Study of Sufism in post-Soviet Dagestan of the Russian Federation
of the research.
My presentation is based on preliminary results of two successive ESRC-funded
research projects ‘Islam,
Ethnicity and Nationalism in post-Soviet Russian Federation’, 1997-1999 and
‘Ethnicity, Politics and Transnational Islam: A Study of an International Sufi
Order of Naqshbandi Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani’, 1998-2001. I am going to focus
on organisation, doctrine and politics of Dagestani Sufis. I will also outline
the major methodological, ethical and political problems of the research.
main methods employed in the
projects are : (i)
and (ii) elite interviewing.
(i) Media analysis serves three roles in the project. Firstly it allows
the close monitoring of the ethno- religious dynamic in Dagestan and chart
popular responses to particular events and official policies. Secondly,
media analysis facilitates the
isolation of key figures shaping debates about the relationship between
ethnicity, religion and nation and forms the background research necessary for
the selection of interviewees as well as provide an important point of
‘triangulation’ whereby statements in interview can be cross-referenced
against press releases and ‘popularised’ narratives. Thirdly, the media is a
key agent in the construction of discourses of Islam and nationalism and thus
requires the same critical analysis as state, religious and non-governmental
documents and activities. Since it is the discursive role of the media that is
central to the study, analysis is textual
– focusing on articles by leading Islamic
authorities, political and public figures, analysts and academics –
rather than a quantitative content analysis. All key local and regional
newspapers as well as journals that are thematically related to the research
have been studied over a period
(ii) Elite interviews are an effective way of accessing information from
uniquely privileged actors in the processes under investigation. The
respondents’ direct involvement
in the shaping of the new
and political infrastructures as well as public and elite debates make them
‘double’ objects of study: analysis of interviews will provide valuable
insight into the ‘empirical’ processes at work but also into the discursive
strategies of key actors in those processes. Respondents have been
selected for approach on the basis of
information acquired from
the study of periodicals,
the review of official
documents and specialist
literature, from the
networks and contacts obtained during research
and as a result of ‘snowball sampling’. About 120
interviews have been conducted, evenly divided between:
Shaykh Nazim’s followers; Shaykh Nazim’s opponents among Dagestani
Sufis; representatives of non-Sufi (including Salafiya)
Islam; members of the Islamic officialdom; representatives of
political, intellectual and cultural
background of the research.
was chosen for the research because of
its strong and lengthy Sufi tradition and its special place in the
history of the International Sufi Order of Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani. Islam was
brought to Dagestan by the Arabs in the seventh and eighth centuries; by the
fifteenth and sixteenth Dagestanis had adopted
the Shafii madhhab(juridical
school) of Sunni Islam. From the sixteenth century onwards the majority of
Dagestani Muslims chose to profess
Sufi Islam. The resulting interweaving between Sufi and
tukhum (clan) structures
brought about the emergence of a
specific Dagestani Sufism, known as
tariqatism, which incorporated
numerous pre-Islamic customs and
adat (customary law) norms.
the dominant form of popular Islam, although there was also a strong
tradition of intellectual, ‘high’ Islam in
Dagestan, represented by ulema
(Islamic scholars). In the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Naqshbandi
provided a mobilising
framework for resistance to Russian expansionism in the region.
After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Dagestan was incorporated within
the Soviet state.
Over seventy years of Soviet atheism had a devastating impact on Islam in
Dagestan. The vast majority of Dagestani mosques and medresses (Islamic
schools) were destroyed or closed, Sufi
shaykhs and ulema were either
killed or persecuted or forced to emigrate. As a result, ‘high’
intellectual Islam was
irreversibly undermined, while popular Sufi Islam was reduced to unofficial underground status.
Having nevertheless failed to eradicate Islam, the Soviets opted for its control
through the Muftiyats (the Higher Islamic administrations),
which were institutionalised
as the only legitimate
representatives of Soviet Muslims. From
1943 until 1989 Dagestani Muslims,
alongside their co-religionists from the other
Islamic autonomies of the North Caucasus,
were administered by the DUMSK (the Muftiyat of the Muslims of the North Caucasus), centred
in Makhachkala. The DUMSK’s
leadership subscribed to the official position on tariqatism
which qualified it as
religious obscurantism and
suppressed any Sufi activities.
