World Bulletin / News Desk
As the world prepares itself for the Sochi Winter Olympics, which kicks off this weekend, Russia is preparing itself to host tourists from all over the world who are due to arrive at the Black Sea venue in the Caucasus.
However, while the location of the games is somewhat of a controversian issue, particularly for the Circassian diaspora who were driven out of their homes in Sochi in the millions by the Russian tsar in the late nineteenth century, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Circassian Muslims, the lack of a mosque in the city is also attracting criticism.
Despite preparing for this year's winter games since 2007, in what Russian president Vladimir Putin describes as "the biggest construction site on the planet," the lack of a mosque for Sochi's 20,000 Muslim residents may be a cause for concern for a city that is supposed to be hosting guests from all over the world.
The Muslims of Sochi have been campaigning for a mosque since 1996, but to no avail. "I'm so tired of writing letters—whole files—it just drags on and on," a Muslim organizer told the Norwegian news organization Forum 18 in 2006. In 2009 the Russian Muftis Council also asked for then-president and now-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev's support for a mosque in Sochi. Although Medvedev at the time agreed, the project was not followed up.
Instead, the authorities claimed that there was already a mosque nearby, referring to a one-room wood-frame building 50 miles away in a village of just 180 people, nowhere near the city's near light rail line. This of course is not sufficient for the Muslim residents of Sochi, who are already forced to pray is small, packed basements. Moreover, this is the only recognized mosque in or around the city, after the last mosque in the city was closed in 1930. There is however and Islamic Center with prayer rooms for men and women, but this will also not suffice the influx of Muslims expected to arrive for the games.
Talks are still ongoing to establish a mosque in Sochi, but doubt is being cast as many mosque projects that were approved in other cities were scrapped after public protests. The capital city Moscow has been a hotspot for protests, where the city's two million Muslims are forced to make do with just four mosques.