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Russian Muslims ask for increased Haj quota

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 5 Jul 2011 06:58 PM
Author: Reuters
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By Denis Dyomkin

NALCHIK, Russia, July 5 (Reuters) - Spiritual leaders from Russia's large minority of Muslims asked President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday to press Saudi Arabia to increase the number of worshippers allowed to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Almost three million Muslims flock to Mecca every year for Haj, a duty every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must perform at least once in their lifetime. Riyadh allocates quotas for Muslims around the world.

Russia, home to 20 million Muslims, or around one seventh of the population, is allowed to send 20,000 Muslims a year for Haj, Mufti Ismail Berdiyev told Medvedev.

They were attending a meeting with other Muslim leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria's capital Nalchik in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

"So many people want to go. Maybe you could bring this up in talks with Saudi Arabia?" asked Berdiyev, who heads the Muslim community in Karachay-Cherkessia, not far from Nalchik.

Since the fall of Communism 20 years ago, Russia's Muslims have embraced a spiritual revival after decades of Soviet authorities forcing all religions underground.

Mosques across the North Caucasus are swelling in number, learning Arabic has become popular amongst the young and Muslim media outlets are sprouting up across the country.

Medvedev vowed to bring it up with Saudi officials next time they meet. "We have open dialogue with them on all issues," he told Berdiyev and other muftis.

Around half of Russia's Muslims live in the North Caucasus, a patchwork of mountainous republics on its southern fringe, also home to a growing Islamist insurgency.

The rest live mostly in the oil and petrochemicals producing regions of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, 2,000 km (1,242 miles) northeast of the Caucasus.

Two years ago the leader of the volatile Chechnya region in the North Caucasus, Ramzan Kadyrov, started offering free flights to Mecca for 400 Chechens a year, using state funds. (Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman)

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