Nevertheless, in spite of the Soviet persecutions Dagestani Sufism
survived, although it was pushed deeply underground. Moreover, the Sufi shaykhs
and not the official clergy remained the genuine
custodians of Islamic faith
and culture in Dagestan. Since the
Gorbachevian thaw of 1986-1991 Dagestan has been one of
the epicentres of
an Islamic resurgence characteristic of
the Muslim-populated areas of the former Soviet Union. Post-Communist
religious liberalisation enabled
the Dagestani Sufis to end their
doctrine and political engagement.
The disintegration of the totalitarian Soviet system which began in the
late 1980s had an invigorating
impact on Dagestani Sufism, or tariqatism.
It emerged from underground and championed the grass-roots re-Islamisation
of Dagestani society. Despite the decades of Soviet oppression tariqatists
had clandestinely preserved their hierarchical structures, affiliated to
specific kinship and sub-kinship local formations. According to some expert
estimations Sufis constitute over 60 per cent of the Dagestani Muslim
The majority of Sufis in poly-ethnic Dagestan are Avars, who are considered the
most religious ethnic group. There are also many Sufis among
Dargins, Kumyks and Nogays
who have the reputation for being moderately religious peoples. In terms of
organisation Dagestani Sufis are affiliated to between 40 and 50
virds (schools of
teaching within the tariqa). The biggest are the Naqshbandi and
However, the Akkin Chechens, who
live in Dagestan’s Khasavyurtovskii raion (district),
mainly belong to the Kadiri tariqa.
There are also some followers of the
Dzhazuli tariqa and of the Yasawi tariqa
( among Nogay Turks of Nogayskii district).
The virds are headed by shaykhs
some of whom simultaneously teach
according to several different schools. The
most common practice is when the same Sufi
shaykh heads a Naqshbandi and a Shazali vird.
Among the influential living Dagestani shaykhs are
Badrudin Botlikhskii, Said-afendi Chirkeevskii, Magomed Amin Gadzhiev,
Mukhadzhir Dogrelinskii, Arslanali Gamzatov(Paraulskii), Ramazan Gimrinskii,
Idris-khadzhi Israphilov, Abdulwahid Kakamakhinskii, Muhammad Mukhtar
Kakhulayskii, Tadjudin Khasavyurtovskii, Siradzhudin Khurikskii and
Abdulgani Zakatalskii. Some Dagestani Sufis follow the path of the dead
shaykhs Ali-khadzhi Akushinskii, Amay, Gasan Kakhibskii, Kunta-khadzhi
tariqatists, especially those
of Naqshbandi tariqa, have been much
more involved in politics than Sufis elsewhere in Islamic world. Under perestroika
Dagestani Sufis and traditionalist Muslims
generally returned to public life and challenged the legitimacy of the
Soviet Islamic officialdom, represented by
the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the North Caucasus, or DUMSK.
They became the major driving force of Islamic revival in the republic. A
characteristic symbol of the Sufi dimension of the latter
was the restoration of the traditions of ziyarat
(popular Sufi pilgrimage) to over
800 mazars (burial places
of shaykhs, or
some other objects of Sufi worship).
strengthened their involvement
in the processes of decision-making on a local level through the promotion of
their representatives in village administrations.
 This facilitated the renewal of public Islamic
festivals, as well as the re-introduction of some elements of Islamic food norms
and dress codes which existed in pre-Soviet times.
Among the other important characteristics of the religious revival
were the rapid increase in the number of mosques and Islamic educational
establishments. Until 1985 there were only 27 registered
mosques; there were no
Islamic schools, and less than a
dozen Dagestani Muslims were allowed to conduct an annual
hajj ( a pilgrimage).
In 1996 there were already 1,670 registered mosques, nine Islamic
institutes, including three Islamic Universities, 25 medresses, 670 mektebs
(primary Islamic schools) and eleven Islamic cultural and charity
centres. Dagestan also witnessed
the emergence of an Islamic press which did not exist during the Soviet period.
Among the first Islamic periodicals were the newspapers As-Salam (‘Peace’), Nur-ul-Islam(‘Light
of Islam’), Islamskii Vestnik(‘Islamic
News’) and Mezhdunarodnaya Musulmanskaya
Gazeta(‘International Islamic Newspaper’). The hajj, which used to
be a luxury restricted to just a few privileged clerics, became accessible for
many thousands of ordinary Dagestani Muslims.
