Russian region inaugurates new Muslim holiday

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Tatarstan, a majority Muslim region in central Russia, has inaugurated a new annual holiday on May 21 to celebrate its adoption of Islam, a newspaper reported Friday.

Islam became the region's official religion in 922 AD, local parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin told the Kommersant daily, after the body passed a bill Thursday introducing the holiday.

In a June letter to Russia's two houses of parliament, lawmakers in Tatarstan called for the anniversary to be adopted as a national holiday too, claiming 22 regions supported the initiative.

But scholars and religious leaders disagree on the exact date of the establishment of Islam in Russia.

Muslim leaders in the Russian Caucasus argue that Islam first spread to their region much earlier, when in 642 Arab armies seized the region's main city of Derbent, one of Russia's oldest settlements.

Tatarstan, located in the Volga river valley around 850 kilometres (530 miles) east of Moscow, has around four million inhabitants, 50 percent of whom are traditionally Muslim, ethnic Tartars.

Earlier this year, Russia, where most people describes themselves as Russian Orthodox, introduced a new state holiday to mark the nation's adoption of Christianity in 988 AD.

© 2010 AFP

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