By Paul Goble
When Muslims in the Russian capital offer Uraza Bayram prayers at the end of Ramadan on July 5, they may not spill into the streets as they have in the past because of the severe shortage of mosques in the city of Moscow if an agreement between Muslim leaders and officials in Moscow oblast works as planned.
Because there are only five officially registered mosques in Moscow for the city’s estimated 2.5 million Muslims, many of the faithful especially on holidays pray in the streets outside these mosques, blocking traffic and infuriating other Muscovites who object to this public demonstration of growing numbers of Muslims among them.
Muslim leaders in the past have argued that this problem could be solved if the authorities would agree to open more mosques, but Russian officials have refused to do so. Now, some Muslim leaders have come up with a plan that may mean there will be fewer Muslims praying in the streets of the capital this year.
Rushan Abbyasov, the first deputy chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (MSD) of the Russian Federation, has announced that his institutions have reached an agreement with Moscow oblast officials to handle the expected crowds (tass.ru/moskovskaya-oblast/3408326).
Under the terms of the agreement, oblast officials have authorized Muslim prayers in 37 places in the region, including in the 18 mosques and prayer houses that operate there. According to the TASS report, this “will help reduce the pressure on the capital’s mosques,” perhaps especially because most of the capital’s Muslims live in the oblast rather than the city.
As the Russian news agency reminds, “Uraza Bayram is one of the main days of the Islamic calendar,” one that has been celebrated since the time of the Prophet Mohammed. Typically it involves not only prayers at the mosque but also visits to cemeteries to remember ancestors and giving assistance to the needy.