By Paul Goble
“Tens of thousands” of Muslims, many in Central Asian or Caucasian dress, overwhelmed the capacity of the metro and streets in the Russian capital to get to one of Moscow’s five mosques in order to participate in Uraza-Bayram prayers marking the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan
On the one hand, the appearance of such crowds is not surprising given that the Russian authorities have not allowed the increasingly large Islamic community to open more mosques, thus creating a situation in the Russian capital is only one such facility for every 500,000 Muslims and thus guaranteeing enormous crowds at Muslim holidays like this one.
But on the other, the appearance of such crowds has inflamed anti-Muslim attitudes among some Muscovites, to judge by comments in the blogosphere and also by the way in which some mainstream media have reported these events — despite positive messages from President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (www.islamnews.ru/news-26509.html).
The online version of Gazeta this morning offered an example of how the mainline media portrayed this holiday with various people talking about “tens of thousands of Muslims,” “an enormous flood of people,” and long lines at metro ticket counters and on the roads leading to the mosques (www.gzt.ru/megapolis/transportation/-prazdnuyuschie-musuljmane-zablokirovali-severo-/324175.html?from=1columnupfromindex).
And the Interfax news agency reported much the same but making the potentially explosive point that at the metro ticket counters were “enormous lines of young people of Caucasus and Central Asian physiognomy” with “some of them in national dress traditional for Muslim peoples” (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=37283).
In a second story, Interfax said that militia officials estimated that “about 55,000 Muslims” had come to the Cathedral Mosque on Prospekt Mira, “filling all the streets leading to the mosque” and putting prayer rugs on the ground outside the mosque and listening to the service on loudspeakers (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=37272).
Harsher comments by Muscovites who were supposedly “shocked” by the public assembly in their city of so many Muslims on this holiday were offered by bloggers whose comments were gathered by the openly xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/17125/).
In Russia’s Northern Capital, there were also problems, and again, they were amplified by the local media. A report on Fontanka.ru this morning not only featured complaints from mothers that their children had been disturbed by the noise from Muslim prayers but reprised stories about animal sacrifices a year ago (www.fontanka.ru/2010/09/09/028/).
St. Petersburg’s Muslims, the news portal said, have long celebrated Uraza Bayram at the city’s main mosque. “But the number of Muslims in the city has grown, and judging from everything, they have begun to independently organize places for carrying out their customs without paying any attention to the people around them.”
And the news portal featured a link to an online video which the portal’s journalist said was “evidence that “an ordinary Petersburg courtyard has been transformed into ‘Baghdad,’” a development that it strongly suggested the powers that be in the city should prevent from happening ever again.
Muslims across the Russian Federation are taking part in services today, with only no reports yet of problems in predominantly Muslim regions and only scattered indications of difficulties between the Islamic faithful and the civil authorities in places into which Muslims have only recently moved but now form significant portions of the population.