When Moscow’s Muslims gathered at the city’s main mosque Wednesday to mark Eid el-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, tens of thousands of worshippers were forced to take their prayer mats into the street. Lines of police officers stood amid the worshippers, who also had to pass through a security check before they could pray.
As a symbol it is a powerful illustration of two things: firstly, the growing strength of Moscow’s Muslim community; but secondly, the official insecurity and to some extent, hostility toward it.
Islam has always been the second biggest religion in Russia, but it had never been as visible in Moscow as it is now. Moscow has the largest Muslim population in Europe, with estimates suggesting that between 1.5 and 2 million of the Russian capital’s population are of the faith. Despite this, Moscow has only six Mosques, hence the necessity for worshippers to congregate in the street.