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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

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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