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

The biggest mosque in Russia opens on 24 June in Kazan as part of festivities marking the city's 1,000th anniversary. The rebuilding of the Qol Sharif Mosque began nearly 10 years ago. Its opening prayers Friday will be one of the main events during the Tatarstan capital's celebrations. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier and RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service report.

Prague, 23 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of Muslim faithful are waiting for the opening of the Qol Sharif Mosque, but the celebrations have already begun.

People have traveled from throughout the former Soviet Union to witness Imam Ramil Yunusov's opening of the mosque at the Kazan Kremlin.

The white-and-blue mosque is built on the site where the old Qol Sharif Mosque once stood. That mosque was destroyed, as were hundreds of other mosques in the region, after the Russian conquest of Kazan in 1552. Russian Orthodox Christianity became the official religion of the land. Within the walls of the Kazan Kremlin today, the new Qol Sharif Mosque stands opposite an Orthodox cathedral.

In addition to serving as a place of worship, the new mosque is also a tribute to the 16th-century heroic figure Qol Sharif. Nurulla Gharif, an historian and member of the Tatarstan Writers' Union, explained Qol Sharif's significance for Tatars today: "His name is written in golden letters in the history of the Tatars. When we speak about Qol Sharif, we imagine a person that was talented and devoted his life to the freedom of his people. He was a poet, a diplomat, and a religious person, one of the most famous people of Kazan."

The mosque is two-tiered, with the upper level reserved for worship, and the lower for museum excursions. The complex also has two pavilions and ornamental pools.

The Qol Sharif Mosque promises to be a main attraction in Kazan. Advertisements for Kazan hotels already boast of being within walking distance of the mosque.

Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev is evidently hoping the mosque will prove a lure for tourists. He has been quoted as saying, "It is better to see it once than to hear about it a hundred times."

Some 5,000 guests have been invited to attend the opening, although actual numbers are expected to be much higher.

Organization for the Islamic Conference Secretary-General Ekmeliddin Ihsanoglu, Kuwaiti Minister for Islamic Affairs Abdullah Ma'tuq al-Ma'tuq, the Iranian ambassador to Russia, and a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin are among those due to take part in the ceremony on 24 June.

See also:

Kazan: History Of A City

Kazan's Qol Sharif Mosque Opened

Fact Box: Muslims In Russia