Russian Muslims flood into streets for Eid festival
Muslims in Russia Tuesday crammed into mosques to fete the end of the Ramadan holy month, with thousands unable to fit inside spilling out into the streets and triggering huge traffic jams.
Tens of thousands of Muslims gathered in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg for worship on Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the month-long Ramadan holy fast.
Russia's Muslim citizens -- usually estimated at over 20 million people concentrated in the two main cities, Caucasus and Volga region -- have been joined in recent years by a huge influx of migrant workers, mostly from ex-Soviet Central Asia.
"It's a sacred holiday for all Muslims. Not going is out of the question," said 45-year-old Akhmed Gusseinov, one of the tens of thousands gathered near the central mosque in Moscow just north of the city centre.
About 50,000 people came to the central mosque to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, known to Russia's mainly Turkic Muslims as Uraza Bayram, an AFP reporter estimated from the scene.
Crowds spilled over the neighbourhood covering even the fences and lamp posts as hundreds of policemen patrolled the area on horseback and guided people through metal detectors on the perimeter of the building.
In a city not without inter-ethnic tensions, several passers-by appeared irritated by the inconveniences caused by the mass turnout.
"We can't pass anywhere, everything is blocked! This is central Moscow! It's scandalous!" complained 50-year-old area resident Nina Safronova.
Perched on the dense rows of prayer mats, Moscow's Muslims heard from the head of Russia's council of Muftis Ravil Gainutdin that the mosque will soon be "rebuilt and enlarged".
Some 20,000 worshippers gathered near the Saint-Petersburg central mosque, the city district administration said, citing the police. Local residents told AFP that people prayed right on a busy avenue, blocking traffic.
President Dmitry Medvedev wished Russian Muslims good health and happiness, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised the community for "fruitful, multi-faceted work" to build peace and harmony in the country.
"Our prayer today is about ending the bloodshed and blasts, the deaths of people in various countries around the world," Gainutdin said in his sermon.
© 2011 AFP