The increased religious activity of the tariqatists was accompanied by their rapid politicisation.
The Sufis’ intrinsic conflict with the Soviet regime
the Islamo-democratic opposition movement which
also included dissident intellectuals
and Islamists, incorrectly but widely labeled as Wahhabis.
The ultimate goal of the opposition was
economic and political liberalisation and the re-Islamisation of state and
society in Dagestan. Their
immediate demands were the resignation of the old leadership of the DUMSK, which was
regarded as the major obstacle to genuine Islamic
revival in Dagestan, and their replacement by a younger generation of Islamic
clerics, the ‘young Imams’- including both Sufis and Islamists -who claimed
to have had no involvement with the Soviet state and the KGB.
In 1989 Muftii Gekkiev of the DUMSK
was charged with corruption,
collaboration with the KGB
and moral laxity,
and was forced to resign.
resignation the Islamo-democratic alliance fell apart. Tariqatists
insisted on their supremacy in the Dagestani umma ( Islamic
community) and alienated the Islamists.
In order to strengthen their religious and political positions
tariqatist activists allied
with some of the leaders of the
various nationalist movements which
the ‘parade of sovereignties’ in Russia between 1989 and 1992. The
establishment of closer links
between the tariqatists and
nationalists ensured the
Islamisation of the nationalist agenda. As a result, the leaders of the
main nationalist organisations clashed over the right to control the Muftiyat,
regarded as an indispensable
attribute of nationhood, as well as an important source of foreign and domestic
In 1989 the DUMSK gave in to
the pressure from various nationalist factions
and split into seven separate Muftiyats,
one in each Muslim autonomy of the
North Caucasus. Most of them were headed by representatives of Sufi Islam which
was henceforth legalised and became the official strand of Islam. In Dagestan
the leadership of the newly established autonomous
Muftiyat- the DUMD (The Spiritual
Board of Muslims of Dagestan) - was contested by traditionalists representing
the largest ethnic groups, i.e.Avars, Dargins, Kumyks and
Laks. Between 1989 and 1992 the
central strife occurred between Avars, who dominated the Islamic officialdom in
the Soviet period, and the rest. This major
split was further exacerbated by
internal conflicts. For example, Avar traditionalists were divided by their
attitude to the influential
Naqshbandi shaykh Said-afendi
Chirkeevskii whose vird
had a substantial numerical and ideological superiority over the other Sufi virds.
As for the non-Avar bloc, its integrity was jeopardised by collisions between
Dargin, Kumyk and Lak traditionalists.
Initially, representatives of non-Avar ethnic groups took the lead in
the race for the Muftiyat. In
early 1989 Kumyks promoted their candidate
to the post of Dagestani Muftii. Several months later Babatov was
replaced by Abdulla Aligadzgiev, a protégé
of the Dargin ulema.
In January 1990 the Kumyks
fought back: Kumyk Bagauddin Isayev
became the next
Muftii of Dagestan. However, the religious leadership of Kumyks and
Dargins was short-lived. From
late 1990 the Avar ‘young Imams’ intensified their campaign
for the restoration of Avar domination within the Islamic officialdom. It
is significant that in order to avoid association with the old, Soviet-era
Islamic establishment, they stressed their allegedly democratic image. In
particular, they established co-operation with the
Islamic Democratic Party (the IDP),
led by Abdurashid Saidov.
In February 1992 Avars resumed
their control over the Muftiyat through the ‘election’ of Avar Muftii
Sayid Akhmed Darbishgadzhiyev. In spite of the democratic image of the new
Muftii he failed to gain the support of the majority of non-Avar clerics. Their
response was the formation of three other ethnic Muftiyats which claimed to
represent Muslims of Kumyk, Dargin
and Lak ethnicity. Faced with growing
alienation within the non-Avar Islamic
community, the Avar leadership of the DUMD abandoned its
pro-democracy stance, broke its relations with the IDP
and turned to the Government for support.
