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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moslems Mark Kurban Bairam

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Russia's Moslems celebrated one of their most important holy days Monday in an atmosphere of official acceptance, with services attended by leading politicians and broadcast live on state television.

Eid al-Adha, which is known in Russia by the Turkic name of Kurban Bairam, commemorates Abraham's sacrifice of a ram to God instead of his son and centers on the ritual slaughter of a sheep or other animal.

Last year was the first time the holiday received broad attention by Russian leaders. Russia has about 20 million Moslems, making Islam the nation's second-largest religion after the Russian Orthodox Church. But Orthodoxy receives far more attention from the politicians and the media than Islam or Judaism.

Some observers say the increased attention to Islam is an attempt to win Moslems' support for the Kremlin's war against rebels in Chechnya.

The country's chief mufti, or Islamic religious leader, Talgan Tadzhuddin, said at services Monday in the city of Ufa that the war is "a necessary measure against terrorists, rather than brothers in faith," Interfax reported.

In Moscow, RTR television showed Moscow Mufti Ravil Gainutdin leading prayers in the capital's main mosque. Mayor Yury Luzhkov attended the service.

Thousands listened to the service and prayed standing outside the mosque in a snowstorm. Moslem leaders put attendance at 30,000, RTR reported.

President Vladimir Putin issued an official greeting to Moslems on the holiday. "I share the aspiration of Moslem spiritual leaders for the state and religious organizations to join forces, as an important condition of civil harmony, goodwill and mutual understanding among all peoples of multiethnic Russia and the prosperity of our fatherland," Putin said in his message.

Eid al-Adha coincides with the end of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. More than 3,500 Russian Moslems made the pilgrimage this year, Itar-Tass reported.

Elsewhere, millions of Moslems quietly celebrated Monday in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. While Islam is making a comeback in the five countries, their leaders are torn between allowing free religious practice and fears of the spread of fundamental Islam.

In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, there was virtually no traffic on Monday morning. Thousands attended mosques, of which there are now 13,000, and the president congratulated the people on television.

In Uzbekistan the end of Soviet power was marked by an explosive religious revival, but by 1997 President Islam Karimov had become worried by the possible spread of fundamentalism. He has been accused of religious repression in recent years.

Although Kurban Bairam is a public holiday in Uzbekistan and will be celebrated Tuesday, there was no sign of any festivity in Tashkent streets Monday. Uzbeks were celebrating in mosques and at home.

Turkmenistan was on holiday, although there was little excitement in the capital, Ashgabat, and many observed the feast quietly at home.

Even in Kyrgyzstan, where Islam was historically less widespread than elsewhere in Central Asia, Kurban Bairam is a holiday, along with other Moslem feasts and Russian Orthodox Christmas. Bishkek, the capital, was in party mood.

(AP, Reuters)