FaithWorld

Russian Muslims ask Moscow to lobby Saudis for increased haj quota to Mecca

(Muslims attend Friday prayers under a snowfall at the Central Mosque in Almaty February 5, 2010/Shamil Zhumatov)

Spiritual leaders from Russia’s large minority of Muslims asked President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday to press Saudi Arabia to increase the number of worshippers allowed to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage. Almost three million Muslims flock to Mecca every year for Haj, a duty every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must perform at least once in their lifetime. Riyadh allocates quotas for Muslims around the world.

Russia, home to 20 million Muslims, or around one seventh of the population, is allowed to send 20,000 Muslims a year for Haj, Mufti Ismail Berdiyev told Medvedev. They were attending a meeting with other Muslim leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital Nalchik in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

“So many people want to go. Maybe you could bring this up in talks with Saudi Arabia?” asked Berdiyev, who heads the Muslim community in Karachay-Cherkessia, not far from Nalchik.

Since the fall of Communism 20 years ago, Russia’s Muslims have embraced a spiritual revival after decades of Soviet authorities forcing all religions underground. Mosques across the North Caucasus are swelling in number, learning Arabic has become popular amongst the young and Muslim media outlets are sprouting up across the country. Around half of Russia’s Muslims live in the North Caucasus, a patchwork of mountainous republics on its southern fringe, also home to a growing Islamist insurgency.

Moscow’s “Holy Rus” religious art show spotlights sacred Russia

(A member of gallery staff passes an exhibit at the Holy Rus exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow May 25, 2011/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia opened an unprecedented exhibit of religious art pulled from across the country and abroad at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery on Thursday, in a show of Kremlin support for an Orthodox Church growing more powerful since the fall of Communism.

The state-sponsored exhibit “Holy Rus” displays art works from the Old Eastern Slavonic state, which existed in the middle ages and united the lands of modern Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia, with its capital in Kiev.

Russia’s Muslim elite vows to tackle Islamist extremism

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(Russia's chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin in Moscow February 10, 2011/Sergei Karpukhin)

Russia’s Muslims on Thursday set up a council of experts to devise ways to tackle extremism, two weeks after a suicide bomb attack on the country’s busiest airport killed 36.  Earlier this week Islamist leader Doku Umarov said he had ordered the devastating attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

“People need to be protected from extremism and terrorism, and educated away from this,” said Ravil Gaynutdin, the chief Mufti of Russia, which is home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the population. “These experts will play a very important role towards making things better… for Muslims to be more involved in Russian society,” Gaynutdin, clad in a flowing black robe and crowned by a silk white hat, told Reuters in an interview before chairing the council’s first meeting.

Moscow prison opens first prayer room for Muslims

butyrkaA prison where Soviet-era writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was jailed and a third of inmates are Muslims from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, has become the first in Moscow to open a Muslim prayer room.

Nineteenth century Butyrka prison in central Moscow, which also held Adolf Hitler’s nephew Heinrich among other high-profile prisoners, held its first prayers on Friday, in a hall near a Christian church that has operated since 1989. (Photo: Butyrka prison, Moscow, 29 May 2010/Stanislav Kozlovskiy)

“Religion is the best way for one to improve and heal, and we wanted Muslims to also benefit from this,” Kamil Mannatov from the Russian Council of Muftis told Reuters on Monday.

Russian Orthodox Church’s Kirill on ecumenism, via Wikileaks

kirillSome interesting comments on Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, back in April 2008 when he was still Metropolitan Kirill, in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow published by Wikileaks:

8. (C) Kirill seemed to be in good health was preoccupied as always with the, in his view, excessive emphasis on the individual in the West, and stressed the need to harmonize traditional human rights concerns with “morality and ethics.” Economic progress had been a two-edged sword for Russia, Kirill thought. With prosperity, Russians had “lost something” and Kirill, who is Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, pointed to less prosperous Smolensk as “better preserved” than Moscow or St. Petersburg.

9. (C) Kirill spoke highly of a UN-sponsored effort to bridge the gap between East and West by seeking an alliance of civilizations. Kirill was attempting to interest the UN in his efforts to sponsor ecumenical dialogue especially, he said, in the Middle East. As he has in past conversations, Kirill contrasted Roman Catholic Pope Benedict favourably with his predecessor John Paul II, and again held out the prospect of significant improvement in Russian Orthodox – Roman Catholic relations. Also on the ecumenical front, Kirill reported to the Ambassador efforts, via the Russian Orthodox Church of America and the National Council of Churches, to reach out to Protestant denominations in the U.S.

