ISLAM IN DAGESTAN

Amri Shikhsaidov


Amri SHIKHSAIDOV is Professor and Head of the Department of Oriental Manuscripts at the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography at the Dagestani Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


It is a well-known fact that Islam has become one of the most influential and important factors of sociopolitical life in Dagestan: the situation in the region can no longer be understood outside the context of the religion. Political scientists describe Dagestan as ‘the most Islamized’ republic of the Russian Federation, and this is no exaggeration.

The Process of Islamization in Dagestan

It is logical to start the analysis of the religious situation in today’s Dagestan with a brief overview of the past and the specifics of the process of Islamization in Dagestan.

This unprecedented process has taken place over 1000 years on the small territory of the north-eastern Caucasus with a dozen more or less independent ethnic and political structures. Only by the end of the 16th century had Islam acquired the status of the official religion of all Dagestani feudal possessions and numerous alliances of rural communities. Foreign political forces (the Arabs, Turks, especially Seljuk Turks, Mongols, Persians and others) persistently and consistently conducted the policy of Islamization. The final result was that the Shafi’ite (Shafi’i) school of Sunnite (or Sunni) Islam was established in Dagestan. Another important fact that ought to be recognized is that Sufism became a form of daily life in Dagestan.

Islam stands out in the history of the peoples of Dagestan as an inalienable part of their culture. The ‘Islamic factor’ manifested itself most distinctly in the 19th century in the liberation struggle led by Shamil and the 1877 uprising.

The 20th century up to the beginning of the 1980s went down in history as an era of triumphant militant atheism that caused the collapse of the religion-based culture, dislodging the roots of religion. Religious experiences and values were totally rejected. Whereas tsarist Russia left Islamic ritual practices and education almost untouched, and meddled only slightly with the judicial system (it preserved mosques, religious and ordinary schools, and Shari’ah courts), the new socioeconomic formation founded in October 1917 minimized Islamic civilization and removed it completely from the sphere of state, economic and political life and, to a considerable extent, from everyday life and ritual practices.

The establishment of the Soviet Government signified a new, militant, attitude to religion. The Bolsheviks repressed the clergy and closed mosques and Muslim educational institutions – madrasahs. According to the Dzh. Karkmasov’s information, before the revolution Dagestan had about 10 000 functioning Muslim schools including 2311 registered madrasahs, 1700 mosques, 5000 mullahs, and 7000 muta’alims. The mosques owned about 35 100 acres of waqf land, representing an impressive ideological and economic force. In 1988, there remained in Dagestan as few as 27 functioning mosques and, according to official statistics, not a single madrasah or maktab, not a single institution to train Muslim clerics, not a single registered school for the Qur’an or the Arabic language. At the same time, and despite the harshest measures against religion, in Muslim schools in a number of villages in Dagestan (especially in the Avar, Dargin and Kumyk districts – such as Akusha, Levashi, Khunzakh, Gubden, Kumukh, Khashtada, Tarki, Endirey, Urada, Tidib, Batlukh, etc.) instruction in the Qur’an and Arabic continued in secret.

The laws ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations’ passed by the USSR Supreme Soviet in 1990 and ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations’ passed by the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Dagestan in May 1991, opened up what was actually a new stage of the country’s re-Islamization process. In Dagestan, it was marked by the opening of many religious buildings. By July 1995 there were 1270 mosques, of which more than 850 were registered ones. Attached to the mosques, there were 650 schools and groups to train young people in the basics of Islam. Working for the religious societies were 2200 imams and mu’ezzins. By that time 25 madrasahs were already training clerical personnel for Dagestan. It took only three years to build 388 mosques and hand back to Muslim communities nearly 300 mosques that had been converted to other uses. According to data of the Administration for Religious Affairs of the Republic of Dagestan’s government, in April 1998 there were 1670 mosques (9 churches, 4 synagogues), 670 schools attached to mosques, 25 madrasahs and 9 higher Muslim schools in Dagestan. By April 1998, there were more than 20 tariqah fellowships and an increased interest in ‘holy places’. What we see is a ‘triumphal’ process of rebuilding religious communities. The number of religious structures and organizations grew in subsequent years, but the main figures have in principle stabilized. The re-Islamization is mainly taking place in the sphere of ritual practices and cult (the opening of new mosques, restoration of the functioning ones, massive pilgrimages to the sanctuaries, religious observances).

