KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 8 December 2000

MOSQUE. Muslims in the southern Russian city of Taganrog still do not
know if they will be allowed to complete their half-finished mosque. Since the
former mosque was razed under Soviet rule, the city's 7,000 Muslims have had
nowhere to meet.


by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Muslims in the southern Russian city of Taganrog not far from Rostov-on-Don
still do not know if they will be allowed to complete their half-finished
mosque. Since the former mosque was razed under Soviet rule, the city's 7,000
Muslims have had nowhere to meet. Cossacks, Communists and the Orthodox
clergy have written to President Vladimir Putin and Viktor Kazantsev, the
President's representative in the Southern Federal region, to complain of what
they regard as the `threat' posed to the Don region by the Wahhabi movement,
of which they see the new mosque as a part. The growing `Wahhabi witchhunt',
Cossack anti-Muslim sentiment and, most importantly, the looming Taganrog
mayoral elections, all mean that the mosque might lose its minaret - or even
that the entire mosque will be demolished.

Mufti Jafar Bimayev, head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in
Rostov region (part of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims, headed
by Talgat Tadzhuddin), told Keston News Service on 4 December that after the
Islamic community applied for permission to build a mosque, the city
administration offered a plot of land. Construction of the mosque - which is 11
by 15 metres - was agreed with all the relevant authorities, the mufti declared.

On 30 September Cossacks held an unauthorised meeting demanding a halt to
construction, claiming the mosque would become a `Wahhabi breeding
ground'. That same evening, some people came to the building site, seized the
guard and beat him up, threatening to kill him if construction continued. `The
guard says they were Cossacks,' said the Mufti, 'but he's disappeared and I
haven't seen him for three months. He won't go back there.'

Local television broadcast a discussion - to which Muslims were not invited -
at which Orthodox priests, communists and representatives of the
Slavyanskoye veche organisation spoke against the mosque. The mufti
complains that `absurd' claims were made, for example that construction had
been `funded by Chechen field commanders' and that Muslims would `defile a
holy place'.

The city administration brought legal action to halt building work and for the
construction to be pulled down. The court refused, as a dispute between legal
persons should be resolved by arbitration. A criminal case was then opened
alleging construction had been illegal, something the mufti only learnt when he
received a summons from the investigator. `We have all the documents we
need to show our right to the land, but some of them can be taken in two ways.'
Mufti Jafar believes the administration has revoked approval under pressure
ahead of the mayoral elections, which are due on 24 December. `The Cossacks
issued an open letter saying they would only support a candidate opposing
construction of the mosque.'

On 4 December, Keston asked a specialist on relations with religious
organisations in Rostov region, Vitaly Brezhnev, why the conflict had arisen.
`The elections - that's the only explanation,' he replied. He reported that after
the Muslim community gained registration and applied for building permission,
an agreement was endorsed by all the officials, including the head of the city
administration. But that permission did not acquire legal force as it was not
published. A copy of this draft agreement was given to the mufti and he started
building, but then the elections came up. Had he waited, he would have
received the decision. The mayor's chief electoral opponent is from the
Communist Party, which is capitalising on the dissatisfaction of the Cossacks,
who have not been consulted.

Mufti Jafar says Muslims have experienced no difficulties during his two
decades working in Rostov region. `We get on well with the administration and
were given land for a cemetery. We are on excellent terms with the mayor of
Taganrog, Sergei Shilo.' Brezhnev praised the mufti's peace-making activities.

Brezhnev reports that the Rostov regional administration organised a meeting
at which the supporters and opponents of the mosque agreed that any religious
organisation has the right to build itself a place for prayer. But bowing to
public unease, it was agreed the mosque should be built without a minaret so
that it would not be obvious as a mosque.

At an inter-faith peace forum on 14 November, Mufti Jafar and Chief Mufti
Talgat Tadzhuddin discussed the dispute with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk
and Patriarch Aleksi of the Russian Orthodox Church. `The Patriarch asked me
to tell him everything in detail and said what had happened was an absolute
disgrace,' said Mufti Jafar. `He also promised to contact me as soon as possible,
but he hasn't done so yet.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.