Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia or the Sakha Republic, in Russia, is regarded as the coldest city on Earth. Just like the rest of Russia, the Muslim community constitutes an important part of the inhabitants of Yakutia. Nearly 2% of the population of Yakutia is Muslim and a study from 2019 shows that the Muslim population in Arctic Russia, including Yakutia, is growing rapidly. In this article, we will go over how life is for the Muslims living in the Arctic regions of Russia, especially Yakutia.
To begin with, the fact that Yakutia is host to a small population, where everyone is more or less a newcomer. This allows the Muslim community to be able to integrate quickly into the dynamic and fast-evolving socioeconomic environment. However, it doesn’t mean that Muslims here don’t have to face anxieties from the city authorities or the locals regarding the display of Islamic symbols. In fact, Muslims have had to struggle to integrate themselves into the Yakutian environment. They had to formulate a way of being Muslim non-traditionally in long-secularized environments. This struggle is not finished yet.
For instance, there was serious opposition to the construction of mosques and the Muslims in Yakutia had to rely on Muslim investors and contributions to help fund the construction of Muslim prayer areas. The first mosque in Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia, was erected in 1996. Over time, it expanded as the Muslim community in the country continued to aid the project for its expansion. In 2012, it became the world’s largest Arctic Mosque. Those Muslims who are not that well off, continue to make small donations and work for free to keep the mosque in shape. Today, the mosque receives up to 5,000 people during the main Islamic festivities, like Friday prayer or Eid prayer. There are various other mosques in Yakutia today, Alhumdulillah, as well as a prayer room in the more southerly city of Neryungri, that publishes the journal Islam v Iakutii (Islam in Yakutia).
Speaking of mosques in the Arctic regions of Russia, it is impossible not to mention Nord Kamal Mosque, the most northerly-situated mosque in the world. It is located in the city of Norilsk. Architecturally, this mosque is based on the Turkish style, having a minaret and a central dome. Although it’s a Sunni Mosque, it also welcomes Shias and hosts followers of other faiths on some occasions as well. There is a significant number of Muslims, living in Norilsk, who benefit from the presence of Nord Kamal Mosque. In fact, one-third of the population of Norilsk is Muslim. Besides the Russian Muslim converts, this includes the nationals of Azerbaijan, Tatarstan, Chechnya, and Central Asia, such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Moving on, halal food in Arctic regions isn’t readily available either, due to their poor infrastructure and broken connectivity with the mainland. To tackle this problem, each mosque in the region is in touch with a Muslim businessman who imports wholesale halal meat from Moscow or Russia’s European cities and sells it individually to families by WhatsApp or through the mosque. As for the other halal products, required for daily use, such as toothpaste and oils, many mosques import them from Gulf countries and sell them to the local Muslim community. On an important note, there have been scandals of fake ‘halal’ food in Arctic regions, including Yakutia. There have also been doubts about certain other practices from a religious point of view. So, the local Muslim population is always searching for answers as to what is halal and what is not.
Moving forward, Muslims of the Arctic regions also encounter a unique kind of difficulty during the Holy month of Ramadan. These regions experience a couple of phenomena, one around the summer solstice and the other around the winter solstice. The former results in little or no darkness in any twenty-four-hour period while the latter causes little or no daylight. Therefore, the traditional method of identifying the fasting period by means of the sunlight intensity cannot be used. So, during these times, Muslims in the Arctic regions have to adapt to one of the three solutions, advised by religious authorities, to determine the proper fasting period. Firstly, if there are major practical or health obstacles to their fasting in the prescribed month, they may replace the fasting days of Ramadan with substitute days at another time of the year. Secondly, they may follow the timings of the nearest Muslim community which does not face the midnight sun problem. Thirdly, they may follow the timings of the holy city of Mecca. Still, Muslims in Arctic regions choose to adhere to local time and fast during the period of extended daylight.
Proceeding ahead, another way that the migrant Muslims in the Arctic regions of Russia is that they face the issue of integrating their religion into their newly acquired Arctic identity. This identity crisis, in turn, makes it hard for them to adjust to their new surroundings and thrive.
Anyhow, as the Muslim population continues to grow in Yakutia, and its surrounding Arctic regions, the upcoming generation is able to settle well into the Russian norms, and integrate their Muslim identity with that of their homeland. The fact that Yakutia and the other Arctic regions are remote from the mainland, and more importantly, the rest of the Muslim Ummah, has empowered the local Muslim community to modify their lives and Islamic practices according to different contexts.
May Allah makes the lives of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Yakutia, as well as all the other Arctic regions of the world, easy. Ameen!