A mosque in the village of Shamkhal, several kilometres north-west of the Daghestani capital of Makhachkala, was closed because according to official documents, the building should be a shop, authorities claim. Local worshippers have been prevented from entering the building for over a month.
Daghestani police shut down the Salafi mosque in Shamkhal on 16 May. Local residents claim that it happened right after a new police chief was installed.
‘The building was converted into a mosque, but documents were not issued. A completely different document is necessary for the mosque to function’, Caucasian Knot quoted Daghestan’s Interior Ministry as saying, adding that the owners of the building do not have the ‘title documents to a religious institution’.
According to parishioners of the mosque, they have had repeated fights with the local police to continue operating.
‘They only shut down our mosque, however there are more mosques in the village. Because they constantly clung to us and found faults, we registered with the Ministry of Justice as a "religious group", but even this did not stop them. Now they have found a new reason’, Khadjimurat, a young resident from the village told OC Media.
He says that since the mosque was closed, he has been forced to go to Makhachkala for Friday prayers.
‘It’s not only me. My friends and I drive in several cars and we go to Friday prayers to the city. We try not to miss prayers — especially during the month of Ramadan. To be honest it is not always comfortable to drive 15 km to the city and then back, and when there is a traffic-jam…’, he says.
Residents have appealed to Russian rights group Memorial for help. According to a lawyer for Memorial, Sirazhudin Datsiyev, what happening to Shamkhal mosque is clearly the police going out of their way to find fault.
‘There are many mosques in Daghestan functioning without any documents at all, they do not have any problems. This mosque for some reason has not been left in peace, and [the authorities] want to close it’, Datsiyev told OC Media.
Datsiyev says that according to locals, the imam of the Shamkhal Sufi mosque plays a significant role in this conflict .
‘According to the parishioners of the [closed] mosque, the Imam of a large Sufi mosque is putting pressure on the local police, demanding they close it. Locals also claim that past scandals were also provoked by this Imam, and parishioners of the Sufi mosque led by the Imam broke into the mosque in the past, and now they have achieved its closure’, he adds.
For now, parishioners of the closed mosque are still trying to resolve the problem and register the necessary documents. They do not rule out that even after that, police will find new reasons not to open their prayer house.