RELIGIOUS–POLITICAL CONFLICT IN THE CHECHEN REPUBLIC OF ICHKERIA
Vakhit AKAEV is Director of the Humanities Research Institute of the Chechen Republic (ChRI) and a Corresponding Member of the Chechen Academy of Sciences.
The difficult religious–political situation in Chechnya today has been largely determined by the economic, sociopolitical and religious circumstances of the post-war period.
With much of Chechnya’s economic, cultural, medical, scientific and educational infrastructure destroyed by the war, many Chechens face inevitable financial difficulties. They have no chance to get jobs and be adequately paid, rebuild what has been destroyed, or undergo psychological and medical rehabilitation. Violence and cruelty have become commonplace on the territory of Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics. The hard realities facing the people directly influence public opinion and traditional religious–moral and behavioural rules, and have noticeably altered them.
Among the frequent crimes committed in this region, kidnappings and savage murders are a frightening post-war syndrome. This violent scenario is often artificially sustained in order to create a negative image of the Chechen people, in order to undermine their efforts to create a sovereign state. On the other hand, political destabilization in the North Caucasus is advantageous for many forces both inside and outside Russia.
One of those forces with a negative impact on the sociopolitical situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is the so-called Wahhabite movement. It is backed not only by some Arab and Western countries but also by forces in Moscow – strange though this might seem.
The Wahhabites in Chechen political life
In the process of the revival of Islam in the North Caucasus, changes have taken place in the cultural and religious life of both the Chechens and their neighbours, the Dagestanians, especially the Dargins. Spiritual life is being penetrated by a new religious–political movement which people have come to call Wahhabism. What are the features of North Caucasian Wahhabism?
The North Caucasian Wahhabites call themselves ‘unitarians’ or ‘salafs’ (followers of pure Islam, the Islam that existed at the time of the Prophet and under the reign of the four pious caliphs) and their organizations – ‘jama’at’. Wahhabism is contrary to Sufi Islam, which is traditional for the north-east Caucasus.
Sufi Islam, existing in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia in the shape of two tariqahs – Naqshbandiyyah and Qadiriyyah – is regarded by Wahhabites as a delusion and a deviation from the rules of pure Islam, of which they claim to be the only followers. However, no follower of Sufi Islam in the North Caucasus accepts the accusations advanced against them by the Wahhabites. Members of the tariqahs, for their part, accuse the Wahhabites of sectarianism.
The Wahhabite movement is adding to its numbers, especially by recruiting jobless and often spiritually indifferent young people. Having taken part in military operations against Russian troops in Chechnya, Wahhabites gained the aura of defenders of the homeland and warriors of Islam. This strengthened their position considerably in post-war Chechnya.
In 1996, acting President Yandarbiyev issued a decree making Soviet and Russian laws invalid on the territory of Chechnya. He abolished the secular courts of justice, created the Supreme Shari’ah Court and corresponding regional structures. The Criminal Code of these Shari’ah courts was copied from the Shari’ah Criminal Code of Sudan. Wahhabites or their supporters act in the role of judges, holding a number of key positions in state, military and religious structures and the media. I. Khalimov, M. Udugov and A.-V. Khusainov are both Chechen Government members and supporters of Wahhabism. Wahhabite combat forces, which are both well organized and have military experience, are officially part of Chechnya’s armed forces.
Once they had established themselves politically, the Wahhabites began to impose their own ideology and practices on Chechen society. A considerable proportion of the faithful are indignant at the frequently unjust punishments meted out in Shari’ah courts, the Wahhabites’ attempts to make Chechen women wear the veil, their struggle against the sale and consumption of alcohol and the theft of petroleum products and beating up of people, destruction of alcoholic drinks, and the burning up of gas tankers and small oil refineries.
Wahhabites are trying to step up their religious–political activities all over the Northern Caucasus. They are recruiting unemployed youths, training them in military affairs, declaring jihad on Russian troops stationed in Dagestan, appealing via the mass media to all Muslims and urging them to drive out all Russian troops from the entire territory of the Caucasus.
