MOSCOW — Tens of thousands of Muslim men knelt shoulder-to-shoulder in prayer on the freezing streets of Moscow on Sunday to celebrate the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Estimates of the number of Muslims living or working in the Russian capital run from 2 million to as high as 5 million, but the city only has a few mosques.
Police said 170,000 people celebrated the holiday in Moscow, including 80,000 who gathered on the street outside what was once the main mosque. The 100-year-old pastel green Cathedral Mosque was torn down in September and a new mosque being built next to it is still under construction.
Many of those who braved temperatures of minus 8 degrees Celsius to pray on Sunday morning were migrant workers from countries in Central Asia that were once part of the Soviet Union.
"Of course new mosques are needed," said Maruv, a shop worker from Tajikistan who gave only his first name. "Look at how many people are in the street and it's cold. They have been standing here waiting for the beginning of prayers since 6 am and there are no facilities."
Police cordoned off the area and set up metal detectors to screen worshippers. The mosque is located next to the Olympic Stadium, where this weekend women tennis players from Russia and the Czech Republic played the Fed Cup final.
Muslim prayers also were held at three other mosques and in three city parks.
Eid al-Adha, a feast celebrated by Muslims worldwide, is known as Kurban-Bairam in Russia.
Russia's Council of Muftis said that for the first time this year the ritual slaughter of sheep was performed at 10 slaughterhouses on the outskirts of Moscow. In past years, Muscovites have complained angrily about the killing of sheep in the courtyards of apartment buildings in the city center.
Muslim and government leaders apparently made a special effort this year to address the rising ethnic tensions that have accompanied the influx of Muslim migrants, including many from the Caucasus republics in southern Russia.
"We, Russian Muslims, are proud of our fatherland, Russia, and we are trying to make Russia proud of us, our culture and our contribution to the modernization and development of our state," the head of the Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying during the prayer service.
President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both sent holiday messages to Muslims in which they stressed the importance of instilling the young with moral values and promoting religious and ethnic accord.