- Moscow has 2 million Muslims and just four mosques
- Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a ceremonial opening of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque
- He spoke of Moscow being a multireligious city and railed against ISIS
Moscow (CNN)After more than decade under construction, the doors of the newly built Moscow Cathedral Mosque have finally opened in the European city with the largest Muslim population.
It’s hoped the mosque, which can accommodate more than 10,000 worshipers, will help alleviate the acute shortage of space for Muslim prayer in the Russian capital.
“Today, we have only four mosques for 2 million Muslims in Moscow. This is not enough,” Rushan Abbyasov of the Russian Council of Muftis told CNN.
“However, according to our agreement with the Moscow government, we will start considering new projects. God willing, another massive mosque will appear,” he said.
But that may prove unpopular among many non-Muslim Muscovites, many of whom disapprove of the city’s growing Muslim population.
A recent opinion poll, published by the Levada Center, an independent agency, found that 51% of Muscovites, who are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian, are against further mosque construction. Only 4% said they support mosque building.
But the Kremlin, usually sensitive to popular sentiments of this kind, appears to be paying little attention to the concerns.
The ceremonial opening of the Cathedral Mosque, near the city center, was overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Foreign dignitaries also attended, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
With his speech broadcast live on state television, Putin said that the mosque was “worthy” of a multireligious Russian capital and that he hoped it would become a center of spirituality and education in Russia.
Putin, who is stepping up military backing of the Syrian government, also used the mosque opening to push his anti-ISIS message.
“We see what’s happening in the Middle East, where terrorists from the so-called Islamic State are discrediting the great world religion of Islam, planting hatred, killing people, destroying world cultural monuments in a barbaric way,” he told the hundreds of invited guests.
“Their ideology is based on a lie, on a distortion of Islam.”
For Putin, this was clearly more than just a big mosque opening its doors to a grateful Muslim public.
This was another platform from which to bolster his credentials as a staunch opponent of Islamic extremist groups, like ISIS.
And perhaps to prepare the Russian public for even greater involvement in Syria’s brutal civil war.