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24 February 2018
17 June 2015

Ilya Varlamov: Muslims need to work with the public opinion

The famous public figure and blogger Ilya Varlamov’s viewpoint with regard to mass Salat performed outdoors and a lack of mosques in Moscow was a welcome surprise for the editors of IslamReview. Our correspondent talked to the well-known photographer about this in more detail.

The issue of prohibition against mosques construction in Russian cities has become one of the most concerning one for the Russian Ummah. IslamReview has already presented an overview of the most challenging places where even a brief reference of mosques construction makes flesh crawl. In the meantime, prohibition against Muslim temples construction demonstrates the biased attitude of the Russian society towards followers of Islam. Misconceptions and stereotypes about Muslims being alien to Russia promoted by aggressive media propaganda during the last decade are quite difficult to challenge. Yet, this is not impossible.

There are individuals who do not shrink away from passing unpopular among common people judgments. The fact that other people do not share their point of view does not mean that it is not sensible or currently important. The famous public figure and businessman Ilya Varlamov is one of such brave individuals. His blog on LiveJournal has about 68,000 subscribers and it is at the top of the Russian social sector capital of “LiveJournal”.

Ilya Varlamov: Muslims need to work with the public opinion

- Ilya, in your opinion, what are the reasons for the Moscow City Council refusing to allocate some land to build a mosque?

- These are the same reasons as for gay pride march ban. On the one hand, there are no any legitimate grounds for banning this. On the other hand, there is an issue within a society. The government is not eager to come to an unpopular decision as the inter-ethnic issue is quite contentious at the moment.

- What would you say to those who do not think that the lack of mosques is a problem and suggest not raising this issue at all?

-I am not the one who can tell if there are not enough mosques in Moscow or there are too many of them. I am not a Muslim and I do not go to mosques. This is why it is quite difficult for me to say something with regard to this. This is up to the Muslims to decide whether there are enough mosques for them in Moscow or not.

Ilya Varlamov: Muslims need to work with the public opinion

I think that if someone is not happy about so many Muslims having to pray outdoors just because they do not have enough space in the mosque, there should be more mosques so that all the religious rituals are performed appropriately. As an alternative, sports stadiums or something else can be used. But it is not up to me. The only issue is the Muscovites’ indignation. Twice a year they find out that Muslims celebrate their two holidays outside occupying driveway and all the surrounding flowerbeds and pavement. It looks quite unusual. But it is just due to the fact that there is no other way to perform the required rituals properly.

-What do you think the Muslims should do to get things moving so that there are more mosques in Moscow?

-As I have already mentioned, the problem of mosques construction is so unpopular in Russia because of the inter-ethnic issue. It is clear that Muslims need to cooperate with each other and work with the public opinion. There are many problems with regard to this and everybody knows about it. As a starting point, Muslims can focus on behaviour. Unfortunately, a lot of representatives of the Caucasian and Central Asian republics who arrive in Moscow do not always behave reasonably. This is why the natives of Moscow get so irritated. I believe everybody knows the way the Chechens, especially the young Chechens, Tajiks and Uzbeks conduct themselves in Moscow… I guess if there is an expat community, it should work with people, explain them how to conduct themselves appropriately so that not to annoy the natives. For instance, I enjoy travelling. When I come to Chechnya, I do my best to behave the way it is accepted over there. When I go to some other country during Ramadan, I try not to eat a sandwich outdoors so that not to tempt and annoy people who are keeping a fast. In other words, I do my best to be as reasonable as possible. The problem is that not all Muslims coming to Moscow think this way. Sometimes they seem to trigger negative emotions absolutely in vein. Instead, they receive the defense reaction which we can observe now. Consequently, any statement about building more mosques provokes so much criticism, anger and irritation. It is the sources which need to be detected and looked into.

Interview by Aydar Zinnatullin