Moscow art curators anger Russian Orthodox church but escape jail

moscow artTwo art curators have been found guilty in Moscow of inciting religious hatred in a case that has highlighted the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox church and its links to the Russian government.

Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev must pay fines of 200,000 roubles ($6,477) and 150,000 roubles, respectively, to the state for their 2007 Forbidden Art exhibit, which mixed religious icons with sexual and pop-culture images.  (Photo: Yuri Samodurov leaves the courtroom, July 12, 2010/Denis Sinyakov)

Among the art on display in the exhibit were works depicting an Orthodox icon adorned with Mickey Mouse, a Russian general raping a soldier, and a Soviet-era Order of Lenin medal over Christ’s head. Leading cultural figures had appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to drop the charges, saying it heralded a new era of censorship.

Russian Orthodox want tougher abortion law, ties with “pro-life” West

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Moscow's Red Square -- soon the site of an anti-abortion march? (Itar-Tass photo 9 May 2005)

The Russian Orthodox Church has called for tougher rules to reduce the number of abortions carried out in a country struggling to combat its fast-dwindling population.  Russia registered 1.2 million abortions and 1.7 million births last year, according to the Health Ministry.

“In Soviet times we got used to abortion and we got used to considering it an unavoidable part of our legal reality and that there is no way to the turn back the page,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a powerful cleric who is close to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.  “But we see today that it is possible to turn back a great deal,” said Chaplin,  He  said the legislation had to change but declined to say how.

In Moscow, Orthodox Christian churches draw closer

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (C), Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill (R) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I meet in Moscow's Kremlin, May 25, 2010/Dmitry Astakhov

President Dmitry Medvedev warmly welcomed the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians Tuesday, hailing improving ties between Russia’s powerful church and its ancestor faith.  Relations among the Orthodox have improved after past strains when churches in former Soviet states such as Estonia and Ukraine broke away from the Russian mother church and tried to pledge allegiance to the patriarch in Istanbul.

“The visit of your Holiness is a significant event and, beyond all doubt, it will help strengthen the dialogue which always linked the two sisterly churches,” Medvedev told Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, according to a transcript published by the Kremlin.

Russian Orthodox take icy plunges to celebrate Epiphany

Russian Orthodox believers washed away their sins by taking a plunge into icy waters on the feast of the Epiphany, which fell on Monday according to the Orthodox calendar.  The traditional triple dip commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.  Here are several Reuters photographs and a Reuters video of Russians braving the winter cold to perform the ritual. dip 1

A man prepares to dip in icy waters during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with the air temperature at about -26 degrees Celsius ( -14.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pereslavl-Zalessky, some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010/Sergei Karpukhin dip 2

A man gets out of the water during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with air temperature at about -24 degrees Celsius (-11.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in Suzdal, some 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010/Denis Sinyakov dip 3

A man helps a woman out of the Bazaikha river during Orthodox Epiphany celebrations, with air temperature at about -28 degrees Celsius (-18.4 degrees Fahrenheit), in the suburbs of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk January 19, 2010/Ilya Naymushin

Masked gunman kills Russian priest at Moscow church

russian-church (Photo: Russian Orthodox church in Moscow, 1 July 2009/Sergei Karpukhin)

A masked gunman entered a Moscow church and murdered a Russian Orthodox priest who had received death threats for converting Muslims to Christianity and criticizing Islam, prosecutors and church officials said Friday.  The killing could threaten delicate relations between the powerful majority Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin, and the country’s growing Muslim minority of about 20 million.

The gunman approached priest Daniil Sysoyev, 34, in St Thomas Church in southern Moscow Thursday night, checked his name and then opened fire with a pistol, a spokesman for the investigating committee of the Prosecutor-General’s office said.

Sysoyev was from Tatarstan, a predominantly Muslim region of Russia on the Volga river. He was threatened after preaching to Muslims and Christians from other denominations. “I have received 10 threats via e-mail that I shall have my head cut off (if I do not stop preaching to Muslims),” Sysoyev stated on a television program in February 2008, according to Interfax. “As I see it, it is a sin not to preach to Muslims.”