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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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Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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