems to them to be a sensible response.
But there are compelling reasons to think that such moves will have exactly the opposite effect. If prayer rooms are closed down, then Muslims in the capital are likely to do two things, both of which will further reduce Russian control and may have the effect of triggering even more violent actions against the authorities.
On the one hand, they will open new prayer rooms but in a more conspiratorial way in the hopes of keeping them open; and on the other, they will turn to the Internet where they are likely to find and be motivated by even more extremist views than any now on offer in the mosques or prayer rooms of Moscow.