Staunton, July 2 – Young people who have joined the Islamist underground in the North Caucasus more often come from families of committed atheists than from those who kept Islam alive during Soviet times because the former have “no immunity” when the radicals propagandize “a perverted understanding of the Koran,” according to a Makhachakala imam.
In an interview in the current issue of “Russky dom,” Magomedrasul Saaduyev, the imam of Makhachkala’s Juma mosque and a leading theologian in Daghestan, argues that the radicalization of young Muslims in the North Caucasus reflects the combination of Soviet anti-religious policies and the arrival of Islamist missionaries after 1991 (russdom.ru/node/6913).
“As a result of 75 years of communist atheist rule,” Saaduyev says, “a spiritual vacuum was formed in the hearts and minds of citizens of the country, including in those regions where Muslims lived.” Earlier, fathers had ensured their sons learned the basics of Islam, but as a result of Soviet policies and practices, “this tradition was broken off.”
There were exceptions, of course, and Saaduyev says he was one of them. He “grew up in a religious family,” his father taught [him] something, but [even he] could not openly talk about this even to friends of relatives. Everyone feared the KGB,” and as a result, real religious life largely disappeared.
“When the Soviet Union fell, a natural interest in religion, the faith of their ancestors, began to wake up among people,” the imam says. “But this process because of the lack of people with the necessary knowledge” was difficult. And it was further complicated by the appearance in Daghestan of “certain destructive forces.”
These “forces” which came from abroad “exploited the situation” that Muslims in the North Caucasus found themselves in because of the Soviet legacy. “People who interpreted the Koran for their own selfish goals began to appear in villages and mosques and manipulated the consciousness of people who were illiterate on religious issues.”
In many places, these “forces” succeeded in gaining influence because there simply weren’t enough “literate scholarly ulemas” in Daghestani society. And as a result, “the religious illiteracy of the population became a breeding ground for the dddisseminatiiion of all sort of pseudo-religions and pseudo-ideologies.”
Young people were especially affected, Saaduyev says. They are typically more aware of changes, “and when young people saw that the ideological system – communism – had collapsed of its own weigh, they were disappointed in it. But an individual canot live without ideas and without faith.”
Not surprisingly, many of them displayed “a natural interest in their roots and their faith.” But when they did so, there was no one really qualified to answer their questions. Instead, they have relied on those who were available and were often led astray.
“To defeat this pseudo-ideology which is based on pseudo-religion is possible only with a true ideology based on a true religion,” he continues, and “to support and disseminate truth about religion is the task of the state” which is the only institution that “can get [the society and its young] out of the crisis.”
Saaduyev says he welcomes the support Ramazan Abdulatipov, the new head of Daghestan has given to the idea of establishing “a first class Islamic university” in the republic. Such an institution is needed because Daghestan is so ethnically and linguistically diverse that only Russian can overcome these divides.
“Studying Islam in Russian in a state Islamic university to a significant degree will solve the problem of the preparation of cadres and spiritual enlightenment,” the imam says, and thus will make a significant contribution to overcoming the misconceptions that many young people in the region have.
That is because “among those who up to know are hiding themselves ‘in the woods’ for religious reasons are people who are prepared to lay down their arms,” not because of “fear for their lives but out of an understanding of their former confusions” and a genuine acceptance of “traditional Islamic values.”
That of course won’t be sufficient to end the insurgency, the imam concludes, noting that the government must also address the problem of unemployment among young people. If the young have jobs, they are less likely to fall into bad company and “babble” about things they know little of.