Raids on Russian Mosques: Reasons and Repercussion

By Ruslan Kurbanov
IUMS Member — Russia

“The exact number of detainees is unknown. By the end of the raid, detained Muslims filled up 2 to 4 buses." (Reuters)
Raids on Russian Mosques: Reasons and Repercussion

Special operations against mosques have increased in Russia in the last months, where the police surrounds the mosques on Fridays during the largest concentrations of believers.

The police sometimes interrupt the Friday prayer and detain all those believers in the mosque and subject them to lengthy screening process. After hours of detention, most detainees are released, while others get arrested on the claim of being illegal immigrants or law violations.

Raid in Pechatniki

Recently, on June 7, 2013, in Moscow’s district of Pechatniki more than 300 Muslims were detained in a raid on a Muslim house of worship. The special operation was carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service, the police, and the Federal Migration Service.

One of the Muslims from the community of this mosque expressed bewilderment of the operation and its scope. "They also brought with them special equipment, in case they have to take the mosque by storm. Throughout the district mobile communication was muted, it was not possible to call anywhere," says one of the detainees, Adam.

"Before the Friday prayer, about 13:30, a large number of security forces without identification symbols burst into praying hall. We were not allowed to pray nor preach. They carried machine guns, forced us to sit on the floor and raise our hands behind our heads," one of the community members, who asked not to be named, told reporters.

“The police didn’t apply any force, but they came into the prayer room in dirty shoes, began to drag everyone out and forced us into buses. Nobody told us what was happening and where were we driven," says the eyewitness.

He adds, “we were taken to the various police departments. At the police department, I spent 15 hours till the midnight. All this time we were not offered any water nor food, and were kept in a cell for detainees."

Dar ul-Arqam and Apraksin Yard

Before the Olympic Games, the Russian authorities want as quickly as possible to check all suspicious places, mosques and prayer rooms, which for dozens of years were out of control.

It is worth to note that this is not the first case of mass detentions of believers in mosques. On April 26th of this year, a religious community of Muslims in Moscow called "Dar ul-Arqam" was surrounded by police. According to eyewitnesses, security forces detained Muslims "to verify their documents."

"Special searches were conducted in Dar ul-Arqam. They came to the Juma’a prayer, no one of us was allowed to leave the mosque," Zamir Kuliyev wrote on his Facebook page.

"The security services locked us inside, put the video cameras on the roofs, drove up the special equipment to open mosque, if closed,” writes Kuliyev. “The exact number of detainees is unknown. By the end of the raid, detained Muslims filled up two to four buses."

Further, at least 700 people were detained in February in St. Petersburg during the raid in a house of worship in the market of Apraksin Yard. As a result, most of the detainees were released, and a few illegal immigrants deported.

Questions and Answers

Russian Muslims are wondering what happend? What is the reason for these mass detentions, arrests, and deportations? Why do authorities organize such large-scale security operations against mosques on Fridays and disrupt the prayer?

Experts put forward several possible reasons for the frequent detention of Muslims in mosques. The Muslim journalist Muhammad Tuaev sees that this can be attributed to the overall growth of Islamophobia and the growing opposition to Muslim activities in the country.

"Muslims, under pressure from the media and corrupt officials, increasingly come to be regarded by the society as wholly aliens and undesirable elements in Russia," believes Tuaev.

Media lawyer Musa Pliyev considers “what happened as a provocation, which has nothing to do with the law, the fight against extremism, and, even more, illegal immigration.”

“These operations are carried out jointly by several law enforcement agencies, the Federal Security Service, the police, and the Federal Migration Service. Special services are looking for people involved in radical Muslim organizations, without going into details, whether they are dangerous or not,” states the Head of Information-analytical Center "Sova," Alexander Verkhovskiy.

"It is absolutely unclear why they invade and detain everybody? Especially that those who are involved in this are well aware of the fact that most of the detainees have nothing to do with extremism," explains the expert.

State Control, Olympic Games, and Elections

This kind of pressure played by the authorities against Muslims only generates growth of distrust towards them from the rest of society.

The increased interest that the authorities have toward Muslim communities is connected to the authorities' attempts to quickly restore order in those areas that for decades have been neglected, believes the member of the Board of Experts of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Abdullah Mukhametov.

"In this case, this is the sphere of state's regulations of the registration of new Muslim communities and the construction of new mosques. As a result, throughout the country the growing Muslim communities fell into a kind of gray area, being not fully regulated by law. Now, though, officials woke up and decided to ‘restore order’ across the country, but in a way that is ill-considered, impulsive, tough, and forceful," says Mukhametov.

Such haste of the authorities to check all the mosques can also be associated with several factors, the first of which is that Russia will soon have to host the Olympic Games.

Before this major event, the Russian authorities want as quickly as possible to check all suspicious places, mosques, and prayer rooms, which for years were out of control.

Second, after the election of Vladimir Putin as president for another term, he abolished the practice of appointing governors in Russian regions through the Kremlin and returned to the practice of electing governors by direct vote of residents in most regions of  the country, except the republics of the North Caucasus. In such major regions of Russia, as Moscow and St. Petersburg, current authorities made one of their main points in their election programs to fight against migrants and the growing number of mosques.

In the end, this kind of pressure played by the authorities against Muslims only generates the growth of distrust towards them from the rest of society, the growing alienation of Muslim youth from the rest of the country, and the loss of their sense of common homeland, which is fair to all citizens of the country, says Muhammad Tuaev.

Related Links:
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Dr. Ruslan Kurbanov, PhD in Political Science, is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a senior research fellow of the Institute for Oriental Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences, and the director of Al-Tair Foundation.

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