Global Voices Online
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Over 30,000 Muslims reportedly came to the Moscow Cathedral Mosque for a communal prayer on Sept. 30, the first day of Eid ul-Fitr, a Muslim holiday known in Russia as Uraza Bayram, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan. A fair number of non-Muslim Russian bloggers, however, seemed concerned about the presence of so many Muslims in the Russian capital - despite the fact that Russia is home to some 20 million Muslims and Moscow's population is over 12 million people.
Some of these bloggers re-posted an uncredited Sept. 30 photo of the people crowding around the Moscow Cathedral Mosque compound, located right next to the Olympiysky Sports Complex.
Commenting on the picture, LJ user khramov-s wondered (RUS) "why it [wasn't] okay for Russian Orthodox Christians to be Russian nationalists" whereas Muslims could convene freely in great numbers the way they did on Sept. 30.
LJ user tor85 wrote (RUS) that Uraza Bayram wasn't "our holiday" and called to ethnic Russians to join the ultra-nationalist Russian March on Nov. 4 (more on the 2006 event is here).
LJ user krylov wrote (RUS) about what in his view was a tendency of the municipal and federal authorities to demonize Russian nationalists and to nurture Muslims; this post has generated over 170 comments, many of them pretty savage.
LJ user allan999 wrote (RUS) that "millions of Muslims [were] blocking the streets of Moscow" - and LJ user antas commented that he couldn't believe the picture hadn't been photoshopped: "[...] Though, if it's true, it's definitely [a horror]," he added.
LJ user teaser_girl, who used to work in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque neighborhood, wrote (RUS) that she was scared.
LJ user nezabudu complained (RUS) in a comment to LJ user dark_lawyer's picture post that those who worked in the area couldn't "even go out for a cigarette" on Sept. 30, nor could they "enter or exit the metro, or walk through an underground pass: THEY are everywhere, it's impossible to squeeze past them, and these crowds are worse than the mass gatherings of [football] fans - I'm telling you, there are as many of them."
LJ user aoutien also happened to be around at the time of the Sept. 30 mosque event - but her observations (RUS) were quite different from those translated above:
In the morning, it felt as if all the [gastarbeiters] of Moscow gathered at Prospekt Mira [metro station]. The first impression from such a number of Muslim men in a hurry was as if somewhere behind the buildings a foundation pit for an [enormous construction project] had already been dug out. And they were all so energetic, a bit tense, as if their working day was about to begin.
The closer to the metro, the denser the flow, and by the doors there was already something of a crowd. The police restricted entry, and in various parts of the crowd they began to sing. Solemnly. Beautifully.
The feeling is a bit uncozy, but totally safe, both among these dark-haired people in leather jackets and in the police zone. "We have something like your Easter today," one young man explained to an alarmed-looking woman in the metro car.
"Uraza Bayram," says the internet. And it also tells me about [the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah], and about [the Orthodox Christian holiday commemorating Vera (Faith), Nadezhda (Hope), Lyubov (Love) and Sophia].
Happy holiday, dear comrades! Whichever one you prefer... [All three holidays fell on the same day this year.]
LJ user _kutuzov composed (RUS) this caption to the Sept. 30 mosque photo: "Uraza Bayram. Moscow. Or Moskvabad?" LJ user eriklobakh argued in a comment that the congregation of this mosque has historically been made up of Tatars "who have been living in Moscow and Moscow region since the 16th century," and that making jokes about "Moskvabad" was inappropriate. In a separate entry (RUS) - posted both on his blog and in the ru_politics LJ community - LJ user eriklobakh, who is an Orthodox Christian with Tatar roots, expounded on his view of the matter:
[...] I repeat for the illiterate ones - those who haven't bothered to figure it out for themselves. This particular mosque in Moscow has always been predominantly Tatar - the so-called [Mishers] who've lived in and around Moscow since the 16th century.
Almost no [Uzbeks, Tajiks, Azeris] ever visit this mosque. Everyone speaks Tatar there, the mullahs are Tatar, etc.
In this context, we can't be talking of any influx of migrants, etc. There are some 800,000 Tatars in Moscow (not all Tatars are Muslim, of course, but still) - and there are only three mosques.
Naturally, it gets jam-packed there every holiday. More than during the all-night services at Moscow's Orthodox temples for Easter and Christmas - because, I repeat, there are only three mosques in Moscow.
For such a huge city, it's just terribly not enough. [...] and instead of buying [seats in the government], Moscow Tatars should better worry about building new mosques - at least for their own community. [...]
LJ user svetonius posted this relaxing comment (RUS) on LJ user eriklobakh's blog:
First of all, I totally agree with your arguments about the number of mosques. Second, this one is the main mosque of Moscow. Third, Uraza Bayram is the main spiritual Muslim holiday, which can be compared to the Orthodox Christian Easter. So why be surprised by the crowds?
A religious Jew would not be surprised by the fact that the area around the [Cathedral of Christ the Savior] is jam-packed during the all-night Easter service, right? And a religious Muslim would see no harm in it, either.
And I'll share a secret with you - they sell wonderful lamb and horse meat at this mosque's store.
LJ user zubkoff shared a Soviet-time memory (RUS) of his Tatar friends and the feast in the land of defitsit that their holiday normally implied:
I don't remember the correct name of it in Arabic. I remember what my Tatar classmates called it (there were still many of them in [Moscow's Zamoskvorechye district] then). The Tatars knew that in honor of Uraza Bayram their grandmothers would definitely bake something tasty in the evening. And there was also the Tatar Culinary [store] at [Yakimanka] - at the exact spot where Eldorado [store] is now. And even under the Soviets, they used to supply [this store] with all kinds of delicacies for the holiday - above all, lamb meat! You can imagine [the kind of agitation] that reigned there then...
LJ user planka-forever, an ethnic Tatar vocalist with a Moscow-based music band Planka, greeted her family and friends - and wrote about the holiday culinary wonders she'd be missing:
Today my family, like many Muslim families, celebrates a big and happy holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan - Uraza Bayram!!! Today they'll bake something tasty, that's the indispensable condition: pancakes, belish, triangles, and perhaps chak-chak )) [recipes of these and other Tatar dishes are here]
Yum-yum, I'm with you in my thoughts!
My friends! Peace be upon you and your houses!