Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 2

Several thousand people gathered on January 3 in Grozny’s Freedom Square at the behest of Chechen field commander Salman Raduev to oppose "Wahhabism." Raduev told the meeting that "high-ranking members of the Chechen government support the Wahhabi movement." Other speakers declared Wahhabis to be "enemies of the people." The meeting adopted a resolution calling on the Chechen president, along with the government and the Mufti of Chechnya, to state publicly where they stand on this movement and to swear that they do not accept Wahhabism and will not support it. Raduev urged the Chechen parliament to outlaw the movement.

Wahhabism is a branch of Sunni Islam founded on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who preached strict observance of monotheism, rejected the veneration of saints and holy places, and called for the purification of Islam from later accretions and innovations. Wahhabism is close to the official ideology of Saudi Arabia. Historically, the Chechens and Dagestanis are adherents of the Sufi branch of Islam, which, from the point of view of the Wahhabis, is heresy.

In Chechnya, Wahhabism began to spread actively during the 1994-95 war, when volunteers ("Wahhabis") arrived from the Middle East. Emir Khattab, a Jordanian citizen who set up the "Islamic Battalion" in which many local Chechens fought during the war, became the leader of the Chechen Wahhabis. A few months ago, the Mufti of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, told the Monitor’s correspondent of his alarm at the activities of the Wahhabis in Chechnya. Kadyrov denied the possibility of religious or clan-based conflict between Chechens, but did not rule out the danger of armed conflict between Wahhabis and traditionalists.

Relations between the North Caucasus "Wahhabis" and local adherents of other branches of Islam have taken a sharp turn for the worse since the December 22 raid on a Russian military unit in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk. The Dagestani authorities claim the raid was carried out by Dagestani Wahhabis with the help of Wahhabi Chechen fighters. Four Dagestanis have been detained by republic law enforcement agencies in connection with the raid. According to some Russian media, fighters from Khattab’s detachment took part in the raid. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 31; Segodnya, December 26)

Following the Buinaksk raid, the Dagestani parliament amended the local version of Russia’s controversial federal law on "Freedom of conscience and religious organizations" to introduce more rigorous procedures for registering and monitoring religious organizations. (Russian news agencies, December 30) The new version of Dagestan’s law effectively declares the Wahhabis to be outlaws. Now Salman Raduev is calling on Grozny to take a similar action.

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