“Those killing innocent people must be either stopped or put behind bars or exterminated. This has to be done by whatever method. Our fatwa is that those who have shed blood, those who do not want to stop must be killed by any method” says the Grand Mufti of Chechnya. He follows this with “If it becomes necessary, I will take up arms and I am ready to fight against them."
Most times, when you hear such quotes from Imams around the world, it’s usually either followed by, or preceded by, “Jihad!” and “Kill the Infidels!” or “Death to America!.” In the case of Sultan Mirzayev, he’s talking about Wahhabis.
Chechens apparently are tired of Wahhabis.
They’ve infiltrated the ranks of Chechen society and have created a lot of stress in Chechnya over their self-involvement in the Chechen separatist cause.
In the same interview the above quote is pulled, Sultan Mirzayev also says,
“Wahhabism is the plague of the 20th and the 21st centuries. All Arabic scholars have come to be unanimous that those fighting against Wahhabism are on the path of jihad, following the way of Allah." He goes on to say Wahhabi’s and terrorists “are bringing evil into the world and the entire world must oppose them. We adopted an official fatwa (a religious ruling in Islam), so that those fighting terrorism and Wahhabism have no doubt that their cause is just. We have declared war on these phenomena. Those killing innocent people must be either stopped or put behind bars or exterminated. This has to be done by whatever method. Our fatwa is that those who have shed blood, those who do not want to stop must be killed by any method.”
It’s clear he’s fed up with them, as are the Chechen people.
The Chechens generally practice Sufism. The basic premise of Sufism, for those who don’t know, is to venerate God through total devotion, and to focus on becoming better Muslims, and closer to God, through mystical and spiritual methods.
Chechnya’s Sufi roots come from the importation of the Qadiriyya Sufi Order in the 18th century, and later the Naqshbandiyya, through the efforts of Shaykh Mansur and his leading the Caucasus Muslims against the Russian invaders. After Shaykh Mansur’s leading of the Chechens and other Caucasus peoples, Sufism spread and took a strong foothold among the people.
The Naqshbandi’s are a liberal Sufi Order that preaches social adaptability, disavows radicalism, and excludes fanaticism and radicalism while favouring silent, personal zikr as the highest form of worship.
It’s precisely because of this liberal take on Islam that the Wahhabi’s are adamant on involving themselves in Chechen conflicts; to spread conservative Wahhabi Islam.
During the years of exile into Siberia and Kazakhstan, and the anti-religious drives from 1938-1939, instead of giving up their beliefs the Chechens imposed a self-restriction on their outward display of Islamic devotion.
When they came back, the separatist movement came to fruition the nationalist fervor in the Chechens finally revealed itself. While already seeing themselves as more noble and dignified than the Russians, the Chechens viewed their religion as the mark of difference between them and the Russians. While the Russians have tried to paint the Chechens as religious fundamentalists during their two wars with Russia, the actual fact is that the Chechen conflicts from the 1990’s have been overwhelmingly nationalist in nature.
Islam, when used by the Chechens has been more of a rallying cry by them to distinguish their heritage as rich and noble in comparison to the “godless” Russians. However, not to be confused, the usage of the term “godless” does not have religious connotations in this context, as much as it infers a clear cultural and ethnic divide. The Chechens used this term as a means of distinguishing themselves from the Russians. Even when Dudayev and the Chechens went to war with Russia in 1994, Islam was less a motivating force than it was something adopted by the Chechen President and militias as a spiritual clothing for their national struggle.
The separatist struggle was cloaked in religion, and spiritual terms were used to push the nationalist struggle. Subsequently, at the time of the first war with Russia in 1994-1996, the Grand Mufti at the time, Ahmad Kadyrov, declared Jihad-bil-Sayf against the Russians.
At the end of the war, the Chechens fell into hard socio-economic times, and the country saw itself and their populations begin to radicalize. It was a natural step from the increasing spread of nationalism
Because they were in hard socio-economic times, and the country was radicalizing, Wahhabism became an attractive alternative for the youth and for the militia (sometimes one in the same).
Wahhabism became an attractive alternative to the mystic ideology of Sufi Islam. It all of a sudden seemed too complicated for the people. Wahhabism became especially appealing to the militarized youth, who were seeking out their personal identities and place in the national movement.
They quickly became attracted to the sense of unity it offered, and the answers it provided to their philosophical questions. It also appealed to their sense of justice and order. It was a welcome change for them from the ongoing disputes between the Sufi Orders (virds) that they believed did nothing to help gain traditionalist Islam respect.
It thus became a form of social protest against the traditional forms of social organization in Chechnya, removing the loyalty the people had to the clan structure that dominates Chechen society.
Not all Chechens, however, despise Wahhabis. Some are reluctant to despise them. Chechens tend to make a clear distinction between a questionable ideology and the common people that adhere to it. They still see ordinary people who practice Wahhabism as open-hearted and honorable young people who neither consumed alcohol nor took drugs, led God-fearing lives, and wanted relations in the country to change for the better, even if this meant dying for such a cause.
They originally were of an enlightened nature. They directed their zeal against corrupt officials. This helped them to get a foot into Chechen society as a possible welcome entity. They mainly began to focus their efforts against traditionalist clergy of the northern Caucasus who were being accused of ignorance, of distorting Islam, and of close ties with a corrupt government.
After the war in 1996, many foreign Wahhabis married Chechen and Dagestani women, and began integrating into the society and influencing it from the inside. Many of the Wahhabi Mujahids from the war were either ethnic Arabs, or were Arabized Chechens.
