By Paul Goble
This year, the Muslim holiday of Kurban Bayram occurs on September 1, the same day Russian schools are scheduled to open. Officials in the Russian capital have decided to postpone the opening of three schools near a mosque in the capital, a move that has outraged some Russians and prompted Muslim leaders to call for a compromise.
Moscow media are reporting that the city’s educational authorities have postponed the opening of three Russian schools near a mosque where thousands of Muslims will assemble for Kurban Bayram which this year occurs on September 1 for three days (znak.com/2017-08-24/v_neskolkih_shkolah_moskvy_lineyki_dnya_znaniy_perenesut_iz_za_kurban_bayrama).
Although they have not said why, the authorities apparently have done so to avoid problems for parents and children who would have to navigate through the enormous crowds. But some parents are outraged because they object to the idea that the children in these schools won’t attend opening ceremonies until September 4 because of the Muslims.
(The three-day delay reflects the fact that September 1 this year falls on a Friday, and because that is the normal day for Muslims to come to the mosque, officials have good reason to expect that Kurban Bayram celebrations at the six Moscow mosques will be even larger than is usually the case.)
Fearful that this action will spark a backlash, Muslim leaders have proposed a compromise. Damir Gizatullin, first deputy head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Russia, has suggested that the school openings not be postponed for three days but perhaps for two to three hours (lenta.ru/news/2017/08/24/kurban/).
He says that Muslims will be at the mosque only for about an hour beginning at seven in the morning and then will travel to the outskirts of the city because the animal sacrifices required for the holiday are not allowed within the city limits. (There are 16 sites in Moscow oblast where such ceremonies are permitted.)
Consequently, Gizatullin says, the Muslims will have moved from the mosque by 8:30 at the latest and the schools could open. That is unlikely to satisfy some other Muscovites who view any such adjustment of all-Russian schedules to the Islamic community as unwarranted and wrong.
This controversy is likely to intensify in the next few days; but however it ends, the fact that it is taking place at all highlights the growing size of the Muslim community in the Russian capital and the fact that the authorities have not allowed the construction of new mosques there has created conflicts by forcing Muslims to meet in only a few places.