Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Sufi Order Forcing Moscow and Magas to Compromise in Ingushetia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Across the North Caucasus but especially in Ingushetia and Daghestan, informal relationships based on extended family ties or local religious organizations are frequently far stronger than any loyalty of the population to state structures be they in Moscow or in the republics, Ivan Kluszcz says.

            The University of Tartu scholar says the strength of these links has forced both Moscow and the republics to be more flexible in imposing their agendas on these republics than would otherwise be the case. And he points to the Batalkhadzhintsy Sufi Brotherhood in Ingushetia as particularly important in that regard (

            This brotherhood, little known beyond the borders of Ingushetia, consists of the followers of Sufi Sheik Batal-Khadzhi Belkharoyev (1824-1914). Part of the Qadiriya tradition of Sufism as developed by Khunta-Khadzhi (18000-1867), it currently as many as 30,000 members – or as much as six percent of the population of the republic.

“In Ingushetia,” Kluszcz continues, “the brotherhood is known as a state-within-a-state as it is secretive and large enough to be mostly self-contained. Members are forbidden from marrying outsiders. They must give ten per cent of their income to the brotherhood’s coffers.” And they are reputedly to be involved in vendettas and gun smuggling.

Because the brotherhood is so closed off from the world, its existence has spawned many myths which are very difficult to confirm or deny, the scholar says ( What is known, however, is that this Sufi order like many others resisted the tsars and communists; but it currently is intertwined with the Ingush government.

“Yakub Belkharoyev, the current head of the brotherhood, is a senator at the Ingush parliament. Other relatives of Belkharoyev occupy ministerial and other top posts in the republic government. Some have also become important local business figures, including in banking.” Relations between the order and the authorities have often been fraught.

Former republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was convinced that the members of this trend of Sufi Islam were working as “a fifth column” for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyov, given that the former head of the brotherhood and an Ingush senator was known to have had good ties with the Chechen boss (

More recently, the Batalkhadzhintsy and Magas have clashed over the status of the republic Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) and its relations with Salafis and the possible role of some of the Sufis in the assassination of the former head of Ingushetia’s anti-terrorism center, Ibragim Eldzharkiyev.

Because of the strength of this Sufi order, the secular authorities have moved extremely cautiously in this last case, given that they do not want to trigger a clash. According to Kluszcz, this shows something even more significant: Moscow and Magas “cannot supplant the role of Sufi brotherhoods” which will remain “an unavoidable feature” of Ingush politics.

Because that is so, much that cannot be explained otherwise likely reflects the power of the Sufis and the compromises both Magas and Moscow have had to make with a traditional religious grouping that neither tsars, commissars or, most recently, Russian counter-terrorist operatives, have been able to destroy. 

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