Wednesday, June 26, 2019

98 Percent of Ingush Identify as Muslims but Most Still Strongly Influenced by Pagan Past

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – Ingushetia is an Islamic republic: 98 percent of its residents identify as Muslims; but because the faith came to the region very late, in some cases even after the middle of the 19th century, pre-Islamic beliefs and customs remain very much part of life there, Yevgeny Vyshegorodsky of The Caucasus Post says.

            Any visitor to the small republic will be struck by how Muslim it is. There are today 45 mosques and 26 medrassahs under the supervision of the republic Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD). In addition, there is an Islamic Institute and an Ingush Islamic University (

            Non-Muslims, who form about two percent of the population, are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian. Most of them are ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians or Ossetians. There are three Orthodox churches and a monastery. But all these are eclipsed by the Islamic nature of the republic.

            But Islam came to Ingushetia very late, in most places only in the middle of the 19th century or even later. Remarkably it came to the mountainous regions where Sufi missionaries and the influence of Shamil were stronger long before it was accepted by the population in the valleys below.
            One curious detail in the history of Islam in Ingushetia, Vyshegorodsky says, is that most of the Sufi missionaries in Ingushetia were from the Naqshbandiya order which after the defeat of Shamil accepted the rule of the tsar and, as a result, were not persecuted in the same way that those elsewhere who followed Qadyria order missionaries were.

            As a result, many pre-Islamic beliefs and customs persist.  Totemism is widespread with certain animals being especially revered. There is a cult of the home hearth which must not be violated by outsiders.  And most Ingush believe that each of them has a spirit double and that there are spirits who control their lives and determine whether they become ill or not.

            Some still revere the Ingush god Dala, “an all-powerful creator of the universe, who formed heaven and earth and all who live on it.” Belief in him coexists with belief in Allah.  And this is manifested in the continued survival of the voiced zikr, the mystical repetition of the name of God, by many Ingush.

            In Soviet times, officials sometimes supported the old beliefs as a way of weakening Islamic attachments; but the consequence of that has only been the survival of both.

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