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Arctic Muslims

Published: May 11, 2007 (Issue # 1270)



  • The Nurd Kamal mosque, residential buildings and smelters in the arctic city of Norilsk last month.
    Photo: Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

  • The Nurd Kamal mosque in Norilsk.
    Photo: Denis Sinyakov / Reuters

NORILSK, Russia Mukum Sidikovs grandfather left Norilsk after surviving the labor camps of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Sidikov, caretaker of the worlds most northerly mosque, retraced his grandfathers footsteps in search of well-paid work in the Russian Arctic.

Now he estimates the city is home to about 50,000 Muslims just under one-quarter of the regions population of about 210,000. Most are from Azerbaijan and the Russian republic of Dagestan and work as traders or construction workers.

But as pay levels no longer compare so favorably with other Russian cities and Norilsk restricts access for foreigners, Sidikov says fellow Muslims no longer come here.

The population is getting smaller. People are leaving, said Sidikov, 40, an ethnic Uzbek born and raised in Kyrgyzstan.

The Nurd Kamal mosque stands exposed on the edge of modern Norilsk, where temperatures drop 50 degrees Celsius below zero (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit). Polar winds whip its golden roof and snowdrifts pile against the turquoise walls in winter.

People work for pennies. They come here and lose their health. Every second person is ill, said Sidikov.

A city built on one of the worlds richest metals deposits, Norilsks first smelter was built by Gulag prisoners in the 1930s and today three plants send smoke thick with sulphur into the air.

The city was last year named among the worlds 10 most polluted places by independent environmental action group The Blacksmith Institute. Its main employer, Norilsk Nickel, is investing heavily in cutting emissions.

There are over 20 million Muslims in Russia, approximately 14 percent of the countrys 140 million population. The Central Asians and Dagestanis are likely to be Sunni, while those from Azerbaijan are most likely to be Shia. There is no antagonism between the sects in Norilsk and many Soviet Muslims are not among the strictest practitioners of Islam.

There are many Muslims, but few come to the mosque. They work all day and in the evening they are tired, Sidikov said.

The mosque, opened in 1998, was built by Mukhtad Bekmeyev, an ethnic Tatar and Norilsk native now residing in the Black Sea city of Sochi, nearly 4,000 kilometers away. He named the mosque after his parents and will pay for its restoration this year.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 1


Bikers from all around the world will gather to take part in a parade, extreme shows and rock concerts during the International Biker Festival that revs its engines today and runs through Aug. 3 near Olgino Hotel, 4/2 Primorskogo Shosse.


The Peter and Paul Fortress will be turned into an open-air cinema today and tomorrow as part of the 5th International Short and Animation Film Festival. A huge screen across the fortress walls will air short films non-stop with board games, photo sessions and other activities also on offer for visitors. For more information, visit www.opencinemafest.ru



Saturday, Aug. 2


Gatchina Palace Park Museum will host its second annual Night of Light, an impressive audio-visual show across the night sky. Tickets are 600 rubles ($16).


If graphic design is more your thing then check out Illustration Day, where you will be able to visit an exhibition, attend lectures by professionals and even show experts some of your own work. The event starts at noon at Zona Deystvia, 73 Ligovsky Prospekt. The entrance fee is 350 rubles ($10).



Sunday, Aug. 3


History lovers shouldnt miss the chance to see reenactments of World War I battles in Pushkin at noon. Besides exciting war scenes, visitors can enjoy live music, historical costumes, an equestrian show and a fancy-dress parade starting from the Moscow gates.


Garage Sale, the popular and growing flea market where nothing is priced over 500 rubles ($14.11), starts today at noon in Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Be sure to get in early to score a bargain. Entry costs 50 rubles ($1.40)



Monday, Aug. 4


Continue the working week with a calm and steady mind with a free yoga lesson at 7 p.m. in the Bukvoyed store at 23A Vladimirsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Aug. 5


Visit The Romanov Dynasty doll exhibition today, where more than fifty porcelain dolls depicting Russian rulers, and made by Olina Ventzel, will be on show. The exhibition continues through Aug. 31 in Sheremetyev Palace, 34 Fontanka Naberezhnaya.



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