Staunton, February 5 – “Tectonic
changes” are taking place in the North Caucasus and other Muslim regions of the
Russian Federation, Olga Bobrova says; changes that call into question
traditional understandings of Islam and its relationship to the secular authorities
and that must be understood if Russia is to remain “one country.”
The “Novaya gazeta” journalist
writes that a recent mejlis of representatives of the Kadyria and Nakshbandiya
tariqats” of traditional Sufi Islam in Chechnya was marked by violent attacks
on Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov for his support of what speakers,
including Ramzan Kadyrov, called “pseudo-salafites” (novayagazeta.ru/columns/71705.html).
“There were threats against specific
religious leaders whose heads, as was said, ‘should fly from their shoulders,’
and other equally horrible metaphors,” and that alone should have been enough
to attract the attention of Russian society as a whole. But even more, it
represented “a signal about tectonic processes” quite possibly in the Russian
umma as a whole.
As Bobrova says, Islam came to
Chechnya and Ingushetia relatively recently with many in those republics
converted only in the nineteenth century. It was promoted by the Sufi orders
divided into tariqats and subdivided into wirds, “communities which formed
about the figure of a sheikh” or other spiritual leader.
There, “the wird became not simply a
religious institution; it became a unit of the administrative and economic
division;” and as a result, it came to be called by Russian observers,
“’popular Islam,’” and remains so to this day.
But it is no longer the only religious trend among Muslims in Russia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed,
“Russians, including people from the Caucasus began to travel abroad to study
and study Islam.” And many of those who did so returned with the conviction
that the traditional Islam their forefathers practices was at variance with
true Islam or and that there should not be tariqats, wirds, or spiritual leaders.
For someone in the Caucasus
“accustomed to respect his elders and tradition, this was a very painful
understanding,” and it broke the community apart, with new mosques and closed
prayer houses opening to serve those who accepted the imported faith. They were
described and denounced as “Wahhabis” although they had little relationship to
Russians and others noted that there
was a close relationship between those who took part in these new mosques and
those who participated in the armed underground there. “However,” she writes,
“this correlation was not 100 percent. Indeed, it was far from that; and they
killed without much selectivity all ‘the new faithful.’”
By the early years of this decade,
the Russian security services had largely defeated the Wahhabi underground in
the Caucasus. “But the communities of the ‘new’ believers remained. In
Daghestan, they even were given completely legal status;” and elsewhere as in
Ingushetia, they were not given as much attention as had been the case earlier.
But if the Salafis as fighters in
the underground had lost, they as representatives of a new and different brand
of Islam were winning: In Ingushetia, for example, they violently opposed the
use of alcohol; and they pressed women to wear the hijab. As a result, “’popular Islam’ has been quietly
surrendering its positions to the ‘new’ Islam.”
between the traditional Muslim communities and the new ones appeared stable
until very recently, “but in the last year, disagreements have appeared and a
real war has taken place,” Bobrova says, one that started over theological
issues but that has quickly spread to others and that has divided the political
The traditional mufti of Ingushetia
demanded the ouster of a “new” Muslim leader who was attracting thousands of
faithful to his mosque. The police had to be called to keep the two groups
apart and the conflict seemed to have receded.
But in fact it took on a new and potentially more ominous form.
The leaders of the “new” Muslims in
Ingushetia have been opponents of Yevkurov, but now Yevkurov has shifted sides.
As one of the “new” Muslim leaders put it, he “has recognized that ‘the
persecution of Salafis’ is incorrect” and should be ended, something that will
allow the Salafis to spread their influence.
That put Yevkurov at odds with
Kadyrov who has remained a champion of traditional “popular” Sufi Islam, and
one of the consequences of their increasing hatred of one another is that some
proponents of Sufi Islam in Ingushetia have fled to Chechnya where they have
received government support.
That development changes the
situation because it means that, unlike in the recent past, some nominally
civic governments are now lining up with the “new” Muslims against the
traditional ones while others are backing the tradition “popular” Islam. But in
both cases, Bobrova says, they are basing their policies “not on secular norms
but on the dogma of Islam.”
A similar set of developments
involving the realignment of the “secular” authorities and the “new” Muslims is
occurring in Daghestan; and in both cases, Chechnya’s Kadyrov has pledged to
fight it (kavpolit.com/articles/situatsija_v_religioznoj_sfere_vstupaet_v_ochen_sl-23200/