Moscow's 'Ground Zero Mosque'?

By Elizabeth Weingarten

See if this scenario sounds familiar: Muslims in a large, international city want to build a mosque (or community center). The city's non-Muslim residents protest. A media frenzy ensues.

It's happening again, this time in Russia's capital. Muslim leaders in Tekstilshchiki, a south eastern district of Moscow, say they need another mosque for the city's 1.5 million Muslims -- right now, the city has five. The lack of prayer space has triggered frustration among Muslims, and even traffic problems: When some they couldn't secure a space in Moscow's largest mosque on Prospekt Mira Avenue at the end of Ramadan, many simply rolled out their prayer carpets on the street in front of it.

Notably, groups that oppose the new mosque have tried to anchor their doubts to a relatively innocuous cause: the city's greenery. The city plans to build it on what is now a park. Reportedly, the Russian media have named the space " the Russian Ground Zero." 

The piece of land that the city administrators gave the Muslim community in the south-eastern district of Moscow is almost as big as a football field. It is also the single green spot between massive brick buildings, rusty garages and modern apartment blocks. Mothers come here to push their prams around, and dog owners play fetch with their pets.

It was shortly after the post-Ramadan traffic problems that the citizens of Tekstilshchiki gathered for the first time in this park where the mosque is supposed to be built. The organization Moj Dvor -- which means "My Courtyard" -- called for signatories to a petition against the construction. Around 300 residents turned up. Photos of the crowd worshipping on the Moscow street were circulated with the question "Do we need this?" written on them.

Mikhail Butrimov, the leader of My Courtyard, turned up the demonstration in a checked shirt. "We are not against the mosque, we are for the park," he said and explained that he had been asked by local residents to help.

Read the full story at Spiegel Online.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/10/moscows-ground-zero-mosque/64810/