On 21 April, Ramadan, the most important ceremonial period for Islamic believers, ended. This year, Ramadan exacerbated the already strained relations between Muslims and Russians, and concentrated religious conflicts. By using followers of Islam as cannon fodder in the so-called “special military operation”, the Russian authorities are simultaneously suppressing the voice of Muslims in the country and deliberately provoking religious conflicts, “spicing” them up with persecution and arrests.
Background of the conflict
As early as 2022, it was decided to build the largest mosque in Europe, a shrine for Muslims, in Moscow. About two million followers of Islam now live in Moscow only, and more than 15 million across Russia. Being representatives of the territories colonized by Russia, Muslims could become a driving force against the Kremlin’s actions, which the Russian authorities are already afraid of.
In February 2023, discussions about the construction of a mosque near the Holy Lake were put on hold, and later this decision was abandoned altogether. In April, the Moscow City Hall announced that the mosque would be built on the outskirts of the city. The reason for the refusal to build on the previously chosen site was allegedly the protests of Orthodox believers.
These actions outraged Muslims, especially those fighting in the Russian army. During Ramadan, the situation only escalated, and this became one of the prerequisites for the start of the protests.
Aggravation of religious hatred
In April, the “demonstrations” by representatives of the ruling Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox community against the construction of the promised mosque began to gain momentum in Russia. Thousands of Russians gathered there, as well as members of the so-called Special military operation. The Kremlin’s immediate reaction to the protests – the cancellation of construction and mass arrests of Muslims – suggests that they are fake.
Protest by parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church against the construction of a mosque
Participants of demonstrations claimed that the mosque is going to be built on “sacred Orthodox territory”, which would “desecrate this holy land”. You could often hear offensive songs and words directed at Chechens during these demonstrations. A video of two unidentified men burying the head of a pig (an unclean animal for Muslims) near the Holy Lake to prevent the construction was also posted on the Internet. Such actions naturally outraged hundreds of Islamic representatives.
The protesters called the project of the Muslim complex a “religious centre for migrants, refugees and terrorists”.
Kadyrov’s men were the most vocal in their response to the situation related to the protests. In their video message from the frontline, they stated that they “will not tolerate such religious oppression and humiliating statements about them” and will only one time “turn a blind eye to this”.
“We believe that the Russian authorities should react. Legal proceedings should be started against these people. The perpetrators should be imprisoned or killed. We are not threatening, we are warning: if you have gone against the will of the Almighty, we will fight with you. We don’t care who we fight“, – these were the comments of Kadyrov’s men published on the Internet.
Many representatives of Islam from public associations who had a voice in their community spoke of “jihad” – the holy struggle to defend Islam. This is what the Kremlin used to launch public arrests and persecution.
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is considered the main defender of Muslims in Russia, also reacted to these events, calling on the “defenders of Orthodoxy” to go to war: “If all these protesters came out with the idea of defending Russian land, then go to the trenches with an assault rifle! Take an assault rifle, push aside the Muslim who is fighting in the Russian Donbas instead of you today, and show your patriotism, show in action, not in words or provocations, how much you love your homeland”, – he said. There was little reaction to the restrictions and humiliation of Muslims, as expected – Kadyrov chose loyalty to Putin over protecting his faithful.
Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov
Subsequently, the Moscow authorities decided to move the construction site of the mosque to the Kosino-Ukhtomsky district. The mosque will not be built near the Holy Lake, next to the Orthodox church, according to the mayor of the Russian capital, Sergei Sobyanin. The first mosque was supposed to be built by the 4th quarter of 2024, and there is no timeframe for the new construction.
The height of oppression and repression
During Ramadan, the detention of Muslims who openly expressed their protest has significantly increased. And with each passing week, the oppression of representatives of Islam only continues to grow.
An interesting “coincidence” is the number of detentions and sentences that were passed in April 2023. In particular, in Chechnya, a participant in the attack on the Perm riot police in 2000 was sentenced to life in prison, and three residents of Dagestan will be sued for committing a terrorist crime in 2018-2021. In the southern regions of Russia and the northern regions of the Caucasus, repressions against opponents of Russian aggression in Ukraine have become more frequent.
At the same time, after Kadyrov’s reaction to the burning of the Koran on the shores of White Lake in the Kosino-Ukhtomsky district of the Russian capital, a criminal case was opened in Moscow. This was a clear protest against the construction of a mosque on the site, although in Chechnya it was called a “provocation” by Ukraine.
Today, Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, but inter-religious hatred is only beginning to gain momentum in Russian society.
“Russia for Russians”
Russian chauvinism is reaching new heights. Even in the holy month for representatives of the Islamic religion, Russians’ desire to incite hatred, dominate and humiliate others does not fade.
On 21 April, the day of the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Russians restricted traffic in Moscow and “tightened security” at the mosque. The territory could only be accessed by passing through metal detectors and in small groups. In this way, the Kremlin leadership tried to turn security measures into control, so that no conspiracies could arise between the participants of the celebration. However, even this did not prevent Muslims from rallying on their holy day and launching the rally after the last prayer of Ramadan: “shout your takbir against islamophobia in russia”. Massive shouts were heard in Russian cities, and the action was supported by many Muslims.
The Kremlin has refused even to exchange Muslim prisoners with the Ukrainian side, despite a voluntary gesture from Ukraine during the holy month of Ramadan. This was reported a few weeks ago in an interview with the “Voice of America” by Daria Zarivna, an adviser to the head of the Office of the President.