By Ruslan Kurbanov
8 January 2013
The end of 2012 in Russia witnessed the burial of the vice-Mufti of North Ossetia region Ibrahim Dudarov — tenth Imam killed in the country for the year 2012. In recent years, Russia topped the world’s list in the number of dead Imams and Muftis. The reason behind this problem is a prolonged confrontation between the authorities and official clergy on one side and armed Jihadi groups on the other side in the North Caucasus region. In this situation it is difficult to understand who is killing the Imams and for what, and how Muslims should respond to this challenge.
Official media say that Imams and Muftis are killed by Jihadi groups. The main reason for this is the fact that the Imams and Muftis of the North Caucasus are against Jihad for the separation of the region from Russia, which push the Jihadi groups to take revenge. In many ways this is true. Such conflict between the official clergy and authorities on one hand against the Jihadi groups materializes most in Dagestan.
In recent years, Jihadi groups have taken responsibility for the killing of Dagestani Mufti’s deputies Kura-Muhammad Haji Ramazanov and Ahmad Haji Tagaev, as well as the editor-in-chief of “Makhachkala TV” Muhammad-Wakil Sultan-Muhammadov. Moreover, two known sheikhs of Naqshbandi Tariqah in Dagestan were killed, Sirajuddin al-Huriki and Said Afandi al-Chirkavi.
One of them was shot dead on his doorstep, while another was blown up by a suicide bomber while receiving visitors at his home. In the same way the responsibility for the killing of Mufti of Kabardino-Balkaria Anas Pshikhachev in 2010 was taken by Jihadi groups of this region.
However, in Russia there is a huge number of murdered Imams, whose deaths do not fit into this scheme; Jihadi groups did not and do not take the responsibility for their killings. These Imams were known with their neutral positions towards the flaring conflict between authorities and Jihadi groups. Their main purpose was religious preaching, education, and Da'wah (calling to Islam).
According to some experts, these active Imams were killed not by Jihadi groups, but by unknown people who wish to stop the preaching of Islam in Russia. Some experts, like journalist Orkhan Jemal, claim that these unknown people are members of the “Death Squads” — the special groups of terminators formed by secret services.
Their primary goal, experts say, is to wipe out all people whom they suspect of aiding Jihadis. In three republics of North Caucasus — Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia — the representatives of these “Death squads,” hiding their faces, recorded special video statements. In those statements they promised to kill anyone “who helps the Jihadists.” “But peaceful Islamic activists and preachers also became their target,” says journalist Jemal.
Out of many, a few years ago in Dagestan a doctor of Shariah Sciences at the entire post-Soviet space Murtadha-Ali Muhammadov was shot dead. Earlier this year, in the Stavropol region of Russia the vice-Mufti of the region Kurman Ismailov was blown up in his car.
In the late autumn of 2012 in Dagestan preacher Kalimulla Ibrahimov was shot. In December 2012, in North Ossetia the vice-Mufti Ibrahim Dudarov was shot. And this list can be continued for a long time. All these people were known, first and foremost, as bright preachers and Islamic educators.
Moreover, many of these killed preachers have been pursued by security forces. For example, the killed vice-Mufti of Stavropol region Kurman Ismailov has applied official complaints to the Prosecutor's office against police harassment and threats targeting him.
Human rights activist and expert of the Moscow Helsinki Group on freedom of conscience, in addition to being the head of an independent human rights initiative "Project Ark," Richard Panteleichuc indicated that Kurman Ismailov has never been seen being part of any illegal activities.
On the defense of Ismailov even members of the Public Chamber of Russia got up, demanding the security forces to stop the persecution of the Imam. As claimed by a member of the Public Chamber of Russia Maxim Shevchenko, security officials tried to force Ismailov to stop his call to Islam and leave the Stavropol region.
Russia’s Three Muslim Groups
Security officials tried to force vice-Mufti of Stavropol region Kurman Ismailov to stop his call to Islam and leave the Stavropol region.
In order to understand what is happening in Russia today, one needs to consider the Russian regions with a new perspective. According to the number of Muslims and Islamic activism, Russian regions can be divided into three groups. The first group is composed of the traditionally Muslim regions.
In these regions Muslims are the majority of the population, in such atmosphere Islamic activism and Islamic preaching are booming. Among these regions are Dagestan, Chechnya, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and Bashkortostan. In these regions, the authorities have to put up with the rapid revival of Islam and the Muslim activity.
The second group includes the regions that were not traditionally Muslim, among them are all the regions of Central Russia with the Christian Orthodox population. The activity of Muslims in these regions cannot be compared with their activity in the traditionally Muslim regions, but it is also growing rapidly and it is increasingly irritating the Russian authorities.
The third group includes the regions at the border between Muslim and non-Muslim regions. These frontier regions are home to a mixed population, Muslims and non-Muslims. Among these regions should be named the Republic of North Ossetia, Adygheya, and the Stavropol region.
In most of these regions, the activity of Muslims is very high along with the attempts to stop this activity — that reach up to banning the building of Mosques, illegal arrests, and killings of Islamic activists. Into these group can be included Abkhazia, a Caucasus republic that seceded from Georgia and is recognized by Russia.Most people of Abkhazia have Russian citizenships, and Moscow is trying to maintain its influence in this republic.
All those killed Imams — vice-Mufti Kurman Ismailov in Stavropol region, vice-Mufti Ibrahim Dudarov in North Ossetia, murdered Imams and preachers in Abkhazia — stand as examples of the attacks facing Islamic activists in these regions.
The Muslim Reply
Following every such killing, Muslim human rights activists complain about the deterioration of security and freedom of religion. At the same time, Muftis and Islamic preachers urge Muslims not to succumb to provocations.
The Mufti of the Saratov region Muqaddas Bibarsov, said that such killings of the Imams will not stop the development of Islam in Russia. According to him, Muslims of Russia should be patient, should ask Allah to accept killed Imams as martyrs (Shaheeds) and to give believers the strength and wisdom to confront injustice.
Muslims of Russia should help by their preaching and public activity to stop the religious conflict and improve security in the country, according to Mufti of Russia Ravil Gaynutdin.
Ruslan Kurbanov is Director of Al-Tair Foundation — Russia