Yet another peculiarity that is not always taken into account by local and central authorities is that the re-Islamization and return to traditions are noticeably ethnically oriented. This process is most intensive in Dagestan’s north and west, and it is much weaker in central and southern Dagestan, or, to be specific, it is intensive in the areas populated by the Avar and Dargin (excluding Kaytag) Kumyk. It is much weaker among Lezgians, Laks, Tabasaran and Dargin-Kaytag). It is difficult at this point to pinpoint the reason for this interesting circumstance but, according to a number of observations, the regions that are lagging behind were completely Islamized in the 8th and 12th centuries. In Soviet times, the atheist campaign was the most intensive here, destroying all mosques (with the exception of the Juma Mosque in Derbent), and all Muslim institutions of learning. As for the regions in Dagestan’s north and west, which embraced Islam later, they retained 26 mosques on their territories. During Soviet times, when mosques no longer functioned, worship took place at alternative shrines (ziyarats), which were not the focus of the local authorities. People in these regions continued to observe Muslim rites, secretly studying the Qur’an and the Arabic language. It should be added that the Dargin and Avar regions contributed the largest number of Sufi manuscripts by Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), an outstanding Muslim philosopher. They have also preserved the largest collection of manuscripts (mainly in Arabic) and books printed before the 18th century. The reviving Islam has found a certain material and ideological leverage there.

Nevertheless, the institutions of religious learning are but shadows of what they were in 18th–19th century Dagestan in terms of their numbers, the scope of knowledge of their students, facilities and social and international prestige. The available literature on Islam is of a low quality.

Students are being mainly instructed in the Qur’an, sunnah, the rules of reading the Qur’an and the Arabic language. Several hundred young Dagestani men are being trained in Saudi Arabia, Egypt (al-Azhar University), Syria, Tunisia and Pakistan. The absence of skilled teachers is also responsible for the drawbacks in the system of religious education (the lack of approved textbooks, technical support of the Islamic world’s religious higher schools standard, lack of jobs and insufficient standard of knowledge).

This did not go unnoticed among the bodies of state authority and in the religious sphere. ‘Unfortunately, we have to admit today that the revival processes in Islam are not resulting in any sizable progress in Muslim’s moral and spiritual life owing to which Islam has so far failed to become a consolidating and stabilizing factor in the republic’, said M. M. Gusayev, Minister of National Policy Affairs, Information and Foreign Relations of the Republic of Dagestan. ‘Nobody knows the exact number of institutions of religious learning in Dagestan . . . they are tens of times more than what the republic needs’. ‘None of the countless Islamic “institutes” and “universities” has been certified or accredited and at best they have licenses entitling them to educational activities . . . Among the rectors of the considerable number of Islamic “institutes” and “universities” there is not a single person with a higher, or at least secondary, professional education. Even worse, none of them have a secular higher or secondary professional education’, said Ilyas-haji Ilyasov, adviser to the chairman of the Republic of Dagestan Government for religious matters.

Public Organizations and Movements

It is impossible to understand any important political process inside Dagestani society today without considering the region’s ethnic makeup. The widely held view that there are people of more than 30 nationalities in Dagestan is almost true. There are people of 28 ‘indigenous’ nationalities and their languages, in addition to numerous dialects. The most numerous people are the Avars (in 1999 there were more than 570 000 people speaking all the Avar languages), the Dargins (more than 330 000), the Kumyks (267 000) and the Lezgins (250 000). Other small national groups include the Rutuls, the Tsakhurs, the Aguls, the Tats and the Highland Jews.

These peoples have centuries-long experience of living together. It is therefore impossible to agree with the view that the re-Islamization process is ‘going on amid ethnic strife and stand-off and souring relationships between religions’. Looking at the contemporary social and political conflicts in the sphere of relations between religious groups diverts attention from the actual reasons for tension.

