MOSCOW - Government plans to build six new mosques in the Russian capital Moscow are sparking a controversy in the country, with nationalists calling for a public referendum on the construction of the Muslim worship places.
I would not like a mosque to be built near my apartment building, Alexander Belov, leader of the Russkiye nationalistic movement, told Interfax on Monday, December 17.But I don't live in Lyublino or Butovo, I live in Orekhovo.
Local authorities have unveiled plans to build six new mosques in Moscow to help meet the growing religious needs of the Muslim community.
"Muslim Board of Russia's European Part already know three sites, which will be approved after several years of debate," Izvestia paper reported.
They are located in Southern Butovo, Lyublino, and near the metro station Shosse Entuziastov.
A source in the Moscow government has confirmed to Interfax that the three sites in Lyublino, Butovo, and Shosse Entuziastov have already been approved, although no final decision has been made.
"We have approved some requests, which will now be discussed with residents and the local prefectures," the source said.
A source in the Moscow mayor's office also said other requests made by Islamic organizations are now being considered.
"There are at least 1.5 million Muslims in Moscow," Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, said.
If we divide this number by ten districts, we will see that there needs to be at least one mosque taking up to 1,500 people per 150,000 Muslims.
Opposition to the building of mosques is not new in Moscow.
Earlier this year, hundreds of residents of Moscow's neighborhood of Mitino staged a protest against the building of an Islamic cultural center in their far-flung district.
Two years ago, similar news in the Tekstilshchiki area in the city's eastern part saw residents up in arms against building a mosque on a park.
Opponents have called for a public referendum on the building of mosques in Moscow.
We need to ask local residents," Belov, the nationalist movement leader, told Interfax.
We should follow the European practice of taking local opinion into account in everything. That way, everything will be quite peaceful and calm.
The building of mosques has been meeting growing oppositions in several European countries.
In Switzerland, Swiss voters have supported a referendum to ban the building of mosque minarets in the country.
But the government plans to build new mosques in Moscow won support from human rights activists in Russia.
"There are many Muslims and very few mosques in Moscow," said Russia's human rights movement veteran and Moscow Helsinki Group Chairman Lyudmila Alekseyeva.
"There is not enough room, especially on big holidays. Mosques are needed.
She, however, said that authorities should heed to the opinion of the public on the mosque plans.
"Of course, we should heed the opinion of local residents," she said.
"Some people don't want mosques near their apartment buildings. Some people don't want an Orthodox church. Some people don't want something else. You can always choose a site that will not be under anyone's window."
Despite the opposition, Russian Muslim leaders vowed to continue efforts to build more mosques to help meet the growing religious needs of the community.
There will be a mosque in [Moscow's areas of] Butovo and Lyublino, where we have the Moscow Islamic University, and on Shosse Entuziastov, where we plan to build an Islamic cultural center, Gainutdin told Izvestiya.
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.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.