Russia has witnessed a record surge in the number of mosques in recent decades, a deputy head of the presidential administration said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the XIX International Muslim Forum in Moscow, Magomedsalam Magomedov said the number of Muslim prayer houses has increased by 60 times in three decades.
In the Soviet era, Islam was tightly controlled, along with all other religions, and the number of officially recognized Muslim clerics was relatively small. The USSR also had a significant number of unrecognized Islamic clerics. In 1989, the authorities eased many of the restrictions.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, freedom of religion became a constitutional right in Russia, which saw a resurgence of Islam alongside other religions, primarily Orthodox Christianity.
“In 1991, the country had just 120 operating mosques and there are more than 7,000 of them now,” Magomedov told the forum. “Never in its history has our nation seen such numbers,” he added.
The deputy presidential administration chief also said that each year, up to 25,000 Russian Muslims make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, known as the Hajj. A total of 350,000 believers from Russia have done so over the past 30 years, he added.
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Moscow has consistently defended the religious views of Muslims during Koran-burning rows. This year there have been several cases of activists publicly tearing pages out of the Islamic holy book and setting it on fire, notably in Nordic countries. In June, a Swedish court allowed the Koran to be burned outside a mosque in Stockholm on Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday.
Such incidents have drawn protests from Muslims both in the Nordic countries and abroad. The authorities in those states usually condemn the acts, while arguing that they are protected under freedom of expression laws.
Commenting on the developments, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at that time that it was “a crime to incite religious hatred,” and that Russia would always uphold this stance.