Muslim community in Russia '25 million' strong
The Muslim community in Russia is now 25 million people strong and continues to grow, Grand Mufti of Russia Sheikh Rawil Gaynetdin has told Anadolu Agency.
The number of Muslims in Russia is increasing mainly because of two factors: high birth rate among Muslim families and through the arrival of people from Central Asia, Gaynetdin said.
He said the number of Muslims was also mentioned in the population census.
Sheikh Gaynetdin said most Muslims in the country live in the Moscow region and other major metropolitan areas such as St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
There is also a high concentration of followers of Islam in the regions where Islamic states were located before the formation of a single Russian state; today these regions are Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the republics of the North Caucasus, the mufti said.
Muslims are indigenous people of Russia; more than 58 peoples, nationalities and ethnic groups have historically practiced Islam, he said.
He also noted that Islam was declared as the state religion in one of the states located in the territory of present-day Russia -- in the Volga Bulgaria, in 922, which was 66 years earlier than the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity as the state religion of Kievan Rus.
"Islam came to Russia in the seventh century. Followers of our Prophet Muhammad came to Russia 22 years after he left earthly life.
"They came to a city that is currently known as Derbent, it is in Southern Dagestan. And the first Adhan, call to worship, in Russia, was made on the lands of Dagestan," the mufti said.
The majority of Russian Muslims are Sunnis of Hanafi school of thought but there are also some Sunnis of Shafi'i school and Shias, Gaynetdin said.
"Russian Shias are mainly Azeris and Tajiks from Pamir and they are small in number. Most Shias live in Derbent, southern Dagestan.
"In Moscow, only one community is registered as Shia," he said.
3 federal centers
However, he said Islam in Russia remains very tolerant and respectful both to other religions and within other sects of Islam.
"We do not divide Muslims into Shias and Sunnis, for us they are all members of the United Muslim Ummah," Gaynetdin said.
The sheikh said when guests from the Middle East visit Russia, they say ties within the Russian Ummah were exemplary.
The Russian system of Muslim administration consists of three federal centers: In Moscow, there is the Council of Muftis of Russia; the Muslim Spiritual Authority is in the city of Ufa and the Muslim Spiritual Authority is in the Caucasus, which acts as the coordination center of Muslims in the North Caucasus.
"Islam is a very democratic religion, we do not have one hierarchy like in Christianity.
"There is no pope or Ecumenical Patriarch for Islam. In Islam, each country has its own spiritual institutionalization.
"There is a hierarchy, the system of spiritual authority. In Russia, there are three federal centers and we believe that this is the best option for the management of Muslim religious affairs in Russia," the mufti said.
Speaking about the Jerusalem issue, Gaynetdin expressed the fear that if Israel usurped power over the holy city, Muslims would not be able to pray there.
Jerusalem or Al-Quds is the third holiest site in Islam, where Prophet Muhammad ascended to the throne of God and where he received a gift from Allah -- salah (namaz) for Muslims. Before Allah sent down his command to face the Holy Kaaba, the first Qibla was in Jerusalem, the sheikh said.
"Jerusalem is the sacred place of our three monotheistic religions.
"And it must remain Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy place. Israel has no right to usurp the power and to turn this city only into Israeli; it has no right to take away opportunities from Muslims and Christians there to pray.
"And this will happen if Israel usurps power over the city."