Moscow is banning the construction of new mosques, the latest sign of the growing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in Russia.
The four existing mosques in Russia’s largest city are overcrowded during the Muslim holidays. But Mayor Sergei Sobyanin declared this week that new ones will not be built because they are used by migrant workers, according to the Christian Science Monitor. He claimed that between 60 and 70 percent of Muslim worshipers are migrants.
One new mosque is currently under construction. But there won’t be any more, the mayor said.
“No new building permits will be issued. I think that’s enough mosques for Moscow,” Sobyanin told Russian daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
There’s already hostility toward Muslims in Moscow, and the mayor’s decision is sure to inflame tensions. It’s true that many Muslims worshipping in Moscow are migrant workers—there are 2 million of them, according to travel magazine Roads & Kingdoms.
But there are also 2 million Muslim residents of the city. And none of Moscow’s four existing mosques can hold more than 10,000 people. During holidays like Eid al-Adha, worshippers have resorted to unfurling the prayer mats on Moscow’s streets.
Russian Muslim activist Geydar Dzhemal says that Russian authorities have long tried to prevent construction of new mosques.
“They understand the politics of suppression—direct suppression,” Dzhemal told Voice of America last month. “And they don’t understand that this will create problems for themselves much worse then [sic] those they are trying to understand now.”
Targeting of migrants is not confined to Moscow. Russian authorities have rounded up hundreds of migrant workers in Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, according to Human Rights Watch.
The irony is that despite the crackdowns, officials have acknowledged the need for migrant workers.
Sobyanin, the Moscow mayor, said this week that his city’s economy “could not manage without them.”