Wahhabites accuse the representatives of the official Sufi clergy of the North Caucasus, who adhere to moderate religious and political views, of collaborating with the Russian Government and of unwillingness to uphold the national and religious interests of the Muslims in the region. The official clergy in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia are reacting with worry and concern to the radicalism of the Wahhabites and trying to limit their influence.
The conflict between the Wahhabites and the followers of the Qadiriyyah tariqah began in 1995 during the war in Chechnya. The Wahhabites attempted to destroy the dhikrist ziyarat (shrine, mizar) of Kunta Haji’s mother, the originator of the Qadiriyyah tariqah in the North Caucasus. In response, the dhikrists (followers of Kunta Haji) demonstrated their readiness to defend this shrine by taking up arms. The determination of the dhikrists, the most numerous Sufi brotherhood in Chechnya, cooled the intentions of the Wahhabites.
Opposition rallies in Grozny in 1997–98 accused A. Maskhadov of having surrounded himself with Wahhabites, and the resolutions they passed demanded that he drop his Wahhabite ministers.
Individual Wahhabites who verbally advocated the need to establish Islamic order and social justice in Chechnya were proved guilty of kidnappings. In early February 1999, for example, three young supporters of ‘jama’at’ were arrested in Urus-Martan for kidnappings. Investigations revealed that they had been given fatwa (permission) for kidnappings but the person who gave it was not named.
Chechen President A. Maskhadov stated in his television address that someone named ‘Abd ur-Rahman (an Arab from Saudi Arabia), acting in the capacity of emir of the Wahhabites in Chechnya, had approved the kidnappings and the payment of ransom. The handing down of such blessings from above by an Arab world clergyman is a phenomenon which is totally new, or even alien to Chechen society, whose life is based on many centuries of spiritual, moral and social precepts which are opposite to the noted principle.
Military Clashes between the Wahhabites and the Tariqahtists
The hostility of the Chechen population to the Wahhabites has led to confrontations. On 14 July 1998 in the city of Gudermes an ordinary quarrel between Wahhabites and guardsmen of field commander Sulima Yamadiyev deteriorated into a military battle. The Wahhabites of Gudermes were backed by the field commanders Arbi Barayev and Abdul-Malik Mezhidov, who head military Shari’ah structures manned by Wahhabites. The guardsmen were supported by villagers from outside Gudermes who advocate the Naqshbandiyyah and Qadiriyyah tariqahs. The surrounded and battered Wahhabites sustained considerable losses. The official numbers were 50 dead, of whom 30 were Wahhabites, 10 civilians and the rest guardsmen. Isa Umarov, one of the Wahhabite leaders, claimed that 100 lives were lost in Gudermes. Many young Chechen men died.
President Maskhadov explained that the reasons for this conflict can be found in the activities of the Wahhabites, who have created parallel military and political structures, who refuse to take orders from bodies of power, and who abduct and beat up people with the butts of their guns accusing them of drinking and other anti-Shari’ah offences.
By presidential decree, A. Barayev and A.-M. Mezhidov were stripped of their brigadier-general ranks, the Shari’ah structures they headed were disbanded, and foreigners who worked in the structures of Shari’ah courts in Chechnya were declared personas non grata. However, because Vice-President Vakha Arsanov and Shamil Basayev intervened in the conflict, the Wahhabites were not been completely banished. They were saved from total defeat by this intervention.
Reacting to the Gudermes debacle, Shamil Basayev hastened to point out that field commander Khattab had had no part in it. He said that Khattab and several other Arabs, who had fought together with the Chechens against Russian troops, now live peacefully with their families among the Chechens and do not interfere in Chechen internal affairs. Khattab himself announced that he had never meddled in Chechen affairs. He gives military training to young fighters on assignment from the Chechen leadership but, contrary to statements by his enemies, he does not teach them Wahhabism.
