04/01/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Moscow will have 60 new churches and still no new mosque

by Nina Achmatova
The decision of Mayor Sobianin, approval by the Patriarchate. Muslim leaders watch but also warn the Patriarchate against ostracizing the Islamic community and thus triggering a "time bomb".

 Moscow (AsiaNews / Agencies) – It is more difficult to build a single mosque than 60 churches in Moscow. Muslims, who are well aware of this given that Russia for years has denied them permission to build a new place of worship, look helplessly at the decision of the mayor of the capital Sergei Sobianin, to give the green light to 60 new Russian Orthodox churches. "We welcome the unprecedented decision," said the spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church Vladimir Viguilianski. In the Russian capital there is an Orthodox church for every 25 thousand inhabitants, compared with the ratio of 1:10,000, which is found in the rest of the country, says Viguilianski. After 70 years of state atheism, "Moscow now has 350 Orthodox churches, five times less than before the October revolution of 1917," said the spokesman.

Muslim leaders, who are currently experiencing moments of tension with the political power after years of friendly relations, do not condemn the mayor’s decision adding they are convinced that their needs "will be fulfilled sooner or later," according to spokesman of the Council of muftis of Russia Goulnour Gaziev. The construction of a mosque in the south-east of Moscow was suspended last year over protests raised by local residents, concerned about disturbance to public peace that could result in the presence of an Islamic religious centre. The city has a community of 1.5 million Muslims out of 12 million inhabitants. There are four official mosques open for worship. Recently, the chief mufti of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, criticized the ostracism of the 20 million followers of Muhammad in the Federation by the Orthodox majority, warning that the attitude is triggering a "time bomb".

"How can you fight radicalism if the young people are forced to meet in houses, basements and sheds with a suspicious imam?" demanded Gainutdin. He also took the national media and political power to task, guilty of encouraging 'Islamophobia' with their speeches, already latent in Russian society, and of not aiding co-existence between religions.

For their part, human rights organizations and groups that are fighting for the secular state, point to the Mayor’s futile effort to bow to the Patriarchate’s demands: the already existing churches in the City are half empty, they point out that Is there really any need to build new ones?

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