The change of political
orientation of the DUMD was accompanied by the regrouping of forces among Avar
traditionalists. By 1994 it was clear that Avar shaykh
Said-Aitseev (Chirkeevskii) had outplayed his rivals both among the tariqatists
and ulema and had asserted his control over the DUMD. The new Muftii Magomed
Darbishev was a protégé of Said-afandi
and an obedient orchestrator of his will. Darbishev’s successors
Seyid Muhammad Abubakarov
(Avar, 1996-1998) and Ahmad –khadzhi
Abdulaev (Avar, 1998- ) were similarly close
to Said-afendi. During the period of their administration Said-afandi’s murids
(disciples), especially from Gumbetovskii raion, the homeland of Said-afendi, were appointed to the top posts
within the DUMD.
Parallel to the establishment of his
religious supremacy shaykh Said-afendi
has increased his influence in other spheres of public life. His
followers or sympathisers have also penetrated the political structures.
Said-afandi’s approval has
become crucial for many Dagestani
politicians and businessmen. His growing authority
forced some of his former opponents to seek his favour. For example, Said-afandi’sparty
included Kumyk shaykh Arslanali
Gamzatov and Dargin shaykh
Abdulwahid Kakamakhinskii. Similarly, Said-afendi’s rivals among the Avar
traditionalists, shaykhs Tadzhuddin
Khasavyurtovskii and Idris-khadzhi Israphilov, joined the opposition camp led by
Kumyk shaykhs Muhammad Mukhtar
Kakhulayskii and Ilyas-khadzhi and Dargin traditionalists Muhammad
Amin, Magomed-hadzhi and Abdulla-khadzhi Aligadzhiev.
In 1994 the Dagestani
authorities responded to Said-afendi’s
demand and declared
the DUMD as the only legitimate
supreme Islamic authority in Dagestan. In fact, the Naqshbandi Sufism of shaykh Said-afandi’s
vird was associated with mainstream
Islam in Dagestan. The rival
Kumyk, Dargin and Lak Muftiyats were pronounced illegitimate and
self-proclaimed. Alongside shaykh Said-afandi the DUMD recognised
the legitimacy of three other Naqshbandi-Shazali shaykhs -Badruddin
Botlikhskii, Arslanali Gamzatov (Paraulskii) and Abdulwahid Karamakhinskii - who
accepted the supremacy of Said-afandi. The rest of the Dagestani shaykhs were
official backing allowed the DUMD and Said-afandi, in particular, to employ the state
infrastructure, including the official mass media and the intelligence
services, to secure his domination.
This enabled the DUMD to unleash a
propaganda campaign against an
advancing Wahhabism which presented the major threat to the
DUMD’s spiritual monopoly. Wahhabis
were portrayed as agents of
‘dollar Islam’ which was being artificially implanted by foreign powers hostile not
only to traditional Islam but to the national interests of Dagestan and the
Russian Federation as a whole. As for the Dagestani authorities they had their
own vested interest in the campaign
against Wahhabism, which provided them
with a means to boost their
political credibility among a population increasingly disillusioned with corrupt
and incompetent Government.
In December 1997, under
pressure from Said-afendi’s group, the Dagestani Parliament issued
a ban on the activities of the Wahhabis, who
were defined as religious extremists. Many Wahhabi
leaders were arrested, their offices were demolished and their periodicals
banned. This official action had a radicalising effect on
many of whom were pushed into alliance with the Chechen
separatists. At the beginning of 1998
the leaders of Wahhabi
Jamaat announced the start of a jihad against the Dagestani regime.
In August and September 1999 they participated in the abortive military
Chechen invasion of Dagestan commanded by the Chechen field commanders Basaev
and Khattab in Tsumadinskii, Botlikhskii and Novolakskii raions of Dagestan. The Dagestani authorities’ reaction to the
invasion was further suppression of
Wahhabism and adoption of a new and
tougher law aimed at the complete eradication of Wahhabism in Dagestan. The participation of radical Wahhabis
in the Chechen incursion shifted Dagestani public opinion decisively
in favour of tariqatism
and undermined the Wahhabis’
chances of success in the perceivable future.
The crack-down on Wahhabism further
grip over the Islamic community of Dagestan.
The Tariqatists’ alliance
with the de facto
atheistic ruling regime
affected their position on the pace and scope of religious reform in Dagestan.
