Sunday, August 11, 2013

Muslims gather in the streets of Moscow to celebrate the end of the Holy month of Ramadan

Check out this short but interesting footage taken in Moscow a few days ago:

Moscow has only four mosques for an estimated two million Muslims living in, or near, the capital, and this is why even with every mosque filled at capacity, a huge crowd gathers each year in front of the Great Mosque for an outdoors prayer ceremony.

There is no denying that this kind of outdoor praying is a cause of tensions for many reasons.  For one thing, the actual number of Muslims in Moscow is hotly disputed.  Official figures obtained by census put it at 400'000, while the Council of Muftis claims two million.  The fact is that an accurate figure is impossible to establish because of the very different types of Muslims which would have to be included.   First, you would have to include those Muslims who are legal and permanent residents of Moscow.  Then, you would have to decide on whether to include their visiting relatives (whether legally or illegally), some of which could stay for extended periods of time.  Furthermore, you would then have to decide as to whether include the huge illegal population of Muslims coming from the former Soviet republics on the hope of finding a job. And even if you wanted to include them, how would you go about counting them considering that most of them hide, often is absolutely horrible conditions such as underground cities, suburban slums, etc.  Frankly, this is a hopeless task, but one which offers plenty of opportunities for all interested parties to get furious at each other.

How many mosques would be "enough"?

Its hard to say.  According to the French Wikipedida there used to be 12'000 mosques in the Russian Empire before the revolution.  This number fell to 343 under the Soviet regime, and it has now bounced back up to 7'000 of which roughly 5'000 are in the Caucasus.   This strongly suggests that more mosques are needed, in particular in the main urban centers, but how many more is anyone's guess.  My personal suggestion is simple: enough for all Muslims to feel that they are happy with the situation (this, in my mind, goes for all religions in Russia, not just Islam): let them build as much as they want to.

Then, there is the fact that roughly 50% of all the crimes committed in Moscow are, according to the police, committed by "non-Moscovites".  Notice, "non-Moscovite" says nothing about the place of origin or religion of these criminal offenders.  All this term means is that the arrested individuals where not legal residents of the capital.  Still, it is undeniable that Moscow is currently suffering from a crime wave which can mostly be attributed to young men coming from regions of Russia such as the Caucasus or from neighboring countries (such as the various "stans") which are officially Muslim, hence the often seen and logically wrong linked made between Muslims and crime in Moscow.  Why wrong?  Because for one thing there is zero evidence that the folks who commit these crimes have any meaningful relationship to Islam (or even to their elders in their home country who are horrified and disgusted by the behavior of their offspring), and second because a lot of "non-Moscovite" crime is committed by Russians and other ethnic groups and nobody speaks of "Orthodox crimes".

There are all very well known issues and I have discussed them in the past on some details.

No, what is interesting here is something else:  the Russian Federal government (Putin) and the Moscow City authorities (Sobianin, a political ally of Putin) have clearly decided on a course of action from which no amount of pressure will make them deviate: they will not only allow such outdoor religious ceremonies, they will use all the instruments of power to protect them, and they will establish a close working relationship with the Muslim authorities organizing them.

Furthermore, the Federal authorities have been fully supportive to the Muslim efforts to build new mosques, some of them of immense dimensions not only in Muslim regions, such as the one in Grozny, but also in Saint Petersburg.

Finally, the Federal authorities are also engaging in a massive crackdown on illegal emigration and on what they called "ethnic crime gangs".

I don't want to make is sound like the situation is all rosy and that everybody in Russia is happy.  There are plenty of problems still plaguing the Russian society and ethnic and even religious tensions are always simmering beneath the surface of things (sometimes even boiling up to the surface and beyond).  And I do not expect Putin to be able to single-handedly and rapidly solve problems which have plagued Western Europe (France, Germany, UK, Sweden) for decades.  But I will say that the fundamental course taken by the Kremlin appears to be very sound to me: on one hand fully support traditional Islam while on the other firmly crack down on those putative "Muslims" who are either criminals or Wahabis.

This week, the outdoors religious ceremony of the Eid al-Fitr saw a huge number of Muslims gather together to pray and everything went perfectly well: no terrorist attacks occurred (unlike in Iraq, Pakistan and in many other countries), not a single worshiper got killed, wounded or even hurt, no special criminal or other incidents took place and everybody went home happy.  Sounds trite, but peace, law and order where upheld but not at the cost of anybody's freedom.  I submit that this is very good news indeed.

The Saker