MOSCOW - Lacking enough mosques to perform their prayers, Muslim worshippers in the Russian capital, Moscow, find no other option but to pray outside in the snow.
"We are asking the authorities to let us build new mosques, but they are ignoring our demands," Hasan Fakhritdinov, imam of Moscow's Historical Mosque, told the BBC News Online on Thursday, March 22.
Now people have to pray outside in the rain or the snow."Moscow Muslims Need Mosques
Moscow is home to a Muslim minority of more than two million, one of Europe's biggest cities with Muslim concentration.
But the city has only four mosques, which cannot cope with the flow of worshippers on Fridays.
This forces many worshippers to pray outside the mosque in the freezing weather.
In Friday weekly prayers, masses of Muslims from across the city swarm the four mosques from early morning to find a foothold.
Their overflowing to the mosques usually causes severe traffic congestions in the city.
Muslim leaders have long complained that worshiping in any of these mosques has been getting harder and that there is a need to build more places of worship to accommodate their sizable minority.
"There are too many of us," said Ulugbek, a young migrant from Uzbekistan.
"We have to be grateful that there are mosques in Moscow. The city was not ready to host millions of us all of a sudden."
But the construction of new mosques to accommodate Muslim worshippers is dividing Muscovites.
"Moscow is developing and it is attracting more migrants who happen to be Muslims," two young women walking near the old mosque told the BBC.
"Russians are building churches and no-one should stop Muslims from building their mosques either".
But Yuri Gorsky, an activist from nationalist group Russovet, which calls for stricter immigration controls, disagrees.
"People joke that Moscow has become Moscow-abad," he told the BBC.
"There are not many Slavic faces you see on the streets now. I don't mind migrants from Slavic countries but we have to stop these Muslims."
There have been xenophobic attacks on Muslim immigrants in Russia.Last year, seven Muslims were killed and 28 injured in racist and xenophobic attacks, down from 57 deaths and 196 injuries in 2008.
Despite their lack of enough mosques, Russian Muslims praise the friendly atmosphere in Moscow.
Zarif, a devout Muslim from Tajikistan, is married to Yelena, who comes from an Orthodox Christian family.
Initially, it was difficult for him to win the family's trust but now things have changed.
"I sometimes buy Christian icons for my Orthodox in-laws and they buy me Muslim books or calendars," he said.
"I can even go to church with them for family functions. And when I fast they don't eat in front of me. We live in mutual respect and harmony."
A growing number of Russians are embracing Islam, including Ali Vyacheslav Polosin, a former Orthodox priest and politician.
Polosin, who reverted to Islam 12 years ago, runs a Muslim support center in Moscow to teach and advise new Russian converts.
Ayesha Larisa, who works at the centre, says that they have registered more than 10,000 newly Muslim women alone.
"They need our help and advice," Ayesha says.
"We teach them how to worship, or try to help them if they have problems with family members."
There are some 23 million Muslims in the Russian Federation concentrated in the north of the Caucasus, representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million population.
Islam is the country's second-largest religion, behind the Russian Orthodoxy.
It's believed the number of Muslims in Moscow is growing significantly.According to Russia Today, experts say that, by 2050, Muslims will make up about half of Russia's population, making it one of the world's largest countries.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net