Do That in a Mosque

 The story of Novosibirsk’s first Muslim place of worship  11/29/2013, 15:43
Do That in a Mosque
photography by sergei mordvinov, the s.n. balandin history of siberian architecture museum, and the historical heritage of siberia publishing house

Sib.fm continues its series of publications about Novosibirsk’s architectural landmarks that have managed to get lost among high-rise buildings and forgotten by tourist guides. This account is about the Novonikolayevsk Mohammedan Society’s mosque. In less than 100 years, the unique example of religious architecture in the city changed its layout, function and ownership several times — from the Siberian Muslims’ centre to a firefighters’ club and road builders’ office.

Sib.fm’s editorial staff would like to thank the S.N. Balandin History of Siberian Architecture Museum for their assistance in preparing this article

The first mosque in Novonikolayevsk was built exclusively at the expense of believers — ordinary citizens and wealthy Tatar merchants. In 1907, after numerous motions and appeals, the Muslims received a 230-square-metre plot of land on Andreyevskaya Square, at the time a large piece of wasteland. Other options were considered, but were deemed inappropriate by the authorities or residents for various reasons. A little later, a brick primary school and circus tent were built nearby.

A couple of years later, a design for a wooden mosque was approved by the Tomsk Provincial Government. In their petitions, believers often pointed out that they had to pray in the street, sometimes in the rain and very uncomfortable conditions that were not very conducive to focusing on the matter in hand.

The wooden mosque option sat well with the majority, primarily due to the low cost of building materials. It was planned that the interior of the mosque would have two rows of windows and a mezzanine gallery, with the entrance under a wooden minaret. Of course, the building was oriented towards Mecca, and therefore turned at an angle to the local street grid.

According to Muslim activists, the building was supposed to accommodate no less than 300 people.

860 Muslims lived in Novonikolayevsk in 1910

The mosque was completed in 1916 and soon became an important social and religious centre in the city. It is noteworthy that the coming revolutionary turmoil had little effect on the Muslims’ position and status — after all, the Civil War and resistance to Soviet rule lasted much longer in Siberia than in European Russia. Moreover, the Siberian Muslims Congress was held in the mosque in 1927 and approved a memorandum about the structure of faithful Muslims’ spiritual lives in the new historical conditions. However, local authorities rejected the document, opposing the preservation of national societies that had developed on the basis of cultural and religious traditions.

Ten years later, a decree from the head of the city executive committee returned the land to the municipality and the building was taken away for administrative functions. Muslims led by their Imam, alongside Orthodox believers, Catholics and Buddhists who tried to keep their faith, were persecuted. The mosque was closed for renovation and its property was looted, while the minaret was almost immediately dismantled, so as not to bother the population, mobilised to fight vestiges of the past.

After reconstruction, an extension was added on to the building, increasing its length by 4.3 metres. Inside, the mezzanine balconies were dismantled, intermediate floors and ceilings were constructed, a staircase installed, and the high window frames were divided into two rows of small windows. As a result of these fast and unsophisticated actions, the spacious prayer house was turned into cramped offices. Responding to wartime needs, the building became a hospital, and then an out-patient clinic. The first fire station in the city, located nearby, set up a club there.

It is said that during training, novice firefighters set fire to the former mosque and took to extinguishing the flames with various degrees of haste depending on the task they had been set.

Novosibirsk’s fifth mosque is opening in autumn 2013

Then the premises were given over to shops and offices, before again being returned to state institutions.

In the 1990s, after numerous requests from Muslim organisations to return the land and building to the Mufti Council, there were hopes that the mosque’s original appearance would be restored. However, restoration work began only in 2011, when over 50% of the building, declared a historical monument, had already been lost. It was expected that the new old mosque would be opened in 2012.

At the moment, the interior and exterior decoration of the building is almost complete. The minaret and dome have been restored. In order to landscape the surrounding area, funds will be required from ordinary citizens and modern wealthy merchants, as of old.

Read this article
in Russian

The support of the local community wouldn’t hurt the mosque either: it may be returning to its historical site after 100 years, but in vastly altered surroundings. Stalin-era blocks of flats, a multitude of offices and garages and a busy road junction don’t make the most comfortable environment for a religious building. However, if friendly dialogue arises between visitors of these neighbouring facilities, it will be a lot easier for them all to co-exist, and the restored mosque will once again become one of the city’s religious and cultural centres.

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