Even though today there are about three million Muslims living in Moscow, the convenience to practice the religion in this capital of Russia is not as nice as in several parts of Russia namely the Republic of Tatarstan, Chechnya, or Dagestan. This can be seen from the government’s rejection to building more mosques in the city. For such a quite large number of believer of Islam, there are only four allowed mosques to be constructed in Moscow; Memorial Mosque, Yardyam Mosque, Moscow Cathedral Mosque, and Old Mosque or Istoricheskaya Mosque. Compared to the number of Muslim populations in the city, four mosques are not sufficient. During winter, especially on Friday when Muslim men come to mosque to pray together, many of them should bear the cold weather by praying outside on the street because the mosques can’t accommodate all of them.
Diversity in religion and ethnicity is inevitable in Moscow because it is the capital of the nation and the place where immigrants come to work, study and more. But it seems like peaceful coexistence still needs to be worked on in the city. We will now see the history of Islam Moscow by listing down 5 legendary facts about Istoricheskaya Mechet or The Old Mosque that has been witnessing the long struggle of Muslims in the capital of Russia.
1. The History
Mosques in Moscow has been around and functioning for many centuries. Pictures of minarets with crescents can be seen on the medieval engravings of Moscow. In 1712, in the Tatars settlement in Moscow, a mosque was built on a yard of a man named Sulmamit-Murza Simeni. That was the first mosque ever constructed in the city. In 1770’s a plague epidemic spread and killed most of the worshippers in the settlement including the owner of the yard where the mosque stood. The site was then sold by the heir of the merchant until it ended being the possession of Nazarbay Khoshalov.
Located in Bolshkaya Tatarskaya Street in Zamoskvorechye, The Old Mosque of Moscow was built in 1823 after the former one got destroyed in fire in 1812 after the Battle of Borodino when almost the whole city was abandoned. The Moscow Governor-General gave permission for the new mosque to be constructed with term that the facade of the building should not be much different from the neighboring houses. When it was completed, Nazarbay Khoshalov transferred the mosque to the community and can be used by public.
2. The Expansion
In 1882, the mosque was rebuilt after a petition was made by three of the mosque’s most influential people; Hayretdin Ageev, Ibrahim Devishev and Salih Yerzin. They thought the mosque needed to be expanded because it could only accommodate 300 worshippers at that time. And so, the mosque was expanded along the eastern and western facades, and then minarets were added to both of the extensions as well as over the roof of the main building. The capacity then increased to 1,500 people.
3. The Shut Down
During the Soviet Union era, religious practice was banned and worshipping places were closed down including The Old Mosque. Its function was altered in 1937 into a printing house and civil defense headquarters, military registration and enlistment office. In 1967, all of the minarets were destroyed to erase the mosque’s identity as a worshipping space.
4. The Reopening
From 1944 to 1947, the Muslim community in Moscow tried to get the mosque back, but to no avail. The fight didn’t stop there because at the end of 1980’s several of the Tatar community elders repeatedly asked for the mosque to be returned to the believers. The mission succeeded in January 1991 when the Old Mosque was officially handed back to the Moscow Muslims. A year after that, at the expense of the embassy of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Moscow, the mosque was reconstructed and then reopened for public in 1993. At that time, one minaret was already built back.
5. The Functions of the Old Mosque
Being a community mosque, Istoricheskaya Mechet is a very active religious place. Until today, the mosque serves these functions:
- Five-time prayers
- Friday prayer
- Arabic and the basics of Islam courses, held in Russian and Tatar language
- Religious ritual services, namely holy-days prayers
- Muslim wedding
Compared to many other significant mosques in Russia, the Old Mosque is a very humble establishment. The one minaret, the one story, the simple facade in white and terracotta and the fact that it’s situated just around the corner of a street. It is just like a mosque next-door people would regularly visit to pray in. But, being the oldest mosque in Moscow, its historical value is what makes it very special and close to the heart of Muslims in Russia generally and Moscow particularly. Not many tourists visit this place, especially because there is no tours around the mosque – unlike other grand mosques in Russia. But many of them, who know the story of the mosque and how it has become a symbol of Moscow Muslim’s glory, would snap some pictures of the building, while Muslims from around the world would visit the Old Mosque as a part of their personal pilgrimage.
As an important part of the capital of Russia, The Old Mosque has a very elaborate website that you can visit as well as social media pages. They provide lessons and lectures online also live view of the activities inside the mosque. You can also see sketches of the mosque from the first time it was built up to the most recent one. That was the 5 legendary facts about Istoricheskaya Mechet or The Old Mosque of Moscow, Russia. Very strong and impressive ones, don’t you think?