Today’s ethnic and political situation in Dagestan is the result of the political, economic and financial crisis in Russia. Dagestan has the lowest standard of living in the whole of Russia. The sharp decline in industrial production; the actual collapse of agriculture; the general decline of morals and culture; the massive unemployment of threatening proportions; the appearance of numerous ‘declassed’ elements in the population; the short-sighted policy of the centre or rather the absence of a thoroughly reasoned political and socioeconomic concept; the sharp polarization of society; a gaping gulf between the authority and the majority of the population – all these things are responsible for the situation in today’s Dagestan and they constitute the main sources of conflict. The consequences are predictable: a sharp rise in the crime rate; bandit groups with steady connections to similar groups in Chechnya; organized crime, contract killings, harassment of dissidents, abduction of people, struggle for spheres of influence and redistribution of property; corruption and bribery; various forms of extremism, including religious extremism; and, finally, an ideological vacuum in the post-Soviet society.

An interesting survey was conducted by the Regional Centre for Ethnographic Studies of the Dagestan Scientific Centre of the Academy of Sciences. Answers to the question ‘With what do you connect the problem of terrorism in the republic?’ were as follows: The fighting between clans and mafia-like groups for power and redistribution of property (66.2 per cent), the wrong personnel policy (9.6 per cent) and religious extremism (4.2 per cent).

The powerful national and Islamic resurgence in 1989–94 spawned numerous public and political movements. Dozens of associations have emerged on the political stage in recent years. These movements were structured mainly on the ethnic principle; the Kumyk people’s Tenglik movement, the Lak people’s Gazikumukh movement, the Avar people’s movement named after Imam Shamil, the Nogay interregional Birlik movement, the Lezgin people’s Sadval movement, the Lak Tsubarz cultural society and so on. Without exception their programmes stressed the movements’ cultural and educational character and proclaimed the idea of preserving and augmenting their cultural values.

Remarkably, the programmes or charters of nearly all the movements and people’s fronts were not oriented to preserving and reviving Islamic values. This departure from the ‘Islamic factor’ ought to be attributed to the lack of understanding and an underestimation of Islam’s positive potentials in the area of cultural revival. The fact that Islam was excluded as an element of the cultural identity can be explained by the remaining influence of Soviet ideology.

Admittedly, the various political parties and national movements which were founded mainly in the early 1990s and played a big constructive part in Dagestan’s public life have gradually lost much of their appeal, and most of them have grown less active in public and political affairs.

In the 1990s a number of Islamic parties were founded, including the Higher Coordination Centre of the Spiritual Boards of Russia’s Muslims (chairman, Nafigulla Ashirov), the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of the Russia’s Central European Region (mufti and chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gaynutdin), and the Central Spiritual Board of Muslims of Russia and European Countries of the CIS (the former Spiritual Board of the European USSR and Siberia) chaired by ‘supreme Mufti’ Talgat Tajudin.

The first party – the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) – was founded in Astrakhan in 1990. After the USSR’s collapse in 1991 it grew to become the All-Russia Islamic Party of Revival chaired by Akhmad-qazi Akhtayev (who died in 1998). The party advocated unity of the peoples of Dagestan, in order to overcome the consequences of the policy of state atheism, and propagated for turning Dagestan in the long term and under certain circumstances into an Islamic state, and the creation in Dagestan of a single religious organization. Based on this party, an educational organization was founded in 1996 called Al-Islamiyyah led by Akhmad-qazi Akhtayev. A branch of the IPR was founded.

The first congress of the Union of Muslims of Russia (UMR) elected Nadir Khachilayev from Dagestan chairman of its Executive Committee in September 1995. The UMR opposed ‘national and religious extremism’, advocated settlement of all questions in accordance with the laws of the Russian Federation and Dagestan ‘taking account of the peculiarities, traditions, cultural heritage and the main provisions of islam’. The UMR’s fulcrum was Dagestan’s Muslim population, in particular people in the Lak regions. The New Muslims of Russia All-Russia Public and Political Movement chaired by Imam Mukaldas Bibarsov was apparently founded as an alternative to the UMR.