In the wake of the Gudermes debacle, Wahhabites concentrated outside the village of Starye Atagi where Yandarbiyev lived and asked him to lead their struggle against the authorities. The Prosecutor’s Office of Chechnya cautioned Yandarbiyev against actions in contravention to the Constitution of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). Furthermore, his fellow villagers gave him a stern warning that he would be evicted from the village should he back the Wahhabites.
Yandarbiyev blamed the Gudermes conflict on A. Maskhadov. In a newspaper interview he criticized Maskhadov and accused him of fearing the stronger influence of religion on society and of not having a programme by which to strengthen the independence of the republic. Yandarbiev also claimed that the behaviour of persons in official positions paved the way for a division of society along religious lines.1
The Mufti of the Muslims of Chechnya, Kadyrov, rejected Yandarbiyev’s accusation against Maskhadov and pointed out that the role of Wahhabism in Chechnya had increased as a result of the activities of Dagestan’s leading Wahhabite, Bagauddin Magomedov, whom Yandarbiyev had asked to come to Chechnya in August 1996 to establish the Shari’ah. Since Magomedov’s arrival in Chechnya, the Mufti noted, there had been a split among Chechen Muslims; the bloodshed in Gudermes was thus the result of Yandarbiyev’s pro-Wahhabite activities.
Wahhabism: An Extremist or a Peaceful Movement?
In order to consolidate the anti-Wahhabite forces a congress of the Muslims of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia was convened in Grozny in August 1998.2 Spokesmen of the North Caucasus clergy declared at the congress that the Wahhabites contribute to a split among Muslims, commit acts of extremism, meddle in political affairs, arm their supporters, and challenge the official authorities. The congress passed a joint statement condemning Wahhabites and calling upon the authorities of the North Caucasus to outlaw Wahhabites, and to ‘immediately disband pro-Wahhabite armed groupings’. Maskhadov was asked to get rid of ‘representatives of the presidential and governmental staff who back the extremist movement morally and financially’.3
In the wake of such a negative assessment of Wahhabite activities in Chechnya, there was a meeting on 22 July 1999 in the building of the Russian presidential staff on Staraya Ploshchad. The Russian president’s renovated commission on opposing political extremism met with the participation of Minister of Justice Krasheninnikov, FSB Director Kovalev, Minister of Internal Affairs Stepashin, and Minister of Nationalities Affairs Sapiro. The Russian media reported that ‘the commission reached the conclusion that the Wahhabite movement is not extremist. One should distinguish between the religious movement and the extremist trends that exist in it.’4
As many people know, none of the Russian officials mentioned has a corresponding professional training qualifying them to answer the question of whether Wahhabism is an extremist movement or not. The fact that Wahhabism was recognized by the Russian ministers as a peaceful non-extremist movement, when it was officially banned in Chechnya and Ingushetia and assessed as fundamentalism in Dagestan, indicates that Wahhabism in the Northern Caucasus enjoys the backing of certain political quarters in Moscow.
There was an attempt on Maskhadov’s life on 23 July 1998. One of his bodyguards died and several others were wounded, but the president survived with a minor bruise. Some experts attribute this act of banditry to the Wahhabites, who allegedly embarked on the path of revenging the Gudermes crushing defeat. Others claim that the attempt on Maskhadov’s life was part of the preparation for a coup d’etat in Chechnya. In the wake of this attempt, the Shari’ah Court of Chechnya demanded that Yandarbiyev, Barayev and Mezhidov take an oath on the Qur’an swearing they played no part in that crime. Barayev and Mezhidov took the oath on the Qur’an but Yandarbiyev was exempted from it.
On 21 August 1998 there was an attempt on the life of the Mufti of Dagestan, S.-M. Abubakarov, in the city of Makhachkala. His car exploded the moment it pulled up outside the central mosque where the Friday afternoon prayer was to take place. The mufti, his brother and the driver died.
