Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 31

The Council of Muftis of the Chechen Republic on August 4 officially declared a jihad against “Wahhabism.” Interfax quoted Chechen Mufti Sultan Mirzaev as telling journalists that the decision had been announced during a meeting between representatives of the clergy and law-enforcement agencies in the village of Tsentoroi, which is the home village of the Kadyrov clan. Mirzaev said it was the largest such meeting since the death of Akhmad Kadyrov in May 2004. “Wahhabism is the plague of the 20th and the 21st centuries,” he said. “All Arabic scholars have come to be unanimous that those fighting against Wahhabism are on the path of jihad, following the way of Allah.” Wahhabis and terrorists, he said, “are bringing evil into the world and the entire world must oppose them. We adopted an official fatwa (a religious ruling in Islam – Interfax), so that those fighting terrorism and Wahhabism have no doubt that their cause is just. We have declared war on these phenomena. Those killing innocent people must be either stopped or put behind bars or exterminated. This has to be done by whatever method. Our fatwa is that those who have shed blood, those who do not want to stop must be killed by any method.” Mirzaev said rebels had killed sixteen district imams in Chechnya and that he himself had been “seriously wounded” in a rebel attack. “Should I remain silent about this?” he said. “If it becomes necessary, I will take up arms and I am ready to fight against them.”

Various Chechen officials and politicians voiced support for the anti-Wahhabi fatwa. State Duma Deputy Ruslan Yamadaev said that Chechens welcomed the initiative, Moskovsky komsomolets reported on August 8. “The militants have blown up and shot policemen, imams, public servants, declaring that they are carrying out jihad, but now a clear and unequivocal answer has been given to the question of who really stands on the path of jihad,” he said, adding that it was the police and other law-enforcement personnel who were carrying out jihad and “embarking on the righteous path.”

Moskovsky komsomlets noted that the initiative for the jihad came from Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who, in the newspaper’s words, “gathered all the muftis and imams in one mosque and wouldn’t let them out of there until they took the decision needed by the power structures.” Indeed, on August 3, the day before the anti-Wahhabi jihad was announced, Kadyrov urged the republic’s clergy to work with young people to dissuade them from joining the rebels. “Terrorist organizations leaders’ are turning young people into cannon fodder,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “These young guys lack the wisdom and experience to see what is actually going on and to resist attempts to involve them in illegal armed formations…Individual campaigns are ineffective. The clergy must deal with each person separately, and with the parents of those young men who are potential recruits for guerrilla groups.”

It is thus no surprise that Kadyrov welcomed the anti-Wahhabi jihad declaration. “I welcome the decision from all the Chechen Republic authorities because the officers of law enforcement agencies who are actually at war with terrorism and Wahhabism have to be sure that what they are doing is not against the Koran or Islam,” Interfax quoted him as saying. Reuters on August 4 quoted Kadyrov as saying in televised comments: “Today we unanimously adopted a resolution. (The religious leaders) announced that (Wahhabites) will bring nothing but harm to the people and to Islam. They are Wahhabites, and we must destroy them. If you ask me, we have a place where we can bury them – three meters down.”

The anti-Wahhabi jihad was just one of several Kadyrov initiatives having to do with religion. He told reporters on August 3 that Europe’s largest mosque, capable of accommodating 10,000 believers, would be built in downtown Grozny. “Grozny has not built a single mosque since the 1930s, when all mosques were destroyed,” Kadyrov said. “The construction of this mosque and an Islamic center, or madrasah, will help spread true Islam, which has nothing to do with extremism, in Chechnya.”

Kadyrov also announced on August 3 that he had issued a ban on gambling in response to the demands of senior clerics and the public, telling Itar-Tass that he had been approached by “elders and muftis” and “received tens of thousands of requests and even sometimes demands from the public, from almost every settlement, to remove gaming machines from Chechnya.” “I am giving a week’s notice to the owners of gambling parlors to dismantle their equipment,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying. “Otherwise, I will destroy the machines myself. Gambling is against the laws of Islam and has a negative impact on the younger generation. There are rumors that I own slot machines. It is a lie.” Kadyrov added that he has never been involved and will not get involved in the gambling business. Itar-Tass reported that the owners of gambling businesses were likely to relocate their businesses activities to neighboring republics. The news agency quoted an anonymous businessman as saying that he and his colleagues would “strike an agreement with the Dagestanis and move the machines onto Dagestani territory, near the administrative border.”

Nezavisimaya gazeta on August 9 interpreted Ramzan Kadyrov’s sudden burst of Islamic fervor as being inspired more by politics than religion. Noting that Kadyrov made these decisions while Chechen President Alu Alkhanov was on vacation and Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov was on a train tour of Russia, leaving Kadyrov temporarily in charge as the republic’s acting president, the newspaper’s Andrei Riskin and Maria Bondarenko pointed out that Alkhanov’s presidential term ends in three years and that whoever has control over the Chechen parliament, which will be elected this fall, will determine who will succeed Alkhanov. “Independent experts in Chechnya believe that all of these actions have nothing whatever to do with the struggle for purity of faith,” they wrote of Ramzan Kadyrov’s bows toward Islam. “Simply, Kadyrov, who himself loves to organize dog fights and stays at the billiard table for hours on end…started the battle for the electorate on the eve of this fall’s Chechen parliamentary elections.”