Unlike the Islamo-democratic opposition, they dropped the goal of an Islamic
state and subscribed to exclusively parliamentary methods of achieving the re-Islamisation
of Dagestani society. The DUMD leaders envisage this coming about through the Islamisation of
education and the gradual re-introduction of Islamic legal norms which existed
in the 1920s. They regard Turkish Islam
- which is close to the traditions
of Naqshbandiya Sufism - as a possible model for tariqatism
The Muftiyat designated the puppet
Islamic Party of Dagestan (the IPD)
to lobby on behalf of the Islamic agenda.
include the removal from the Constitution of Dagestan of the clauses
on the separation of church and state and of schools from the church, and the
official recognition of Islam as the ‘religion
of the democratic majority.’ 
In spite of the tariqatist self-presentation
as the champion of Muslims’ interests the
popular rating of the tariqatist
officialdom as represented by the DUMD
has been low. Tariqatists have
been accused of endemic corruption and links
with criminal mafia groups; the
has also been sharply criticised
for fraud, theological
incompetence and aggressive intolerance
to its religious opponents.  There
has been a widely held perception that the DUMD has used its monopoly over hajj-related
matters for unlawful
enrichment. Specifically, it has manipulated
the visa fees and the prices of the Koran and other Islamic literature
supplied by various foreign Islamic organisations and funds free of charge.
The public has also been unhappy with the way
in which the DUMD appoints local Imams. Sometimes it installs as village Imams
poorly educated persons whose main ‘virtue’ is their loyalty to shaykh Said-afendi.
Clerical opponents reproach the DUMD
for their inadequate
religious and theological training and
the absence of authoritative ulema among
them. It is significant that since the early 1990s Dagestan’s Muftiis have not
issued one fetwa.
On the whole, the incorporation of tariqatism
within the corrupt and semi-criminal state system has predetermined their
association with the ruling regime, the post-Soviet re-shaping of which was over
by the mid-1990s. Its core
was made up of the old, atheistic Soviet/Party nomenklatura, the members of
which maintained their jobs, although under new ‘democratic’ labels.
They were joined by
some new figures who
represented either the
Dagestani nouveau riche, a
Dagestani version of new Russians, or
the activists of the major ethnic business
Although according to the Dagestani constitution fourteen titular ethnic
groups/nationalities have the right of legislative initiative and are equally
represented in the State Council,
the actual political and economic power has been monopolised
by the Dargins and the Avars. While the Dargins have secured their
influence in the political domain, the Avars have preserved their traditional
domination in the economic and ideological spheres.
Most top politicians have been closely connected with their respective
ethnic business mafias. The Dagestani Government has been strongly dependent on
federal subsidies. So, the ruling regime, including the
tariqatist Islamic officialdom, has been characterised
widespread fraud, corruption, the inability to curb the increase in crime and
terrorism and to handle the acute economic and social problems. The social
consequences of this regime have been the continuation of backwardness and
stagnation, and the blocking of any structural reforms
leading to the modernisation of Dagestani society and its evolution into
a democratic civil entity.
role of Shaykh Nazim
al-Haqqani among Dagestani Sufis.
In Dagestan Shaykh Nazim
has managed to acquire a reasonable number of followers. During his visit of Dagestan in 1997 Shaykh Nazim nominated a Dagestani Sufi Abdul Wahid( Avar)
as his khalifa. There are murids
of Shaykh Nazim in several raions (districts) of Dagestan, as well as in Chechnya and
Karachaevo-Cherkessiya. The majority of his murids
are various Turkic peoples, although the ethnic factor is not crucial and there
are also his murids among Caucasian
peoples-Avars, Laks and Dargins, as well as Chechens. Shaykh Nazim is also recognised
as a genuine Naqshbandi shaykh by the followers of Dagestani shaykh
Sharafuddin, the predecessor
of Shaykh Abdalla ad-Dagestani, the shaykh of Nazim al-Haqqani.
It is significant that Shaykh Nazim is highly
respected among Dagestan’s pro-Western dissident intellectuals. They
distrust Shaykh Sayid-afandi Chirkeevskii and
consider him a descendant of those members of the Naqshbandi tariqa
who submitted to the
Russian/Soviet rule and who have
been paid by the imperial Russia, Soviet and post-Soviet regimes in Dagestan.
