By Nina Achmatova
For the chief mufti of Russia, it was not well oriented toward Mecca, and needed to be rebuilt. Criticism from other Islamic leaders: “insane” initiative, it was a historic building.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – It was long overdue, but the demolition of the mosque in central Moscow in view of its total reconstruction has raised controversy among the Muslim community and a fresh criticism of its greatest exponent. Built at the beginning of ‘900, the Great Mosque was demolished on 11 September.
Albir Krganov, vice president of the central administration of the Muslims, described the day as “the tragedy of Moscow on the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.” Quoted by Interfax, the religious leader asked why the demolition took place precisely on 9/11 and “moreover on a Sunday.” Before him, other representatives of the Muslim community had criticized the demolition of the mosque – considered by many as a place of historical importance – railing against the head of the Council of muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, the project promoter. “It is regrettable that the decision to demolish a historic place of worship has come precisely from those who bear the highest spiritual title, that of Mufti,” read a joint statement by the Islamic leaders, released by Interfax-Religion.
The news that the Grand Mosque in the capital was to be demolished after the end of the month of Ramadan had already been confirmed on the eve of Eid ul-Fitr by the same Gainutdin. For years, as head of the Tatar community in Moscow, Gainutdin “argued the inadequacy of the Great Mosque, claiming that it was not perfectly oriented towards Mecca,” the statement says. For this reason the mufti continued to claim that the building had no historical value, a belief not shared by their colleagues in other Muslim organizations. Moreover, according to the joint statement, “Gainutdin had always highlighted the architectural similarity between the city’s Great Mosque and Great Synagogue. But this is no reason to endorse its demolition. ”
Muslim leaders have, thus, asked the federal government and leading figures in Russia’s secular and religious spheres, to “raise their voices in defense of Russian Islam,” noting that the authorities had “the right” to demand Gainutdin abandon his “insane idea to demolish the historic building of the Great Mosque.” The statement was signed by: the head of the Central Committee of Muslims of Russia, Talgat Tajuddin, the Mufti of Moscow and central Russia, Albir Krganov; leaders of the Committee of Muslims of all Russia, the head of the Committee of Muslims of St. Petersburg and Northwest Russia, Jafar Ponchayev, the mufti of the regions of Rostov, Chelyabinsk, Kurgan and Astrakhan and the autonomous district of Khanty-Mansiisk.
In 2008, the Grand Mosque was included on the list of buildings of cultural value, but removed the following year after Gainutdin began his battle for its demolition. Built in 1904 with funding from the Tatar merchant Salikh Yerzin, its destruction had been threatened before the Olympic Games in 1980, located next to the Luzhniki stadium in Vypolzovy Avenue. At the time, it was saved thanks to the intervention of religious leaders and ambassadors of Arab countries. International political leaders such as President Sukarno of Indonesia (in 1955), Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1957) and the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (1969) had all prayed in the central mosque.
According to a recent survey by the authoritative Levada Center, 69% of Russians say they are Orthodox Christian and 5% Muslim. Catholic, Protestant, Jews and faithful of other religions count for less than 1%.