Mufti Abubakarov’s assassination was preceded by a string of events in Dagestan. The residents of the villages of Karamakhi, Chabanmakhi, and Kadar declared ‘an Islamic republic’ on their territories. Dagestan’s authorities characterized these actions as extremist, non-constitutional and ‘posing a threat to Dagestan’s security, its unity and integrity’. A joint meeting of the State Council, Government, and Parliament of Dagestan made a decision that it was necessary to restore constitutional order on these territories. It was backed by Mufti Abubakarov who addressed the meeting sharply, condemning the Wahhabites’ actions. The conflict between the authorities and the Wahhabites in Dagestan became acute.
The Dagestan authorities’ anti-Wahhabite decision drew a reaction from Shamil Basayev, president of the so-called Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan. He said that should arms be used against fellow Muslims who had decided to live according to the Shari’ah, they would be given appropriate assistance. First Deputy Premier T.-A. Atgeriyev and the Mufti of Chechnya observed that Basayev’s statement contradicted the Chechen leadership’s official policy, and that the activities of the Wahhabites, which constitute a minority of the Muslims of Dagestan, are aimed against the numerous peoples who reject Wahhabist ideology. In their opinion, meddling in Dagestan’s affairs is not only a mistake but also a provocation that aims at preventing the strengthening of the Chechen state.
In the conflict between the Wahhabites and the authorities in Dagestan, Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Sergei Stepashin intervened. After he had met with the people of Karamakhi he said their demands were just and called upon the authorities and the media in Dagestan not to insult their religious sentiments by tacking the ‘Wahhabites’ label onto them. Stepashin’s pro-Wahhabite position temporarily defused the situation in Dagestan.
When analysing the causes of the death of the Mufti of Dagestan Russian media, in particular the newspaper Severny Kavkaz, clearly hinted at the involvement of Chechen political and religious radicals – among them ‘one of the first disseminators of Wahhabism in the region’.5 However, Khattab’s involvement in this event is controversial.
Abubakarov, who was raised in the Islamic tradition of Dagestan and Chechnya, had spoken consistently and bravely against Wahhabism. For example, in an interview in Literaturnaya Gazeta he stressed that Wahhabism only carried a mask of Islam and was an ideological and political movement with an extremist deviation.6 The Mufti of Dagestan openly criticized the leadership of Dagestan, which took no measures against the activities of Wahhabites who were ‘fanning ethnic and religious strife’ under the existing article of Russia’s Criminal Code. He accused the ex-secretary of Dagestan’s Security Council, M. Tolboyev, of links to the Wahhabites and to Khattab.
The above reasoning can be used to disorientate public opinion and lead it away from the true reasons for the mufti’s assassination. In the meantime, this assassination is being linked to millions of dollars received from Arab countries for developing Islam in Dagestan: but the mufti himself probably had nothing to do with the money.
In Ingushetia’s capital Nazran a coordination centre of the Muslims of Northern Caucasus was set up with the participation of the Muftis of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia-Alania, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia to oppose the spread of Wahhabism. The organizers intended it to maintain peace and stability and contain the Wahhabites’ influence in the region. The authoritative ‘alim of Ingushetia, Mufti Magomed Albogachiyev, was elected the coordination centre’s chairman for a one-year term.
This association of the Muslims of Northern Caucasus is a reaction by traditional Islam to the threat of religious radicalism. The death of the authoritative religious figure of the entire North Caucasus expedited its creation.
A ‘New’ Political Opposition
In the wake of Maskhadov’s election as President of Chechnya in January 1997, Yandarbiyev – who then fell from power – and his ‘deputy president’, S.-Kh. Abumuslimov, organized a rally in Grozny at which they accused Maskhadov of having been elected with the financial backing of Moscow. Suffering a crushing electoral defeat, Yandarbiyev and his supporters formed a political opposition to the popularly elected Chechen President. Also, S. Raduyev and his close entourage embarked on an open political struggle against the President.
From the point of view of the opposition, Maskhadov has deviated from the path mapped out by Dzhokhar Dudayev and is inclined to make concessions to Russia. The opposition had formal grounds for this conclusion: in his campaign speech Maskhadov once said that Dudayev should have been more diplomatic and flexible in his relations with Russia. He also called for a common sphere with Russia in economic, military and educational matters. The opposition viewed his political vision negatively.