However, the prozelytising activity by Shaykh Nazim
in Dagestan has been seriously complicated by:
the high level of
politicisation of the Naqshbandi vird of
Shaykh Sayid-afandi Chirkeevskii;
spiritual monopoly over the Dagestani
its juxtaposition with the so-called Wahhabis and rival Sufi authorities;
the general political
instability in the region
and the recent military insurgence of Chechen-Dagestani Islamists(Wahhabis)
in the western Dagestan.
backwardness of Dagestan that excludes it from the cyber network which is
crucial in Shaykh Nazim’s politics in Europe, the USA and other localities.
In Dagestan Shaykh Nazim
has to deal with official propaganda forged by the Muftiyat which presents him
as a spurious shaykh, or mutashaykh.
The Muftiyat recognises the legitimacy of only four Dagestani shaykhs:
Sayid-afandi Chikkeevskii, Badruddin Botlikhskii, Arslanali Gamzatov(Paraulskii)
and Abdul-Wahid Kakamakhinskii. All of them belong to the Naqshbandi-Shazali tariqa
and claim to be successors
to Shaykh Sayful-qadi who is considered as kutba.
They argue Shaykh Nazim’s claims
to his place in the Naqshbandi
from the succession controversy which existed since
Shaykh Abdurahman as-Sughuri
(d.1882). The latter headed the most
militant members of the tariqa
who accused the others of complacency towards
the Russian occupation and preferred the emigration to submission to the Russian
rule. It significant that the largest
part of Naqshbandis
accepted the Russian domination (the line of Shaykh Sayful-qadi). They,
however, criticized their opponents for politicization which their regarded as tagayur (deviation) from the Naqshbandi principles. Hypothetically,
it may be possible that Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani represents
that militant branch of the tariqa
while Shaykh Sayid-afandi and other Dagestani official shaykhs belong to the
mainstream Naqshbandi tariqa.
The Dagestani official
Islamic periodicals have accused Shaykh Nazim of:
forging the Naqshbandi
teaching for his own personal and
political ends, i.e. violation of the basic principle
man tagayyara laysa minna
( those who changed are not with us );
presenting himself as one of the nine and the last genuine Naqshbandi
shaykhs who perceived the truth;
not recognising the madhhabs;
the succession to shaykh Abdalla ad-Dagestani who was himself
the devaluation of the institute of
by its thoughtless and arbitrarily distribution;
the distortion of the Sufi ethics by invading the spiritual domain of
other Dagestani shaykhs, by ignoring and bypassing the Dagestani Muftiyat;
the violation of the Naqshbandi zikr
by introducing some elements of a loud
zikr of ‘Allah, Allah,
Allah’, instead of the respective internal zikr;
the close relations with Nadirshah Khachilaev (Lak), former chairman of
the Union of Muslims of Russia (the UMR) who
from September 1999 has been under the
official criminal investigation related to his involvement in the
Chechen-Islamist invasion of
being commissioned by British an Turkish intelligence to undermine the
genuine tariqatism in Dagestan from
The official military and
political crack-down on Wahhabism and
all other non-traditional religious organisations and movements
which began in August 1999 has pushed Shaykh Nazims’s followers and
sympathizers deeply underground. Since then the official mass media has fought
the alleged conspiracy of ‘the third force’ represented by MI 6 and the CIS
which seeks to destabilise the
Islamic regions of Russia and Central Asia in the interests of the American and
British oil and gas companies building an alternative gas and oil transport
route from Central Asia to Pakistan via Afghanistan, i.e. by-passing Iran and
Iraq. It is also alleged that
Saudi Arabia, the USA and the UK have contributed a great deal towards
Chechnya’s transformation into a base of international terrorism and
Wahhabism in order
to perpetuate the economic weakness of Russia and to secure its position as
a provider of raw materials to the West. Wahhabism,
hence, is qualified as an
extremist religious and political movement.
In terms of the project this means that any academic, or other
association with Great Britain is perceived as suspicious.
Dr Galina Yemelianova is a specialist in Islamic studies. She received
her PhD in Islamic history
from Moscow State University
in 1985. Until 1994 she was a
Research Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
in Moscow. Since 1994 she
a Research Fellow at
the Centre for Russian and East European
Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. She has researched and
published extensively in Russia and internationally on history and contemporary
ethno-political and religious issues in the Middle East and the Islamic
regions of the Russian/Soviet empire and post-Soviet Russia. She is currently working on the
ESRC-funded project ‘Ethnicity, Politics and Transnational Islam: A
Study of an International Sufi Order’ focusing
on autonomous republic of
Dagestan of the Russian Federation.
