Does Moscow Need Separation of Church and State, for its Four Million Muslims?

Moscow outdoor Eid in 2012

The title has been modified by the Muslim Times, the original title was: Underground Islam


By |Posted Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, at 5:28 AM

MOSCOW—Because the Islamic calendar is about 10 days shorter than the Western one, the sacrificial slaughter of rams during the Muslim holiday of Kurban Bayram often catches the residents of Moscow by surprise. Last year it happened in October. The year before that it was in November. In 2006, nobody paid much attention to the ritual because it coincided with New Year’s Eve. But on most years, Muscovites only realize that it’s Kurban Bayram when state TV plays footage of horned beasts being sold out of trucks and sliced open in the streets. Or, on rare but highly publicized occasions, when unsuspecting residents find pools of ram blood in their parking lot or in the sandbox of their local playground after Kurban Bayram.

The city then spends the next few days in fits of xenophobia and existential woe. Inevitably they move on, forget about their Muslim neighbors for a while, and worry about something else. But for those days they hate them, openly and with foul words.

The local government does not do much to ease that enmity, and in some ways official policy exacerbates it. Moscow has 2 million Muslim residents and up to 2 million more Muslim migrant workers. Because of what amounts to state discrimination, the city has permitted the existence of only four mosques, none of which can fit more than 10,000 people. (The Russian Orthodox Church, which has 650 places of worship in Moscow alone, is meanwhile pushing ahead with a government plan to build 200 more churches across the city in what is known as the “Church a Step Away” program.) Nowhere in Moscow is the Muslim call to prayer allowed to disturb the non-Muslim population, so there is no chance that the city will provide public facilities for the Islamic faithful to perform animal sacrifice. The Muslims of Moscow are forced to practice their religion in the open air, which makes for awkward times.

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