The present President of Chechnya is less charismatic than the first Chechen President; he does not permit rash statements about the Russian leadership, and he sticks to the diplomatic etiquette, which his opponents interpret as a weakness of his policy.
The assassination of A. Saidov, the Russian envoy in Chechnya, and the insolent abduction of four Britons who were installing satellite communications facilities in Chechnya, and their execution, were intended to discredit the Chechen authorities before the world community.
It cannot be ruled out that Maskhadov’s ideological and political enemies played a part in this. On behalf of the entire Chechen people, President Maskhadov declared a vendetta on those who abduct and kill people, and called upon the entire population to combat this evil. The mobilization of the people being carried out by Chechen power structures, the war against criminal groups and the arrests being made indicate the authorities’ determination to end crime in Chechnya. But among the illegal armed units are those of Raduyev, Kh.-P. Israpilov, Basayev and Khattab and armed Wahhabites. The presidential executive’s order disbanding all illegal groups has so far not been implemented. In the meantime these forces comprise the main body of opposition to the official Chechen authorities, therefore a possible clash between them and the state’s power structures cannot be excluded. But there will be no civil war in Chechnya like that in Afghanistan because the Chechens at large realize that the ‘new’ oppositionists have ‘rebelled’ against the legitimate authority not for the sake of the people but for the sake of narrow mercenary interests.
The 25 October 1998 successful attempt on the life of the head of the Administration for Combating Abduction of People in Chechnya, S. Bargishev, should be seen as a clash between the authorities and the opposition. It was carried out the day the authorities planned a large-scale operation against criminals who abduct people. On 26 October 1998 there were failed attempts on the lives of Mufti Kadyrov and field commander S. Yamadayev. Commenting on these attempts the Mufti of Chechnya remarked that he has no enemies except the Wahhabites.
In early 1999 the tension between the authorities and the opposition increased. Maskhadov faced fresh accusations of deviating from Dudayev’s path, including numerous violations of the Constitution of Chechnya, failure to observe Shari’ah laws, lack of interest in creating an Islamic state and concessions to the hated Russia. To check up on the accusations against Maskhadov a commission was set up comprising members of the opposition, the parliament, and the presidential staff. The commission did not uphold the accusations against Maskhadov and his activities were recognized as constitutional.
The Supreme Shari’ah Court considered an action brought by the president against Raduyev accusing him of taking over the state television and of an attempted coup, and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. However, Raduyev was not arrested.
Raduyev and Basayev regarded the Shari’ah Court decision as biased. In the eyes of Chechen public opinion they thereby became associated with Muslims who ignore Shari’ah Court decisions.
Conflicts have regularly occurred between Chechnya’s Parliament and the new Supreme Shari’ah Court (SSC), which was established by a presidential decree. The SSC claimed supreme legislative power. Parliament, however, considered such power to be within its jurisdiction. The issue was resolved in a rather special manner. The SSC abolished Parliamentary legislation, arguing that laws should be based strictly on Shari’ah. This no parliament can do.
The Parliament declared the SSC to be an unconstitutional body, as it had not been elected by the people. In an effort to resolve the differences between the authorities vis-à-vis the opposition, on the one hand, and the Parliament vis-à-vis the SSC, on the other, a Shura, a Council of State comprised of ‘alims and authoritative field commanders, was created. The authorities initially declined this idea with the result that the media once again accused the president of reluctance to build a republic based completely on Shari’ah. The opposition, and especially the Wahhabites, put political pressure on Maskhadov. They submitted to him a number of demands, the most important of which was to place Chechnya under Shari’ah state rule.
The opposition scheduled for 4 February 1999 a congress of the Military–Patriotic Forces of Chechnya to discuss the sociopolitical situation in the republic and to assess Maskhadov’s political and economic policy. Finding himself under strong sustained pressure from the radical clergy, especially of the Wahhabite variety, and from opposition field commanders, Maskhadov appeared on television on 3 February to read out his decree on introducing full Shari’ah rule in Chechnya. Legislative activities of parliament were annulled as of 4 February, and a commission was appointed to develop a Constitution based on the Shari’ah. The president called on the assistance of all state bodies and the clergy in bringing this decree into effect.