See:A.Bell and P.Garrett, eds.(1998) Approaches to Media Discourse,
(1991) Media Research Technique,
London:Sage Pablications; and
A.Teun van Dijk, ed. (1985) Discourse and Communication: New Approaches
to the Analysis of Mass Media, Berlin:Walter de Gruyter.
See: R.Hertz and J.B.Imber, eds.(1995) Studying Elites Using Qualitative
Methods, Sage; G.Moyser and M.Wagstaffe,eds. (1987) Research Methods
for Elite Studies, London: Sage Publications ; and D.Richards
(1996)’Elite Interviewing: Approaches and Pitfalls’, Politics,
vol.16, no3, September.
Dagestan is an autonomous
republic of the Russian Federation. It is situated in the eastern part of
the North Caucasus. Its territory is 50,300 square kilometres and its
population is 1,954,252 (1995). The urban population makes up 43.6 per cent
of the total while the rural population is 56.4 per cent. Dagestan is one of
the least economically developed autonomous republics of the Russian
Federation and is strongly dependent on federal subsidies and other
suppliers. It is populated by over thirty different ethnic groups, each of
which has its own culture and speaks a distinctive language incomprehensible
to the rest.
The term tariqatism
derives from an Arabic word tariqa
(‘a path’) which
also means a mystical form of
Islam. At the core of tariqatism
is the mystical link between a
and his disciples, or murids.
The authority of a shaykh is based on a mystical permission, or barakat,
which is transferred from the founder of the tariqa
to successive shaykhs. The line of succession of
shaykhs is known as the
‘golden chain’, or silsila. An important characteristic
of a shaykh is his ability to perform miracles, or
believe that the
tariqa provides closer
contact between Allah and an individual
Muslim than orthodox Islam.
In 1922 Dagestan was transformed into an autonomous republic within the
Russian Federation of the USSR.
The institution of the Muftiyat
was introduced by Tsarina
Catherine the Great in
1789. During the Soviet time there were four
Muftiyats:the Muftiyat in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) administered the
Muslims of Central Asia; the Muftiyat in
Baku (Azerbaijan) was in charge of Muslims of the Transcaucasus;
The Muftiyat in Makhachkala (Dagestan) controlled
Muslims of the North Caucasus and
the Muftiyat in Ufa (Bashkorstan) dealt with Muslims of the
Volga-Urals and Central Russia.
Interview with Magomed Kurbanov, the Deputy Minister of Nationalities of
Dagestan, Makhachkala, 30 June 1998.
Interview with Magomed Kurbanov, the Deputy Minister of Nationalities of
Dagestan, Makhachkala, 30 June 1998.
For example, the leading Dagestani shaykh
Sayid-afendi Chirkeevskii simultaneously controls a number of
Naqshbandi and Shazali virds.
Nur-ul-Islam, no3, March, 1997.
In the case of Dagestan the term ‘Islamic traditionalism’ is wider than
the term ‘tariqatism’ since it also includes non-Sufi ulema
whose present unofficial leader is Abdul-khadzhi Aligadzhiev.
By the end of 1999 Imams and other Islamic authorities controlled the
decision-making process in 68
villages of Dagestan. Islamskii
Vestnik, no 22, 1999.
Historically, Wahhabism was a
religious and political movement within the most strict and rigid Khanbali
maddhab of Sunni Islam. It originated in the mid-18th
century in Arabia and was named after its leader Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab.
Strictly speaking the use of the term ‘Wahhabism’ in relation to Dagestani Islamic fundamentalism is
incorrect because the latter is
based on a wider doctrinal
foundation than the teaching of Abd al-Wahhab.
However, due to the term’s wide acceptance by politicians and
journalists this article uses it as the description of Dagestani Islamic
A.Malashenko, Islamskoe Vozrozhdeniye
v Sovremennoi Rossii, Moscow: Carnegie Endowment,1998, p.106.
