Plans for mosque in Moscow district spark controversy

December 15, 2010

MOSCOW

A group of Moscow residents are fighting for official confirmation that a new mosque will not be built in their district of Russia’s capital, amid controversies across the world’s biggest country over worship places for Muslims.

“We’re upset that this plot of land was chosen to begin with, because it is neither meant nor suited for the construction of large public buildings,” said Mikhail Butrimov, a leader of the “Moi dvor” (“My yard”) movement fighting the mosque construction in Moscow’s Tekstilschiki district.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a five-story shopping center or a mosque for 5,000 people,” Butrimov told ENInews on Nov. 24.

Moscow’s main mosque is in the city center, but outlying districts have large concentrations of Muslims, including Tekstilschiki, a former industrial neighborhood that now has many new multi-story apartment buildings.

In October, residents appealed to President Dmitri Medvedev, saying that the dispute over the mosque in their district, on a plot of land where they said they would like to see a park “in which any person, regardless of ethnic, religious, or other background, could relax,” could result in “this social conflict turning into an inter-confessional one.”

Moscow city officials have said in recent days that plans for the mosque have been shelved, but activists say they want proof.

Butrimov said that what angers residents the most is that they were not consulted.

The protests about the mosque construction in Tekstilschiki coincided with controversy in the Russian capital and elsewhere about the slaughter of lambs as part of the celebration of the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast, known in Russia as Kurban Bajram, that began on Nov. 16.

In an open letter to Moscow’s new mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a group of celebrities urged him to regulate the slaughter of animals, which often takes place near residential buildings, schools and stores. They said the sight of the slaughter “cannot but elicit shock among people who are not used to human cruelty.”

The letter said live lambs with their legs tied together are thrown into the trunks of vehicles and cut apart in front of other animals and then their “bloodied corpses are hung up.”

Mayor Sobyanin said in a television interview he would address the issue. “I think that Muslims themselves don’t need this: these provocative, bloody spectacles; no one needs them,” he said.

Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church have both complained of a shortage of worship places in new districts. Sobyanin has promised to implement former mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s promise to allocate land for hundreds of new Orthodox churches in Moscow.

The construction of new Russian Orthodox churches might not go smoothly either. Noviye Izvestiya, a Moscow newspaper, reported on Nov. 25 that residents are protesting over the construction of a church in a park in the city’s Strogino district. Many of them are angry that district officials did not consult them about plans to build in the past, the newspaper reported.

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