World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Russian mounted police patrol near the central Mosque in Moscow on June 15, 2018, during the celebrations of Eid al-Fitr (Vasily Maximov/AFP)
Updated 23 June 2018
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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.


Viva la revolución: Politics, poetry, painting and passion in León

A colorful street in Leon. (Shutterstock)
Updated 15 October 2018
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Viva la revolución: Politics, poetry, painting and passion in León

  • León offers a wealth of diverse exhibition spaces that are noteworthy
  • León is inarguably at its most compelling after dark

DALLAS: I’m standing in a dimly lit room with a wiry, grey-haired gentleman. He is gesticulating wildly, a manic energy in his eyes as he shouts at me in Spanish. Flies buzz around the damp air. Every so often, my intense interlocutor waves an outstretched limb in the direction of some torn black-and-white photographs, sticky taped to the peeling paintwork, which appear to have been printed off the Internet sometime in the 1990s. I just parted with $2 for this experience. Needless to say, I don’t speak Spanish.

“Come,” he says finally in English — a perplexing acknowledgement that my revolutionary comrade has understood my linguistic predicament for the duration of his 15-minute tirade — and leads me up a dusty staircase to the building’s roof. “It’s safe,” he adds, as we clamber onto the single buckling sheet of corrugated iron that constitutes the roof of the Museo de la Revolucion. The person-sized rips and tears, slashing open a visual trail all the way to the tiled floor below, prompt me to wonder otherwise.

The view however is, as he predicted, “magnifico.” Below, the intoxicatingly grungy city of León, Nicaragua, unfolds — a canvas of intense activity furrowing the multi-hued, faded fringes of this once-glistening colonial outpost, weathered and wrinkled by its own storied past.

León served as the logistical and spiritual center of the liberal Sandinista movement which deposed the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, as this edgy, grassroots museum — and its seasoned staff of former revolutionaries — no doubt attest (to Spanish speakers, at least).

(Shutterstock)

But even without the surreal museum welcome, this is living history, still fresh and felt. Following the US-backed Contra War of the 1980s and an embezzlement scandal which toppled the rightwing PLC party, the Sandinista’s socialist FSLN have been in power since 2006 and the city maintains a wiry political edge to this day, as evidenced by a recent wave of anti-government protests.

Even the most oblivious holidaymaker couldn’t fail to clock the loud graffiti, political sloganeering and locals arguing at café tables into the wee hours. The contrast with the cleaner, droller, and much more touristic colonial twin and Conservative stronghold Granada is palpable. Both cities have their charms, but I’m clearly leaning toward the individualism and restless, visceral energy of León.

Whether you’re a museum person or not, León offers a wealth of diverse exhibition spaces noteworthy and novel enough to constitute compulsory viewing. The Ortiz-Gurdián Foundation Art Museum, one of Central America’s greatest galleries, offers a stunning snapshot of modern and contemporary art from Nicaragua and beyond. Spread across two sprawling, restored colonial buildings punctuated with wide, airy courtyards which offer welcome relief from the midday heat, even the uninitiated will find solace in this diverse collection of colored canvases.

Also obligatory is the Museum of Folklore and Legends, an eclectic exhibit too kooky to be true. Dedicated to the region’s mythology, a series of themed rooms presents life-sized papier-mâché dolls playing out scenes from local legends and Leónese folklore, including the mockery of “original colonist” La Gigantona, housed hauntingly inside La XXI — a former jail used to torture pre-liberation Sandinistas.

(Shutterstock)

Meanwhile, literature fans should not miss the Museo Rubén Darío, the former home of the celebrated poet known as the father of the Spanish-American “modernismo” movement, eerily preserved with period furniture, personal possessions and spread out over a traditional courtyard home.

After the sightseeing is done, stay out in the open: León is inarguably at its most compelling after dark, when the streets electrify and the fierce intellectualism and independence of Leónese locals overpowers the passing dumbfounded backpackers. Festivities spew onto the streets spiraling northwest from Parque Central and its UNESCO-recognized Our Lady of Grace Cathedral. Cafes sit at every corner, debate is lively and music is infectious — the sound of impassioned voices rising ever-louder as dusk darkens and Latino grooves intensify — until finally, even the most potent politicos get up, abandoning argument and succumbing to the beat of this fascinating city.