In the opinion of Basayev, the president finally embraced genuine Islam and, as Shari’ah rule would come into effect, Maskhadov would automatically cease to be Chechnya’s president. Our further objective, Basayev concluded, is to set up a shura, the supreme state body. Thus, with his decree, Maskhadov abolished the legislative basis for the executive and legislative branches of state authority in Chechnya.
The introduction of Shari’ah rule, however, did not resolve the conflict between the authority and opposition. Instead two shuras came into being in Chechnya – one led by Basayev and the other by Maskhadov. On the whole people have mixed feelings about the presidential decree. In general people are of the opinion that society is not ready to abide strictly by the Shari’ah canons. The frequently heard view is that they should have first eradicated crime and established the conditions for work and remuneration for men, thereby freeing women from engaging in street and market trade.
Since it is difficult to create such conditions in today’s Chechnya, the Chechen woman retains her role as principal breadwinner for her family although, under Shari’ah, she is supposed to stay with the children. Today, however, she is forced to trade in the market in order to provide for her family. This is one of the most important violations of Shari’ah rules. Societies in which Shari’ah reigns also wage the most merciless war on crime, whereas Chechnya has not rid itself of crime. Furthermore, the traditional way of life of Chechens, their customs and social relationships are mostly based on ‘adat (customary laws) rather than Shari’ah canons. There are quite a few contradictions between Chechen realities and the precepts by which the Shari’ah Chechens are supposed to abide.
In the broad historical perspective it can be seen how hard it is to establish Shari’ah in Chechnya. During the 19th century Caucasian War, Shamil tried to impose Shari’ah on the Caucasian mountaineers, including the Chechens, and to eradicate the old ‘adat. His attempt virtually failed. The ‘adat proved so deep-seated in the lives of the mountaineers that the Shari’ah being imposed by Shamil had to adapt to their traditional cultural peculiarities. Pure Islam pushed by the Wahhabites has not become widespread among the Caucasus mountain people. The Islam established in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia is a Sufi brand of Islam assimilated by the local ‘adat. Shari’ah rigour has never prevailed among the Caucasus mountaineers, a marriage between ‘adat and Shari’ah also remained during the years of Soviet government in Chechen society despite the efforts of communist legislation to eradicate both ‘adat and Shari’ah.
Some functions related to family and everyday life, religion, funerals and other social events have been the province of Shari’ah. Chechen etiquette, emphatic hospitality, mutual assistance, military valour, vendetta, and so on, are based largely on ‘adat. In short, the laws by which mountain societies used to live have not been purely Islamic, they were of a dual nature because they combined Shari’ah with their traditional national culture.
The above symbiosis can be attributed to the more flexible Sufi ideology that easily lends itself to adapting to popular beliefs, customs and traditions. This peculiarity, enabling the incorporation into Islam of elements of popular culture related to the cult of ancestors, elders, native land and etiquette, led to its massive dissemination among Dagestan-Nakh peoples.
Realizing that pure Shari’ah, the Wahhabite variety, cannot take root in Chechnya because of the dominant role of the traditional Chechen political and spiritual culture, the jurist and public figure Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev presented in the newspaper Groznensky Rabochy and later in Nezavisimaya Gazeta what at first appears to be his vision of a political and state system for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
In his draft of a programme declaration, ‘Fundamentals of Organizing State Authority in the ChRI’, he says that the models of the West and East are alien to the Chechens because they are not Europeans or Asians but Caucasians. He therefore suggests that state authority in Chechnya be organized ‘on the basis of the national institutions and a millennium-long experience of the social structure of the Chechen people so as to preserve national values, protect state sovereignty of the Chechen people, civil peace and national accord in the republic’.7 He considers that the authority should be exercised by ‘a collective body of the heads of tayps’, called a Mekhl Khel (Council of the Country), elected by popular referendum and recognized as the supreme governing body of the republic The Mekhl Khel shall form the three branches – legislative, judicial and executive – and be the guarantor of their legitimacy.
