KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 4 May 2001

RUSSIA: ORTHODOX VETO ON KOLOMNA MOSQUE
CONSTRUCTION? Muslim leaders have accused the administration of the
town of Kolomna, 115 kilometres (70 miles) south east of Moscow, of
violating Russia's law on religion and in effect raising the status of Russian
Orthodoxy to that of state religion. Chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin told Keston
News Service that the local Orthodox hierarch�s call for discussion in the
Kolomna press of an application by local Muslims to build a mosque is
effectively a veto on construction, because public opinion opposes the
building of mosques. The Mufti warned that the difficulties could lead to an
increase in Islamic extremism.

RUSSIA: ORTHODOX VETO ON KOLOMNA MOSQUE
CONSTRUCTION?

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

Muslim leaders have accused the administration of the town of Kolomna,
115 kilometres (70 miles) south east of Moscow, of violating Russia's law on
religion and in effect raising the status of Russian Orthodoxy to that of state
religion. When the local Muslim community submitted a request to the town
administration for a plot of land to build a mosque, the commission which
examines land applications responded that the local Orthodox hierarch,
Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna, had called for the issue to
be discussed in the press. Chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin told Keston News
Service that this in effect imposes a veto on the mosque building, as public
opinion opposes the building of mosques, adding that it is getting
increasingly difficult to build new mosques in Russia.

The response from the town administration, dated 13 February and of which
Keston has seen a copy, declares: `The commission informs the applicant
that Yuvenaly has requested a general discussion in the press about the
construction of a mosque.'

Mufti Gainutdin, head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in European
Russia, described the commission's decision to initiate a discussion about the
building of a mosque as `provocative'. 'It is natural that in a town where the
population is overwhelmingly Russian the majority opinion will be against
the building of a mosque,' he told Keston on 25 April. Kolomna has about
2,000 Muslims out of a total population of 163,000.

Mufti Gainutdin added that it has not been possible to raise a complaint
against the committee and as a result the Muslim community has not been
able to start building the mosque.

On 27 April Keston spent the whole day trying to telephone members of the
commission, but they were generally unavailable. A secretary for the town's
chief architect Tamara Shlenskaya asked what questions were going to be
asked of her superior. Once she learned what was going to be discussed the
secretary responded that Shlenskaya was 'very busy and is not receiving
anyone'. Keston did manage to speak to the head of the capital works
department of the town administration, Aleksandr Utkin, also a member of
the commission. Utkin stated that he had heard nothing about the request to
build a mosque. Asked to explain why his signature appeared on the
resolution of the commission, he was at a loss to know how to respond.

On 4 May Keston finally managed to speak to Shlenskaya, who answered
the phone herself. She considered that the commission�s decision in no way
contradicted the law on religion: �The religious question is a very subtle one,
and it is natural that we should want all interested parties to agree on the
construction of a mosque�. She added that according to article 28 of the
construction code, any building must not harm the interests of people living
nearby. �Kolomna is a purely Christian town, and therefore the construction
of a mosque concerns not only the neighbours but the population of the
whole town. So the question must be discussed with all the inhabitants of
Kolomna, and the best way to do this is in the pages of the local press.�

Mufti Gainutdin reports that this is by no means a unique occurrence. 'Even
two years ago we hardly ever encountered any difficulties, but now the
situation has changed for the worse. We have the impression that some kind
of directive is circulating to the regional authorities encouraging them to
obstruct the building and functioning of mosques,' he told Keston. He added
that such a policy was `very short sighted' with potentially serious
consequences. `People will start to meet secretly in flats, beyond the gaze of
the authorities. This could well lead to the appearance of the extremist
Islamic groups that the Kremlin so fears.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.