The NUR All-Russia Muslim Public Movement was founded in 1995 ‘to protect the interests and rights of Muslims of Russia and represent them in the bodies of state authority’. There is a NUR branch in Dagestan (there are altogether 72 branches and representative offices in Russia). The NUR developed a Comprehensive Programme of Spiritual and Moral Betterment of Society. The cultural and enlightenment programme also aimed at preparing the ground for organizing Shari’ah courts in Dagestan, in addition to state courts to meet the needs of some parties, as well as explaining Shari’ah and the Islamic view of polygamy, marriage and divorce, publishing Islamic calendars, posters and plates with ayat and hadiths, and so on.

Early in 1999 there emerged yet another All-Russia Political Public Movement, called the All-Russia Islamic Congress. It founded a Dagestani branch on 26 March 1999 with Anvar Kadiev, chairman of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Dagestan, as its head. The objective of the Dagestani branch is clearly formulated in its rules: ‘To represent in the political sphere the interests, views and will of that part of society which shares on a secular basis the ideas and values of Islam, to participate in political affairs of society, to participate in elections for bodies of state authority and to promote local government, spiritual, political, economic and cultural revival of Dagestan’. The Islamic Democratic Party of Dagestan (chairman, Abdurashid Saidov) was founded in Moscow in 1990 and then renamed the Islamic Party of Dagestan (chairman, Prof. Surakat Asiyatilov). Initially, the party raised the question of the ‘religious status of the Republic of Dagestan’, but subsequently this question was never dealt with.

The main tasks of nearly all the movements and their religious branches do not go beyond cultural and enlightenment activities, and only a few of them envisage participation in the bodies of power (in the centre and locally). The presence of a large number of all-Russian Islamic public organizations and their branches in Dagestan is an indication of their weakness, following from a gap between these movements and the masses of the Muslim population. The deputy chairman of the Spiritual Board of Dagestan Muslims, who ran for the People’s Assembly of Dagestan, had no support from Islamic movements. In the latest elections to the People’s Assembly of the Republic of Dagestan (7 and 21 March 1999), not a single religious personage was elected to the republic’s legislature. The press notes that ‘the tradition of a docile and compromise-based approach in Islam is gradually yielding to a protest-based (nonconformist) Islam where there can be no compromise on the principal issues (first of all the role of Islam and of the Muslim movement in politics). Islam does not accept and regards as artificial a division into religious life and secular life. Islam and politics are inseparable’.1 The creation of public and political parties does not signify an emphasis on non-compromise.

The Clergy vis-à-vis the Wahhabites

A few words are needed about the role of the clergy in the spiritual revival of Dagestan’s society. A Spiritual Board of North Caucasus Muslims was created in the 1940s. The processes of the USSR’s disintegration had a direct impact on the future of religions. There was a split in the Board in 1992 and the Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims was created. It was not long before it split into several small ethnic boards: the Avar Board (based in Makhachkala and operating under the name of the Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims), the Kumyk Board (based in Makhachkala), the Lak Board (based in Makhachkala) and the Dargin Qaziate (based in Izberbash).

Parallel to the split in the joint North Caucasian spiritual organization an effort was made to create an all-Caucasian social and political structure. The Third Congress of Mountainous People in November 1991 proposed the creation of the Mountaineers’ Republic of the Caucasus. A declaration was adopted which suggested that the Russian Federation Treaty would be replaced by a confederation. The idea for a single North Caucasian state structure, or administrative-political integration of the entire region, lacks prospects. It failed in 1918 and cannot become a reality today since the conditions do not exist.

At the same time, unification processes in the sphere of religions inside Dagestan are a ‘dictate of the times’. The Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims was reinstated in September 1994 (its mufti, before 21 August 1998, was Sayidmuhammad-haji Abubakarov, who was succeeded by Akhmad-haji Abdullayev). A new hierarchy was developed so as to gradually close the organizational gap between the Spiritual Board and the clergy of the lower echelon. The chairman of the Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims (SADM) is elected by the Council of Dagestan ‘Ulama who are elected by the congress. In May 1995, the SADM and the Council of ‘Ulama ruled to set up councils (shuras) of mosques attached to all juma-mosques, to set up district councils of the clergy comprising the imams of the councils of mosques, to create a Supreme Council of spiritual authorities attached to the SADM comprising representatives of district councils of the clergy. Thus a system of religious institutions not typical of Dagestan was created.

Attitudes to Islam are mixed. According to some negative assessments, the political revival of Islam brings no noticeable progress to the moral and spiritual life of Muslims; Islam has not become a factor consolidating society; the gap between the Muslim clergy and the faithful is growing; the split on ethnic grounds is now supplemented by a split among the faithful; there are differences between the clergy, political parties and the state; society and the state adhere to a secular system whereas the clergy and Islamic parties advocate the creation in Dagestan of an Islamic republic. Far from becoming a factor of stabilizing the social and political situation in the republic, religion is adding to its tensions.

According to some positive assessments, the Islamic factor can also be seen as one enhancing the role of Muslim culture and its values. Chairman of the People’s Assembly M. G. Aliyev says: ‘Without religion we do not have our history, and we will help our traditional religious movements, traditional religion . . . and strengthen the Spiritual Board in this matter’. One cannot but agree with this view.

Throughout its existence, the Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims has operated in accordance and understanding with the republican state structures – the State Council, People’s Assembly and the government. Their relations have been regulated by a number of documents. The Board of Muslims works together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs (the former Administration of Religious Affairs).

The Spiritual Board advocated the unity of all Muslims of Dagestan, peace and stability in the republic and opposed extremism (religious extremism, first and foremost). This, however, did not mean that the religious elite sided with the state. Some changes were made in the form of the relationship between the authorities and religious leaders. The latter stopped being an obedient tool of the authorities.

According to its Constitution Dagestan is a secular state with every citizen having the right to freely profess or not to profess any religion. Religious organizations are separate from the state.

Wahhabism has come to play a considerable role in Dagestan’s political life. As a religious–political movement it made its presence especially felt in Dagestan some 10 years ago. Wahhabites advocate the ‘purification of Islam’ by completely rejecting bid’ah and Sunnite madhhabs (Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi’ites, Hanbalites), pilgrimages to Mecca, condemning the cult of saints, rejecting Sufi tariqahs and their sheikhs. Debates between Wahhabites and traditionalists have gone far beyond the dogmatic, ritual sphere. In 1996–97 there were serious clashes between the two communities in a number of villages in the Buynaksk, Kizilyurt, Tsumadin and Khasavyurt districts. which sometimes escalated into armed clashes (as for example 12–14 May 1997).

The harshest criticism of the Wahhabites and their activities came from the Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims. In many mosques in the republic the sense and essence of Wahhabism was explained to people. The Council of ‘Ulama in Buynaksk banned unregistered mosques, the teaching of Wahhabite ideas to children and the dissemination of corresponding literature. Dagestan’s spiritual leadership and the republic’s authorities joined efforts against Wahhabism. In March 1998 at the republican Ministry of Justice the heads of religious organizations and a number of public and political movements gathered to ‘condemn extremism, including religious extremism, and called upon the bodies of power and the Administration to take resolute measures to eradicate it’.

The number of active Wahhabites in Dagestan already runs into several thousands. Their impact on the political process in the republic is growing and increasingly felt, they are well armed and receive active financial backing from a number of Muslim centres abroad.

In July 1998 the Congress of Muslims of the North Caucasus also condemned extremism ‘in any garb, especially religious one’ and demanded the ‘passing of enactments to outlaw all extremist movements and place teaching, publication and distribution of literature under control of official spiritual boards’. On behalf of the congress participants, the resolution was signed by the muftis of the Republics of Ichkeria, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

As we know, what happened in Chechnya considerably worsened the sociopolitical situation in Dagestan. The introduction of the Shari’ah courts and the establishment of a Shari’ah state soured relations between the two republics. At the same time, the most radical of the Wahhabites from Dagestan found support from similar forces in Chechnya (the Islamic Association of Dagestan, and the Central Front of Liberation of Dagestan). In December 1998 the Majlis of the Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan, or CPID (Dagestan’s official bodies did not support the idea of calling this forum), passed a resolution ‘calling for jihad against the infidel’, created the Foreign Legion ‘in the interests of security of the Chechen Islamic state and so that Islamic ideas should triumph around the world’. The CPID set clear political goals that destabilize the political situation in the North Caucasus: ‘No’ to the Russian empire on the soil of Ichkeria and Dagestan; ‘Yes’ to prosperity of the ummah of Ichkeria and Dagestan; ‘Yes’ to the beginning of an Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus’. In a response to these developments the Coordination Centre of the North Caucasian Muslims convened on 24 February 1999. Earlier, in August 1998, the heads of spiritual administrations of the North Caucasus had spoken in one voice for joining efforts to uphold stability and peace in the region. They set up the Coordination Centre of North Caucasus Muslims (CCMNC) and thereby united for the first time top spiritual leaders of the North Caucasus (the Chechen Republic, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karacheyevo-Cherkessia, Stavropol kray, Adygea, North Ossetia–Alania) ‘in order to impede the forces trying to sever the North Caucasus from Russia’. When the Coordination Council met again in February 1999, the Mufti of Dagestan, Akhmad-haji Abdullayev, said the main objective of the CCMNC was the ‘organization of joint activities of the State Duma of the Russian Federation and the newly created Coordination Centre of the Muslims of Northern Caucasus to establish political stability and religious accord in the region, as well as to oppose religious movements of an extremist character’ (Wahhabites, etc).2

A number of religious and political figures believe that extremism can be countered only by knowledge, since political, and especially religious, extremism comes from ignorance.

Noted jurist L. R. Sykiäinen justly wrote: ‘I cannot imagine how one can fight Islamic fundamentalism without taking care first and foremost of developing Muslim culture and education, and recognizing the important positive role of the unique Islamic civilization. The most effective fight against fundamentalism is to introduce different values, that means the traditional values of Islam.’

Recognizing the role of all the religions existing in Dagestan as a consolidating force, its government and administrative bodies condemned all types of propaganda and incitement of social, racial, ethnic and religious strife.

One cannot but notice the radicalization of the clergy in a number of regions in Dagestan. This process has not been studied well enough, although it merits the closest attention of researchers. Instances of interference in private and public life (bans on concerts and films and a prohibition on attending secular schools) are not infrequent.

The role of the Muslim jama'at community has yet to be seriously studied. For example, the power in many villages in the Tsumadin district has actually ended up in the hands of the Muslim elite (V. O. Bobrovnikov). This sort of arrogation by the clergy of functions traditionally uncharacteristic of it can be seen in a number of other districts. ‘It was Shari’ah law that they were guided by in Shamil district in electing their head of administration . . . ’. The jama’ah of the village of Ansab ‘turned all the goods accumulated by the state farm into cash in aid of the madrasah’, which means it turned everything into waqf. 3 In the Akush and Levash districts, the distribution of plots of land is carried out not infrequently with decisive participation of the clergy.

The growing political role of Islam in Dagestan is obvious. Many political, public and, of course, religious forces invoke Islam.

Researchers stress the fact that there is a widespread fear in Dagestan that mixing Islam with politics radicalizes the former, and paves the way for fundamentalist and Wahhabite ideas. At the same time, the Supreme Mufti of Siberia and the Far East, Nafigulla Ashirov, points out that often ‘the growth of Muslims’ Islamic self-awareness and, as a consequence, the strengthening of the Islamic factor are billed as the growth of “Islamic fundamentalism”, “Islamic extremism” or “Islamism” and Wahhabism and Wahhabite have become the most frequently used terms’.

When an armed group took over the State Council, People’s Assembly and the government building on 20–21 May 1998, the Muslim clergy in the shape of the Mufti of the Spiritual Board of Dagestan’s Muslims, Muhammadsaid-haji Abubakarov, condemned the act as anti-constitutional. At the same time, the Islamic press underscored that the armed ‘oppositionists’ had been nurtured by the authorities of the republic.4 In the wake of the powerful bomb blast on 4 September 1998 the state authorities discussed together with the clergy the latter’s role in maintaining peace and calm in the republic, spiritual betterment and consolidation of the constitutional system. All this gives grounds to reject the view that under the present conditions Islam can hardly be a factor of consolidation of Dagestan’s society.

The assessment of the activities of a separate fundamentalist-minded part should not be extended to the entire clergy of Dagestan, who on the whole advocate ideas of the traditional Shafi’ite madhhab and the Sufi brotherhoods. Incidentally, radical representatives of Islam from the villages of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi of the Buynaksk district announced the introduction of Shari’ah on their territory. Incidentally, both villages remain ‘in the area covered by Shari’ah laws’.

On 21 August 1998 Abubakarov was assassinated. During his brief period as head of the Muslim community of Dagestan he proved to be the most authoritative leader, a highly competent cleric who worked for unity and stability in the republic against all forms of extremism, manifestations of chauvinism and nationalism. His assassination was further proof that the wave of organized crime and the attempts to destabilize the sociopolitical situation in Dagestan had assumed unprecedented proportions and come to threaten peace and stability in Dagestan. On 29 August 1998 a Dagestan-wide congress to commemorate Mufti Muhammadsaid-haji Abubakarov, organized by the clergy, was attended by 3000 people. It condemned the wave of crime and approved a resolution demanding the resignation of the government led by the chairman of the State Council of Dagestan. The People’s Assembly was also asked to amend the republic’s Constitution, so that the leader of the republic should be elected by the people ‘in general, direct and secret ballot’, and to call such elections.

Traditional Sufism and Prospects for the Future

In Dagestan the Naqshbandiyyah and Qadiriyyah tariqahs wield tremendous influence. Sufism in Dagestan has its roots in the 10th–11th centuries. Epigraphic records of the 12th–17th centuries indicate that Sufi brotherhoods penetrated deep into the mountainous regions. Sufi treatises (especially Al-Ghazali’s works) were found copied in Dagestani settlements in the 15th–17th centuries. In the 1730s, the Naqshbandiyyah mujhadidiyyah brotherhood made its way into countries of the Middle East. In 1811, mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi (1776–1827) organized his own khalidiyyah branch. Naqshbandiyyah-khalidiyyah made its way from Turkey into the Caucasus to become the ideological base for ‘muridism’ there under the leadership of Shamil (Islam, Entsiklopedicheskiy slovar’). The first serious studies of khalidiyyah in Dagestan showed that the brotherhood played a tremendous role in the political and ideological life of Dagestan’s society. The spiritual teachers of Gazimagomed, Shamil, Muhammed al-Yaragi and Jamalitdin of Gazikumukh were Naqshbandiyyah-khalidiyyah sheikhs. Islam was an official religion in Shamil’s state and performed the role of an integrating factor at all the stages of its existence.

Among the considerable number of holy places in today’s Dagestan (pirs in southern Dagestan and ziyarats in central and northern Dagestan) a special place belongs to those connected to the names of the Naqshbandiyyah sheikhs. The most revered are the graves of Muhammed al-Yaragi (Sogratl), Imam Gazimuhammed (Khunkhaz), Abdurakhman of Sogratli (Nizhneye Kazanishche), Ilyas of Tsudakh (Paraul), Aligadzi of Akusha (Akusha), Shuaybafandi al-Bagani (Baginub), Sayfulla-qazi (Nizhneye Kazanishche) and Saadukhajiyasul Muhammed Afandi (Batlukh). At present many Sufi brotherhoods and groups are headed by their own sheikhs with their own murids (Said Afandi in Chirkey, Badruddin Afandi in Botlikh, Abdulwahid Afandi in Karamakhi, Arslan Ali in Buynaksk, et al.). The activities of the Sufi brotherhoods (Naqshbandiyyah and Qadiriyyah) in Dagestan have yet to be thoroughly studied. Their role is especially important in preserving the traditional ideas and in opposing the show of extremism.

At present, traditional Islam is represented by several dozen branches of tariqah fellowships. The one with the biggest membership is the Naqshbandiyyah fellowship followed by the Qadiriyyah fellowship.

Islam is playing a tremendous role in Dagestan in the private lives of the faithful and in the republic’s public, political and cultural life. The process of re-Islamization ‘in breadth’ is over in principle, the number of mosques, madrasahs, and maktabs has mainly stabilized. Next in turn are more in-depth processes related to the reinstatement of Muslim culture, especially written documents; the training of skilled personnel for Islamic institutes and madrasahs, the elevation of the status and prestige of these centres, and of local ‘alims and imams.


1 Argumenty i Fakty – Dagestan, no. 32, Aug. 1998.

2 See As-Salam, no. 5, Mar. 1999.

3 As-Salam, no. 19, 1996.

4 Nurul Islam, May 1998.


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