Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Young Daghestanis Overwhelmingly Fundamentalist, But Few are Militants

Paul Goble     

            Staunton, September 4 – Daghestan is overwhelmingly Muslim; its young people are equally overwhelmingly fundamentalist and want to see shariat law established there; but only a tiny fraction, fewer than one in 30, say they are interested in becoming part of the militant Islamist underground fighting in the forests, according to the latest sociological surveys there.

            In an article posted yesterday on “,” journalist Sergey Prostakov provides a survey of these findings which show that Daghestan is indeed becoming ever more fundamentalist but that that trend is not immediately translating into a dramatic rise in the number of those in the armed underground (

            Ninety percent of Daghestani residents say they are followers of one or another religion, with “more than 80 percent” of the population declaring themselves to be Muslims, figures that make that North Caucasus republic “one of the most religious regions of the Russian Federation,” Prostakov continues.

            Because of a high fertility rate, Daghestan is a republic in which young people form an extremely large share of the population, “about 40 percent,” and they are distinguished by an even higher level of religiosity than their elders, with 92 percent of them saying that they believe in God, up from 79 percent in 2004. Eleven percent of them have religious educations.

            Seventy percent of those in what Prostakov describes as “the Muslim fundamentalist religious underground” are young people between the ages of 15 and 25, a reflection of the fact that 77 percent of young Daghestanis now say that “Islam must be established just as it was during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed.”

            That latter figure does not vary much between those who have received only a civic education and those who have a religious one: “only 9.6 percent of young Daghestanis are convinced that Islam must change in correspondence with the changes taking place in the world,” the position of those who are often labeled “modernists.”

            Fifty-eight percent of Daghestani young people believe that the laws of the shariat must take precedence of those of the state, a figure exactly equal to the share of Daghestanis in higher educational institutions who think that way.  Among those in secondary schools, “almost 100 percent” want to see shariat law imposed there.

            One intriguing even counter-intuitive finding of the surveys is that while 30 percent of all Daghestani young people are prepared to engage in open protest against the government “if its actions violate Islamic norms,” the percentage of those in religious schools is in fact somewhat lower, 25.6 percent.

            Daghestani experts explain this by reference to the fact that most of the Muslim educational institutions in that republic are Sufi in orientation, an ideological trend that opposes the Salafis. As a result, “even among the fundamentalists” of this trend “the idea of the peaceful coexistence of Islam and a secular state are widespread.”

            This Sufi influence may also explain why only 3.1 percent of Daghestani young people are prepared to join the armed underground while 74.4 percent of the Muslims of all ages are prepared to oppose Wahhabism. Again, the differences between those in religious schools and those in secular ones and between young people and their elders are small.

            Finally, Prostakov reports, 59.1 percent of Daghestaani youth say that the actions of the Wahhabis in their republic is partially the result of the influence of foreign terrorism organizations, although 34 percent said that one of the reasons that people do go into the armed underground is because they are unemployed. Only seven percent said religion was a motive.

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