Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 26

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has imposed full Sharia rule in Chechnya. According to decrees he signed on February 3, all laws in Chechnya must now conform to the norms of the Koran and Sharia. The parliament no longer will have a law-making function, but will retain control functions. Maskhadov ordered the parliament and the republic’s religious leadership to draw up a draft Sharia constitution within a month (NTV, Russian agencies. February 3).

In imposing Sharia, Maskhadov has outmaneuvered the opposition, which has repeatedly insisted that a Sharia constitution be drawn up. The day before Maskhadov signed the decrees, field commander Shamil Basaev and former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev insisted that executive power in the republic be handed over to a so-called “Shura”–a council of authoritative Muslims. With this decree, Maskhadov seems to have neutralized his opponents. Indeed, the participants in a congress of the Chechen opposition held on February 4 were left with nothing to do but approve Maskhadov’s decrees (NTV, RTR, February 4).

It is probable, however, that the current peace will not last long. In insisting on a new constitution based on Sharia, the opposition was–above all–trying to find a legal method for removing Maskhadov from power. It has not yet achieved this goal. As Ramazan Abdulatipov, Russia’s nationalities minister, said, Maskhadov’s actions were “in large part a political move which contradict [his] own desires.” In Abdulatipov’s view, Maskhadov was trying to accommodate “the influence of Islamic extremism, which today rules in a whole series of regions of the Chechen republic” (RTR, February 4).

While Dzhokhar Dudaev, Chechnya’s first president, proclaimed the republic an Islamic state, the proclamation was largely declarative. Both Chechnya’s constitution and criminal code were typical for secular states. The situation changed radically after Russian troops were sent into the republic. Islamic doctrine turned out to be the most appropriate ideology for rallying the Chechens into a united force against the Russians. However, it was Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, Dudaev’s successor, who began transforming the republic into an Islamic state jurisdictionally. During Yandarbiev’s presidency a new criminal code was adopted which is barely distinguishable from Sudan’s, one of the Islamic world’s most orthodox states. Yandarbiev promulgated decrees requiring the study of Islamic law and the Arabic language in schools, and the sale of alcohol was strictly banned. Today, the creation of an Islamic state in Chechnya has become synonymous with the struggle for national independence. No politician in the republic can now afford to speak out in favor of a secular model for the state.