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Thursday, March 31, 2016

St Petersburg Blue Mosque

Date: 21st October 2015

The St Petersburg Mosque, when opened in 1913 was the largest mosque in Europe outside Turkey with its minarets of 49 meters in height and the dome is 39 meters high. The mosque is situated in downtown St Petersburg. It can accommodate up to 5 thousand worshippers. No one can provide an accurate number of Muslim living in the city, but it is close to a million people according to some source. The mosque foundation stone was laid in 1910 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of Abdul Ahat Khan in Bukhara. By that time, the Muslim community of the Russian then the country capital exceeded 8,000 people. The projected structure was capable of accommodating most of them at that time. The architect Nikolai Vasilyev patterned the mosque after Gur-e Amir, the tomb of Tamerlane in Samarkand. Its construction was completed by 1921. A visit to the mosque was on our top list itinerary. In addition to that, the mosque is listed as a must visit place to go on the very first day we arrived in the city. At the time of visit, 2 minarets were covered showing that these 2 areas were under a refurbishment.



Worshippers are separated by gender during a worship service; females worship on the first floor, while the males worship on the ground floor. The Mosque was once closed to worshipers for 16 years from 1940 to 1956 for some refurbishment works and seems to be under constant upgrading since then from the respond that I read in the trip adviser. Even at the time of visit, there's appearance of renovation works still ongoing at the external facade of the mosque, beside the 2 minaret that I mentioned above. And although female are supposed to worship on the first floor, but last year during our visit, there's a wooden barrier on the ground floor for females to perform prayers there. Anne has performed jama' isha and maghrib prayer the night after taking an ablution located at the mosque compound.


In 1882, Selim-Girei Tevkelev who in 1865 was appointed the Mufti of Orenburg turned to and obtained agreement from Minister Count Tolstoy with the requirement for a mosque in St. Petersburg. In 1906, the Minister formed a special committee headed by Ahun Ataulla Bayazitov to collect about 750,000 rubles within 10 years for the construction of the mosque. They organised collections in towns and providences of Russia and received donations from many sponsors. In addition, the committee input securities in total amount of 142,000 rubles and also stamps for mosque's project. The biggest donor was Said Abdoul Ahad, Emir of Bochara who undertook all expenses for the building.


Muslims from 22 different nationalities live in St. Petersburg city, the majority of them being Tatars, Azeris, Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Chechens and the Arabs. Nowadays the recently restored Mosque of Saint Petersburg is still one of the largest in Europe. The Mosque is the only functioning as place for the Muslim to gather for prayers especially an obligatory Friday Jam'maah prayer imposed to Muslim man, as well as a leading educational and cultural center of Saint Petersburg. The mosque is situated in downtown St Petersburg, in a symbolic location which is just opposite the Peter and Paul's Fortress. Both the mosque and the fortress are in the city centre. Its azure dome is perfectly visible from the Trinity Bridge across the Neva. Tourist will have no difficulties in searching for it.


The permission to purchase the mosque symbolic site location was given by Emperor Nicholas II in Peterhof on 3 July 1907. It was in autumn season where the committee approved the project by architect Nikolai Vasilyev and the engineer Stepan Krichinsky. The construction was overseen by academician Alexander von Hohen. The building facade was made by combining both oriental ornaments and turquoise blue mosaic, a synonym colors to other famous blue mosque in the world, including the pride of Malaysian, Shah Alam Blue Mosque. There's a comment that I read from a tourist questioning about the way an Imam's recited prayer while he was following behind during his visit, he said, he thought that the mosque belong to Shia's group but suspected the imam was a Sunni. One thing for sure, one can differentiate the different sect by looking at the mosque design. You would be able to see the different if you review Malaysia Shah Alam Blue Mosque at the given link and Istanbul Blue Mosque vis-a-vis St Peterburg Mosque. I leave it to you to explore as I would not like to debate the sect separation in Islam, following the partition of Christian churches which are not healthy but happening. I just want to call my self a Muslim no matter what. 



Back to the facts of the mosque history. On 3 February 1910, the brick laying ceremony was performed by Ahun Bayazitov, attended by representatives from the government, religious and social figures. Among those who attended were Mohammed Alim Khan, the ambassadors of Ottoman Empire and Persia, and Tevkelev, the leader of the Muslims party in the Duma. Construction was slow and it was often said due to division of Russian Revolution that takes place after that. The next decade would be the most turbulent in Russia’s history as it brought World War I, the 1917 October Revolution and the 1917–1923 civil war. Though the first prayers were held in the unfinished mosque on February 22, 1913, in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, construction took a full decade to complete. It was finally officially open on 30th April 1920.


The walls were made with grey granite and the dome and both minarets are covered with mosaic ceramics of sky-light-blue colour. Skilled craftsmen from Central Asia took part working on the mosque. The facades are decorated with sayings from Koran using the characteristic Arabian calligraphy. Internal columns are made from green marble. Women pray on the first floor, above the western part of the hall. The mosque was covered by huge special made carpets woven by the Central Asian craftsmen.



In 1940 Soviet authorities banned services and turned the building into a medical equipment storehouse. During the Second World War St. Petersburg Mosque was closed and was made into a warehouse. At the request of the first Indonesian President, Soekarno, 10 days after his visit to the city, the mosque was returned to the Muslim Religious community of St. Petersburg in 1956. A major restoration of the mosque was carried out in 1980. A minor refurbishment, like I said earlier is still ongoing. I wish to invite Muslim tourist from all over the world to pay a visit, at least recorded a prayer in this lovely mosque as remembrance and faith affirmation to our creater, the One and Only Allah that we worship.


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