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Opening the Qol Sharif Mosque today in Kazan 24 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the Islamic world congregated today in Kazan, the capital of Russia's republic of Tatarstan, to attend the official inauguration of the Qol Sharif Mosque, Russia's largest. The ceremony is part of festivities to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the city's founding.

Symbolically, it was in Arabic -- the universal language of Islam -- that Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish general-secretary of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), delivered the inaugural speech at the foot of the Qol Sharif mosque:

"In the name of Allah the merciful," Ihsanoglu said. "We address our prayers to Allah, his prophets and all those who believe in him. May his peace and his blessing be on you."

Religious and political leaders from the entire Islamic world were in attendance. Delegates from Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and even Belarus, joined thousands of believers to perform their Friday prayers after the muezzin's azan, or first call. (Listen to the opening call to prayer. Real Audio, Windows Media)

Located within the Kazan Kremlin walls, Qol Sharif is the most prominent of the city's mosques. It is also Russia's largest. Its construction started nine years ago on the site where the old Qol Sharif mosque stood when the Russians conquered the city in 1552.

The mosque is named after Imam Seid Qol Sharif, who defended Kazan against the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

But, as Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev said on 24 June, the new building is meant to represent the multiethnic character of the small central Russian republic.

"The Qol Sharif Mosque stands next to the [Orthodox] Blagoveshchensk Cathedral," Shaimiev said, "and this has a profound meaning which is tied to the aspirations of the multiethnic peoplesof the republic to live in peace and friendship. They stand next to each other as a symbol of mutual understanding between the country's two leading faiths."

Following the Russian conquest of Kazan, the city endured attempts to eliminate Islam. The more liberal policy of Empress Catherine the Great, however, led to a strong Islamic revival starting from the 18th century.
"Today, the entire Islamic world rejoices to see that the Tatar nation, which is the ultimate point of civilization reached by the religion of Islam, has managed to maintain its attachment to Islam and its civilization." - Ihsanoglu


The next blow came in the 20th century, when the Soviet leadership persecuted Muslims and Christians alike. When the Soviet regime collapsed in the early 1990s, there was only one mosque left in Kazan. Today, there are 21.

OIC Secretary-General Ihsanoglu paid tribute on 24 June to the Tatars' ability to maintain their faith throughout history:

"Today, the entire Islamic world rejoices to see that the Tatar nation, which is the ultimate point of civilization reached by the religion of Islam, has managed to maintain its attachment to Islam and its civilization," he said."The religion of Islam is one of the founding elements of its history and culture, and it resisted all attempts made over the past decades to alter its unique character."

Shamiev concurred, describing the white-and blue-tiled Qol Sharif mosque as a "spiritual bridge."

"The Qol Sharif Mosque is not only the main mosque of the republic, it is also a new symbol of Kazan and Tatarstan. It is also a spiritual center for all Tatars. It is a spiritual bridge that connects our past with the future," he said.

Tatar authorities also hope the mosque will prove to be one of Kazan's main attractions, luring tourists from the Islamic world.

The city is expected to welcome tens of thousands of guests when it celebrates the 1,000th anniversary of its founding in August.

Listen to the opening call to prayer. (Real Audio, Windows Media)

Listen to today's Koran reading. (Real Audio, Windows Media


See also:

Opening Of Country's Biggest Mosque Highlights Kazan's Millennium

Timeline: History Of Kazan

Fact Box: Muslims In Russia
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