The IDP was formed in 1990 by
Dagestani intellectuals of democratic orientation under the leadership of
Abdurashid Saidov. The original
programme of the party presented a paradoxical combination of Islamic and
democratic ideals, opposing the rule of the corrupted Party nomenclatura and
calling for its replacement by an Islamic-democratic
Government. In doctrinal terms it
favoured tariqatism although it
was also tolerant towards Wahhabism.
G.Yemelianova, ‘Islam and Nation Building in Tatarstan and Dagestan of the
Russian Federation’, Nationalities
Papers, vol.27, no 4, 1999, p.619.
Among Said-afendi’s murids who
occupied the top positions in
the Islamic administration were, for example,
Muftii Abubakarov (1994-1998); his
father Khasmuhammad –khadzhi who headed the Council of the
Dagestani Imams of the Central Mosque of Makhachkala; and Arslanali Gamzatov, the head of the Council of the Dagestani
Interview with M.Kurbanov, Makhachkala, 17 July 1997.
In spite of close collaboration between the DUMD
and the Dagestani authorities, relations between them have not been
trouble-free. For example, in 1997-98 the DUMD
bitterly criticised the Government for slowing down the Islamisation project,
promoted by the DUMD, and for
‘insufficient ‘ hostility towards Wahhabis.
As-Salam, no23, December, 1997.
In particular, the DUMD
calls for the
introduction in state schools and colleges of
religious subjects; the right of
various religious organisations to teach religion outside the
curriculum; the creation of Islamic nursery schools; the right of students
at religious institutes to study general subjects as well and the creation
of a state Islamic University which would produce qualified Imams and
Islamic teachers. The DUMD also
presses for the declaration of Friday
as a holiday; the introduction of some elements of the shariat
into the legal system, the
amendment of the symbols and paraphernalia of the state in line with the
requirements of Islam; the
adjustment of the slaughter of
animals and birds to the shariat; the imposition
of restrictions on the sale of alcohol and erotic literature and
the introduction of Islamic
dress codes for women. As-Salam,
no22, December, 1997; As-Salam, no
13 (77), July, 1988.
The new Central Mosque in Makhachkala, opened in 1996, was built with
Turkish aid, and until 1998 a representative of Turkey was the Imam of the
The IPD was formed in 1994 as a
result of a split in the Islamic Democratic Party (the IDP)
between the democratic faction led by its founder Abdurashid Saidov, and the
pro-government faction of Surokat Asiyatilov.
The leader of the IDP is
a Parliamentary Deputy, former wrestler and University lecturer.
Dagestanskaia Pravda, Makhachkala,
29 May 1996; As-Salam, no24 (64),
December, 1997; Nur-ul-Islam,
no12, July, 1998; Islamskii Vestnik,
For example, one of the main donors of the DUMD
is Sharapuddin Musaev, the head of a large organised crime group in the town
of Kaspiisk known as the
According to some figures, financial machinations made the DUMD
some $182,000 profit from the hajj in
the aftermath of the break-up of the USSR the Dagestani authorities were the
most resistant to any democratic reforms. They hung on to the Soviet
political system until 1995, much longer than anywhere else in Russia.
The term ‘ethnic party’ was introduced by the Dagestani sociologist
Enver Kisriev to describe quasi-party political organisations based on
ethnic and clan solidarity. See E.Kisriev, ‘Dagestan’, Mezhetnicheskie
Otnosheniia i Konflikti v post-Sovetskikh Gosuarstvakh, Ezhegodnii Doklad,
Dagestani Constitution of 1994 nominated the fourteen largest ethnic groups
as titular. They are: Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins, Russians, Laks,
Tabasarans, Chechens, Azeris, Nogays, Mountain Jews and Tats, Rutuls, Aguls
and Tsakhurs. Konstitutsiia Respubliki Dagestan, Makhachkala:Yupiter, 1994, p.20.
The Dargin clan includes, for example, M.Magomedov, the head of the State
Council of Dagestan and Amir Saidov, the Mayor of Makhachkala.
The leaders of the Avar clan are M.Aliev, the chairman of the
People’s Assembly (the Parliament), G.Makhachev, the vice-Premier and
former leader of the Avar national movement, S.Asiyatilov, the leader of the
Islamic Party of Dagestan (the IPD)
and Muftii Abdullaev of Dagestan.
Light of Islam), No 8, August, Makhachkala, 1997.
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