Russia’s government says it does not believe in Islam and it is not religious, despite a nationwide campaign to recruit young Muslims in the country to join a religion it sees as its own.
In an interview published Thursday by Russia’s state news agency, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as saying Russia does not consider itself a religion and does not practice any religion at all.
The statement comes as thousands of Muslims, mostly young men and women, gathered in the capital, Moscow, for an annual pilgrimage to the mosque.
Roughly one million people attend the annual pilgrimage, which has been held annually since 2001, and the country has the second-highest Muslim population in the world.
A spokesman for Russia’s State Duma, Alexei Pushkov, told RIA the statement was not accurate.
He said the Russian government does not want to promote religion in Russia, which does not recognize the authority of Islamic law and has been accused of “stealing” the religion of millions of Russian Muslims.
“We do not believe that there is a religious law in Russia.
Russia does, however, respect the freedom of religious opinion,” Pushkov said.
“But the Russian Government does not wish to promote any particular religion in this country.”
Russia is home to about 200 million Muslims, most of whom identify as Orthodox Christians.