At least 1.5 million Muslims in Russia’s capital form the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse demographic group.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been joined by the Turkish and Palestinian leaders at the ceremonial opening of the Russian capital’s new main mosque after 10 years of construction work.
The $170m mosque – entirely funded by private donations – unveiled on Wednesday, the eve of Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that is known as Kurban Bairam in Russia.
Putin, who has been fighting Muslim rebels in south Russia since coming to power in 1999, used his speech to emphasize the challenge of preventing Muslim radicalisation, praising the collaboration of the religious leaders of the country.
“Muslim leaders of Russia are courageously using their authority to resist the extremist propaganda. I’d like to express huge respect to these people who are carrying out a really heroic work…” he said.
Islam is the second largest religion in Russia, home to 23 million Muslims. The majority of them live in the country’s North Caucasian republics.
An estimated two million Muslims live in Moscow, which has seen an influx of people from the North Caucasus, Azerbaijan and the former Soviet states in Central Asia.
The new mosque – built on the site of a smaller, more than 100-year-old mosque destroyed in 2011 – can accommodate 10,000 worshippers, but it is still one of only six mosques in the city.
Calls from Muslim religious leaders to build more mosques have met with opposition from city officials and residents.