Nukhayev’s draft postulates the presence of a Constitution for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria based on the legal and moral precepts of the Qur’an. At the same time, the draft calls for dividing the authorities into legislative, executive and judicial branches that should be independent. Naturally, this principle contravenes Shari’ah, which calls for combining secular and religious powers in one person (the head of state).
Nukhayev suggests that bodies of state power be elected via ‘a multilevel selection system, nomination of candidates by clans, tayps and tukkhums’. Nine Chechen tukkhums shall elect a Mekhk Da – head of state; and equal numbers of representatives of tukkhums shall be nominated to the Lor Is – the supreme legislative body, and to the Yust Is – the supreme judicial body. The ethnic minorities, in his opinion, shall participate in the political affairs of the state by delegating the leaders of their communities to the Mekhl Khel. In general outline, this is the alternative to the Shari’ah concept of the state system for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria proposed by Nukhayev.
This concept is certainly as close as possible to the social system of the Chechens and their spiritual and moral state. Relying on Chechen language legal and political terms, it reflects the people’s mentality in contrast to the Shari’ah system of rule declared in Chechnya. Nukhayev’s concept that contradicts the purely Shari’ah-based system of government has met with certain support in Chechen public opinion. The local media speak of it with approval, recognizing it as a more acceptable model for a political and state system for Chechnya.
While emphasizing the peculiarities of the social and spiritual mentality of the Chechen people, the draft is not without drawbacks. The legal and political experience absorbed by the people in the years of Soviet government still remains firm in Chechen society and it does not seem as though the reconstruction of the archaic forms of the Chechens’ social system in combination with Islamic values will be an easy process.
The abduction in Chechnya of Maj. Gen. Shpigun of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in charge of the network of filtration camps on the territory of Chechnya was yet another challenge to President Maskhadov’s authority. The latest attempt on Maskhadov’s life was the fifth tough challenge from his political opponents and primarily by Islamic extremists in the shape of criminal groups. There are grounds to believe that the religious–political and military opposition to Maskhadov’s rule take on new dimensions if well-known Islamic terrorist Usama Ben-Laden, who left the territory of Afghanistan, really turns up among the ranks of North Caucasus Wahhabites.
Udugov has stated more than once that the Islamic jihad is supposed to start in Chechnya and be extended to the rest of the world, with the objectives of establishing an Islamic world order and shaping an Islamic world nation. Such theory and practice hold little attraction for the Chechen people who need, as never before, a peaceful life and the restoration of their finest spiritual, moral and cultural values.
Modern interpreters of the Islamic jihad see it as eternal war with the infidel while glossing over the great jihad against individual and collective human vices. Data of the poll conducted in Grozny by the Sector of Sociological Studies of the Analytical Administration indicate that attitudes to Islamic radicalism are being forced on the Chechen people by a narrow circle of politicians and Islamists. The data show that the rating of the president is four times that of the shura, which insists that the president should resign. ‘Furthermore, nearly half of the 1,120 people polled trust A. Maskhadov, while only 6 per cent trust S. Basayev, and 5.4 per cent, Udugov’.8
It seems hard to believe that pure Shari’ah rule would take root in Chechnya without a range of problems being solved – rebuilding the economy, ending crime, reaching internal unity, and clearly defining the political relationship with Russia. The presence of traditional Sufi culture also make the establishment of such rule more difficult.
1 Kavkazskaya Konfederatsiy, no. 7, Aug. 1998.
2 See ‘Wahhabism outlawed?’, Golos Chechenskoy Respublik, 6 Aug. 1998
4 Izvestiya, 22 July 1998.
5 Severny Kavkaz, Aug. 1998.
6 Literaturnaya gazeta, 1 Apr. 1998.
7 Groznensky Rabochy, 28 Jan.–3 Feb. 1999.
8 Groznensky Rabochy, 23–31 Mar. 1999.