When Russia captivates and enchants

Pamelia Ysi event
Pamelia Khaled

Pamelia Khaled: On this Wednesday, August 23rd, 2015 President Vladimir Putin opened $170 million cost new grand mosque in Moscow with an urge of Russia’s Islamic leaders to stand against extremism. Though at this moment some 2,400 Russians are fighting with Islamic State in the Middle East unfortunately. Unveiling this beautiful new grand mosque, which is built of light stone and capped with turquoise and golden cupolas, Putin asserts that Russia will educate its Muslim youth to prevent them from becoming religious fanatics. Mr. Putin joined at the inauguration ceremony by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Reading the Mosque inauguration story I felt writing a piece on my current visit in Russia.

In July 31st, 2015 I had an opportunity to visit Moscow and Petersburg along with my son. Since my childhood I had a dream to visit these historical cities. During my high school summer vacation, I was lucky enough to read Maxim Gorki’s Mother, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In 1970 Russian literatures were available in Bangladesh and that was a great help to learn about Russia, its culture and people.

During our visit in Moscow we were treated with surprising kindness and tender affection by a Russian family, my son’s friend Alexi’s family. I was surprised when a Russian lady, Tatiana helped me at airport calling hotel Marriott if they have sent taxi for me or not. She also gave another surprise singing Rabindranath Tagore’s famous patriotic song standing in the line in front of passport control office, Shrmetyov airport. Knowing that I’m a Canadian, Bengali origin, she sang a Bengali patriotic song, a stanza from Tgaore, “O amar desher mati tomar pore thekai matha”.  

O my native soil, I bow my head to you in deep obeisance.

In you rests the universe, on you is spread the love of the universal mother.

You have become blended in my body,

You have united with my heart and soul,

The verdant, tender form of yours is imprinted forever in my heart of hearts.

Peter 1I was simply amazed! Tatiana mentioned that in 1970 Indian teachers were supposed to come as a part of the exchange programme in Russian secondary school to teach Rabindranath Tagore’s song. This story surprised me, as it indicates that how Russia and India maintained a deep friendship and political and cultural commitment to each other through exchange programme in secondary education. In fact Bangladesh owe to Russia for its tremendous support in 1971 achieving its independence.

About warm heartened Russian, another surprise was waiting from Natalia (my son’s friend Kiesena’s friend) while we were shopping in a mall near Red square (GUM, huge departmental store), she recognized my son simply seeing his photo in her friend’s face book page.  She just finished her medicine and doing her research in a lab in Moscow. Natalia was kind enough and offered us to be our tour guide. She spent her entire day (her Saturday) to show the places around the Red Square and had lunch with us in GUM. Anyway, I had no need to call my Russian friends or family, as my son’s friends were enough to support us visiting Moscow. 

peter 2Whether it’s a glimpse of the century’s old Red Square in Moscow, a cruise at 1am in the morning under Saint Petersburg’s wondrous bridges, sipping morst at the grand Pushkin café or being a spectator at the Moscow ballet, Russia captivates and enchants.

Russia is old and conservative in its traditions. Religion is sacred for many of its people. Russia is also a home of some 20 million Muslims, unfortunately had to fight two wars against Chechen separatists in the mainly-Muslim North Caucasus region. An Islamist insurgency is still simmering in this area and rebels have sworn their allegiance to ISIS. We had no chance to visit any Mosque but we went to visit 500 years old Orthodox church in Moscow with my son’s friend and his brother. Islam is the second largest religion in Russia after Orthodox Christianity, making up around 15 percent of the population. 

Pushkin 2The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is the largest museum of European art in Moscow, located in Volkhonka street, just opposite the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The museum’s current name is somewhat misleading, in that it has no direct associations with the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, other than as a posthumous commemoration of his name and fame.  We had a chance to visit this Museum with my son on 2nd August 2015. When I reached at one gallery, which is designed with women’s Headscarf for women in Russia. It reminds me Russia and other part of the world was common regarding headscarf use for women in 17th century across the globe. Wearing hijab and veil created controversy as Muslim women continued till 21st century including in West.  When I visited one ancient Orthodox Church I had to use scarf as well.

It is interesting to note that new grand Mosque adopted Russian Orthodox Christian terminology; this new building, house of worship is called the ‘Moscow Cathedral Mosque”. Its main golden dome and tall minaret reflected the style of Russian Orthodox Church, but it has a beautiful Islamic crescents atop them.

CremlinFor historic and proud Russia believes that, any notion of liberal progress must come through the volition of her own people and not a foreign directive such as Europe. However, since 17th century, Europe, specially Italy and England have much effect on their culture and art.

During the opening of the grand Mosque Putin  mentioned that “we see what’s happening in the Middle East where terrorists of the so-called Islamic State discredit the great world religion, discredit Islam by sowing hate, killing people… destroying the world’s cultural heritage in a barbaric way.” 

Putin further mentioned that “their ideology is built on lies, on open perversion of Islam. They are trying to recruit followers in our country as well.” 

“This work is particularly important today as attempts are undertaken to exploit religious feelings for political purposes,” Putin said.

Russia is however vastly different from the Anglo-Saxon or Latin cultures through which we see much of the world. However, two weeks are not enough to understand Russia’s sociocultural status.

Perhaps, one day I will re-visit Putin’s culturally warm Russia, politically and religiously peaceful and sustainable.

I will be happy to go back to my Russian friends and family having the test of sumptuous Georgian cuisine, garden salad in ARBAT, some warm borshcht ( beet and beef and potatoes) and cold drink morst (cranberry juice) in a traditional Russian restaurant,  pancake with salmon roe( cavier), and pancake with chocolate at GUM, and delicious Russian tea in Samovar  in the future.

The writer is a Doctoral candidate and researcher of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. Email:[email protected]

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