Wahhabism eventually overtook about 10% of the Chechen population. During their growth period in Chechnya, they possessed solidarity, fanaticism, economic self-reliance, and military strength, making them a small-numbered political power. They refused to accept a single centralized government advocated by the Chechen President of the time, Aslan Maskhadov. Even when he moved towards their ideals and tried to impose Islamic laws over the country, instead of his own personal goal of more secular laws, they did not accept him because he was a practicing Sufi. In their eyes, this meant he was a heretic.
In his televised address of January 20, 1999, the Chechen president condemned what he perceived as Wahhabism:
“The worst thing about it is the fact that it seeks to divide us according to our faith. And this happens in every place that Islamism wins over. They divide us according to faith, which subsequently leads to civil war.... They say that only they are Allah's chosen ones that only they are walking along the true path. And everyone else is their enemy.... We have always been proud of the fact that we are Chechens. And now they are telling us: '...Do not say that you are the Chechen nation.' They want to deprive us of the faith of our fathers, our sheikhs and ustadhs. They want to rob us of our customs and traditions and adats.... They are not even content with the fact that we call Chechnya an Islamic state.... They say that the president, the parliament, and the grand mufti are meaningless. Everything is to be in the hands of the Emir. The Emir who, I must add, came here from God knows what country and who furthermore is not even Chechen....They take the Koran in...and find words in it that claim it is permissible to abduct people...that they can use them as a source of income…. Their calls for the immediate start of a war in Dagestan aim to pit Chechnya and Dagestan against one another.”
After 1995, Mujahids operating under the name Jama’at Islami (Islamic Assembly) began to grow in numbers. In 1997, they established a training and education center where hundreds of Chechens were recruited and educated into the Wahhabi doctrine. Their program received substantial backing from the Saudi royal family in return for Wahhabi indoctrination.
As they grew stronger, the Wahhabis began to increasingly attack Chechen Sufi’s and their practice of Islam. They had numerous clashes with Sufi adherents, killing clergymen and officials who openly spoke out against Wahhabism.
They also began reprimanding Chechen women and girls for not wearing veils and niqabs. They denounced them for being “insufficiently clothed”, even though Chechen women and girls never practiced the custom of covering their hands and faces.
Maskhadov tried a policy of accommodation. For instance, he called for the establishment of an Islamic state governed by Shari'a norms in April 1998, but his intensifying Islamic rhetoric did nothing to earn him the favor of the Wahhabis. Their numbers and influence were only growing among government officials and the military elite.
In January 1998, Aslan Maskhadov appointed Shamil Basayev to the position of vice-president and then Prime Minister, even though he had ties to Arab Jordanian Jihadi ibn la-Khattab. In mid-1998 Basayev resigned, citing Maskhadov as unable to execute “any of his plans”. However, the real reason was because of Maskhadov’s anti-Wahhabi policies, which affected al-Khattab and his movement.
Basayev’s resignation and alliance with al-Khattab managed to sway some top officials towards the Wahhabist movement in Chechnya. The radicals began to scorn Maskhadov’s balanced approach to Russia as defeatist. They also called for the establishment of a “truly Islamic”, or Wahhabi, state in Chechnya.
Soon after, in June 1998, defiant and armed Wahhabis challenged Maskhadov’s units sent to extract them. They had been conducting armed protests and had been debating on how to topple Maskhadov’s government. Maskhadov ended up dismissing many ministers who sympathized with Wahhabis, and urged Chechens to expel them from the towns and villages.
He joined up with Ahmad Kadyrov, another staunch anti-Wahhabi, and together, they went on the attack, discrediting the Wahhabi doctrine.
In February 1999, Maskhadov announced the establishment of a Sharia Government a day before the Wahhabi’s were to do the same, in an attempt to discredit Maskhadov’s “unholy regime”. In the short term, he succeeded in undermining the Wahhabis, several of whom returned to the government.
From a long-term strategic perspective, however, the president found himself in an even more complicated situation. On the day Maskhadov issued the decree that rendered Shari'a effective in Chechnya, Basayev stated, "Our president has finally accepted Islam. He is no longer the president; therefore, we should elect an imam." Through his decree, Maskhadov actually divested himself of the safeguards provided by the constitution according to which he had been elected president. The legitimacy of his power had been contested, a step that preceded the collapse of what was left of the Chechen state itself.
The eradication of the Chechen Presidency’s legitimacy resulted in the Wahhabis’ attack on Dagestan. It was the first step in what their wider vision of “liberation and unification” of the northern Caucasus under Wahhabi Islam.
The attacks by Wahhabis, and their efforts to speak for Chechnya, began increased attacks on the Russians. After the Apartment Building bombings in 1999, Russia and Chechnya went to war in their second war of the decade.
Since then, the Russians have been increasing cracking down on Wahhabism in the Caucasus, and the Chechnyans have begun to resist the movement in an effort to preserve their way of life.
When Ahmad Kadyrov became President of Chechnya, he envisioned a return to the Sufi way of life Chechens have always practiced.
He envisioned symbols of Sufism littered around the nation, in hopes that it would strengthen Sufism and decrease the influence of Wahhabism. Among his goals was a huge main mosque in Grozny where Chechens could flock to for learning Islam without the indoctrination of Wahhabi ideals.
Though he never made it during his life, his successors, including his son, have continued the projects, and today, have constructed the Ahmad Kadyrov Mosque, where the Chechens hope students who attend the madrassah there will learn and benefit from the more ascetic and spiritually-inclined teachings of Islam that are being taught at the institutions.
The Chechens, since the second war with Russia have also begun to normalize relations with Russia and have been returning to their way of life. And though President Kadyrov and the Grand Mufti do not believe the battle against Wahhabism is over, it is a battle they continue to fight in an effort to restore peace to their tiny nation.