An aerial view taken with a drone shows members of Russia’s Muslim community praying in a street outside the Central Mosque during Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) celebrations in Moscow, in this September 1, 2017 photo. (AFP)
For Russia’s 20 million Muslims, the visit by King Salman is an unprecedented and morale-boosting opportunity to welcome the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
This year, 23,500 Muslims came from Russia to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for Hajj, an increase of 7,500 on last year, when numbers were depleted by construction work and the Syrian crisis.
Muslims comprise about 15 percent of the population and play a key role in Russian society. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 10 Russian Muslims won gold medals out of the 23 gold medalists from the Russian Federation. They mostly live in the Volga-Ural region and the Northern Caucasus, and major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Muslims are predominant in republics such as Bashkortostan and Tatarstan in the Volga-Urals, and in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia in the Northern Caucasus.
Abdurrahman Al-Rasi, Saudi ambassador to Russia, told Arab News’s sister paper Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that King Salman’s visit would boost bilateral relations. “We will see a qualitative leap in various domains of cooperation,” he said.
Al-Rasi described the visit as important in its content and timing, given the historic and long-term relations between the countries.
“The visit crowns the Saudi-Russian relations following the trips made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Russia in the last two years,” he said.
The Saudi diplomat also said the king’s visit would have a great impact, not only on boosting mutual relations between both countries, but on the situation in the entire region.
“This trip will surely help in finding solutions to many crises in the region,” he said.