Russia Helps Its Muslims Take the Journey to Mecca

December 16, 2007


Source: The New York Times

Gulsine K. Fatakhudinova, a 56-year-old Tatar Muslim, came lugging suitcases to pray at the lime-green mosque in central Moscow — one of dozens of people who arrived one recent day bundled in the weighty coats, fur hats and other winter garb they would soon cast off, at least temporarily.

Barred by the Soviets for decades from carrying out Islam’s most sacred rite, such pilgrims were among the tens of thousands of Russian Muslims traveling to Saudi Arabia to join the masses in Mecca for the annual pilgrimage, or hajj, to one of Islam’s holiest sites. Their numbers have swelled in the last several years thanks largely to Russia’s growing wealth and increasing stability in the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, including in Chechnya, where the effects of nearly a decade of war have begun to fade.

Ms. Fatakhudinova is making the journey for the second time.

“This year I am going for my mother, for my dead mother, who was unable to go on the hajj during her life,” she said. She explained that her family had always been religious, even during the Soviet era, but had neither the means nor permission from the state to make the trip before her mother died.