MOSCOW -- Moscow authorities have demolished the Central Mosque, the Russian capital's oldest, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.
The mosque on Moscow's Vypolzovy Street was built in 1904 on the initiative and with the financial support of Tatar businessman Salikh Yerzin. It was torn down on September 11.
Rushan Abbasov, the head of the Central Mosque's communications department, told RFE/RL the building was demolished after it became clear that deep cracks in its walls made it unsafe.
He said the mosque will be replaced by a new and much-larger building, which is badly needed by Moscow's growing Muslim population.
The Central Mosque was the residence of Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, who is also the mosque's imam.
Gainutdin supported the building's demolition, saying it would free the space to build a larger Islamic center.
Meanwhile, the leader of an unofficial Islamic congregation in Moscow, Albir Krganov, said the destruction of the historic building is a barbaric act that will lead to the de-Tatarization of Moscow's Muslim community.
Rustam Rakhmatullin, an activist fighting for the preservation of Moscow's historical heritage, also criticized the Central Mosque's demolition.
"It's true that the old building couldn't accommodate all the Muslims who came to pray," he said. "But that doesn't mean the mosque had to be destroyed."
There have been several attempts to construct mosques in various Moscow districts in the last several years, but they faced strong opposition from the predominantly Orthodox Christian local population.
Read more in Tatar here