The head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has accused the West of using the Islamic State (IS) group as part of a covert war against Islam.
The Chechen leader expressed these fears of "Wahhabism" on February 5 in remarks on his Instagram account, which has become his preferred way of communicating with the public.
Kadyrov's latest remarks are the culmination of what has been a series of increasingly extreme accusations against the United States and its Western allies regarding the extremist Sunni IS group.
The Chechen leader's position reflects his deep-seated fears that extremist forms of Islam -- or "Wahhabism" as he terms it -- could gain a grip in the Chechen Republic and undermine not only the "traditional" form of Sufi Islam that he aggressively promotes, but also his control and authority.
For the Chechen leader, "Wahhabism" and its embodiment, as he sees it, in the Islamic State group is therefore an existential threat to his Chechen Republic.
In his Instagram comments, Kadyrov first remarked on a collection of materials presented for a conference on Sufi Islam in the Chechen capital Grozny. The title of the conference -- Sufism: Personal Security And State Stability -- reflects the Chechen leader's vision of "traditional" Sufi Islam not merely as an indigenous form of national self-expression but as the key to the Kremlin-backed leader's control over the Chechen Republic.
The Chechen leader referred to the legacy of his father and ardent critic of Wahhabism, Akhmad Kadyrov, the former Chief Mufti of Chechnya who was appointed the acting head of the Chechen Republic in 2003 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Great Islamic scholars from around the world have proved, via scholarly language, that the path of the First President of the Chechen Republic, the Hero of Russia [Akhmad] Kadyrov, who condemned Wahhabism and rallied the people to fight against this evil, was the only true path," Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov then contrasted Sufism, which he described as "the path of the Koran and the Sunnah [i.e. the Muslim way of life]" with Wahhabism, which he said was "the way of the Devil."
For Kadyrov, IS is the ultimate expression of "Wahhabism"
In his Instagram comments, the Chechen leader described the Islamic State group as effectively being the ultimate expression of Wahhabism, which he sees as being the false and corrupted form of Islam, in contrast to the natural and correct form, Sufism.
Followers of Wahhabism, according to Kadyrov, "take from Islam only what they want [to take], but Islam is the word of Allah, so it is forbidden to divide it into parts."
Kadyrov said that Islamic State is seeking to "undermine Islam from the inside, to make the world turn away from Islam."
"Their cruelty, shooting, beheading people, burning people alive, is a direct continuation of that which was done by the killers of the righteous caliphs and the grandson of the Prophet," the Chechen leader said.
For Kadyrov, who views the United States and its Western allies as being opposed to the Russian Federation, it is an easy step to blame the West for being behind Islamic State -- after all, Moscow has also accused the United States of being responsible at least for creating the circumstances by which the extremist Sunni group was able to rise in Syria and (to a lesser extent) Iraq.
However, the Chechen leader takes Moscow's accusations several steps further by accusing the West of waging a covert conflict against Islam, with the goal of bringing down the entire religion.
"The Islamic State [group] is a product of the United States and other Western countries that have declared a hidden war on Islam," Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov's increasingly extreme accusations that the United States is not only responsible for Islamic State, but is using that group as a way to attack Islam and countries like the Chechen Republic, have not been made in a vacuum.
Rather, the Chechen leader's increasing fears about the threat posed by Islamic State come amid that group's emergence in the North Caucasus and a potentially dangerous split in the dominant militant faction the Caucasus Emirate.
In January, the Caucasus Emirate's Daghestani jamaat (assembly) split, with some of its commanders pledging allegiance to the Islamic State's leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Although it is unlikely that the Islamic State's leadership in Syria and Iraq will provide any material support for groups who are active in the Caucasus, the move by the Daghestani jamaat will have given rise to concern in both Grozny and Moscow, because it brings the presence of the Islamic State group much closer to home.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk