ReligiousPolitical Conflict in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria

Vakhit Akaev

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 religiouspolitical situation in Chechnya today has been largely determined by the economic, sociopolitical and religious circumstances of the post-war period.

With much of Chechnyas 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 religiousmoral 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 religiouspolitical 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 jamaat. 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 Shariah Court and corresponding regional structures. The Criminal Code of these Shariah courts was .

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