Chechens build new mosque in Arab village

Muslims from Chechnya have helped fund the building of a new mosque in an Arab village in Israel.

The mosque was named after Chechnya’s former leader Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004, in the village of Abu Ghosh.

Abu Ghosh residents say their forbears were Chechens who came five centuries ago to then Ottoman-ruled Palestine.

“We were raised to accept and welcome everyone, no matter what their race or religion,”said Salim Jabr, the former Abu Ghosh mayor and chief fund-raiser for the $10 million mosque.

The building has four minarets – a number typical of mosques in the Caucasus but otherwise unseen in Israel or the Palestinian territories, where one or two is the norm.

The slender spires reach up 52 meters (171 feet) around a gilded dome that sits above a marbled prayer hall capable of taking in 3,000 worshippers. The previous village mosque held only 150, Jabr says – insufficient for a population of 6,500.

Turkish artisans provided woodwork and filigree for the mosque, gratis. There’s a contemporary Israeli touch, too, in the roomy, ventilated bomb shelter built into a lower floor.

Jabr says 85 percent of the village’s farmland was seized to make way for new Israelicommunities and military camps. Abu Ghosh is now in a legal dispute with a neighboring ultra-Orthodox Jewish village for control of a British-era fort.

“We’re not giving up on it,”Jabr said. “It’s ours, and it leads right into the heart of our village.”

Arabs, the vast majority of them Muslim, make up one fifth of Israel’s citizens. Many of them identify themselves as Palestinian.

Villagers contributed some funds for the mosque, Jabr said, but 60 percent of the budget came from Chechens who conditioned their donations on the construction of four minarets.

Jabr has been to the Chechen capital Grozny 10 times, he said, adding that the republic in Russia’s turbulent Caucasus region had offered citizenship to anyone from Abu Ghosh.

Ramzan Kadyrov (the son of the former president Akhmad Kadyrov), the current Chechen leader, might fly to Israel for the as-yet unscheduled opening of the mosque, a spokesperson for the administration in Grozny said.

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