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Caucasus Insurgency's Religious Authority, Russian Muslim Cleric Criticize Kadyrov


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (center) attends prayers in the village of Tsentorov on Eid al-Adha in 2011.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (center) attends prayers in the village of Tsentorov on Eid al-Adha in 2011.

Over the past week, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov’s understanding of Islam has been publicly questioned by two men on the opposite side of the North Caucasus barricades. They are Abu Mukhammad, the Daghestani religious scholar who is the qadi (senior Muslim authority) of the Caucasus Emirate proclaimed by Doku Umarov seven years ago, and Damir Mukhetdinov, a young Tatar who is first deputy chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia.

The blog comments on Abu Mukhammad’s address are overwhelmingly positive. By contrast, Mukhetdinov’s more circumspect criticism triggered outraged statements in Kadyrov’s defense from several senior Muslim clerics, impelling Mukhetdinov to claim he was misquoted.

Abu Mukhammad’s 24-minute address was posted late on March 22 on the insurgency websites KavkazCenter, Hunafa, vdagestan.com, Kavkazjihad.com, Islamdin, and Djamaattakbir. As in virtually all his previous video addresses, Abu Mukhammad is shown alone, seated in front of a laptop, against the backdrop of the black jihadi banner.

Speaking in fluent, lucid, but heavily accented Russian, Abu Mukhammad appeals to Chechen police and security personnel and their superior officers in light of their efforts to justify their reprisals against Muslims in religious terms: that they are defending their religion and fatherland and preserving law and order.

Abu Mukhammad challenges the police to specify in whose name and for what purpose they, as nominal Muslims, are fighting the insurgency: “If you have the courage, then say that you are not fighting for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and that you spit on him.” He explains that “those who believe in Allah fight on the path of Allah. This is why we consider you infidels.” He calls on the rank and file to break with their commanders who say they “will comply with Putin’s orders even if that means destroying the entire population,” and urges them to join the insurgency to prevent the ongoing “genocide of Muslims” in the North Caucasus, rather than “wait until all Muslims have been wiped out.”

Abu Mukhammad also takes issue with Chechen Republic head Kadyrov’s repeated characterization of the North Caucasus insurgents as “shaitans,” or devils, challenging Kadyrov to cite from the Koran to substantiate those accusations. He advises Kadyrov to “summon all your tame so-called scholars and get them to prove that you are not the servant of the devil. Why? Because at every opportunity, seeking to ingratiate yourself with your master, you publicly affirm that we are shaitans. Who after that is the real shaitan? Either you believe that Putin is a Muslim who lives by Shari'a law, or you have no reason to be angry with us for simply quoting Allah’s word.”

In this context, it is worth noting that Kadyrov has never publicly quoted a single passage from the Koran to substantiate either his denigration of the insurgency on any other argument related to Islam. The sole authorities he quotes are his late father, Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, and Putin.

Abu Mukhammad muses at some length on the theological implications of Kadyrov’s professed love for Putin: Given that Muslims are resurrected in the next life along with those they love most dearly, it follows that Kadyrov will be with Putin -- the unspoken corollary being “may they both burn in hell for all eternity.”

Abu Mukhammad’s next challenge to the North Caucasus leadership is, “If you consider yourselves Muslims, then impose Shari'a law, and we shall stop waging war against you.” If you were indeed Muslims, he adds, you would fight against Putin and his team until he paid tribute to you as Allah demands.

Mukhetdinov’s criticism of Kadyrov was expressed during an interview he gave on March 19 to Radio Rossii. Speaking of the ongoing Islamic revival in Russia, he notes that “the majority of our Muslims...are still far from religion,” citing Kadyrov as an example. Mukhetdinov notes that Kadyrov complies with the requirements of his faith by building mosques and organizing mawlids (to mark the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet), but at the same time he consorts with pop divas; he interprets that contradictory behavior as evidence of “a split personality.”

Senior clerics were swift to exonerate Kadyrov and excoriate Mukhetdinov. Ismail Berdiyev, who heads the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, defended Kadyrov as “a true Muslim in his deeds and in his heart” and someone “who has always tried successfully to revive traditional Islam in the North Caucasus.”

Chechen mufti Sultan-hadji Mirzayev, who schemed unsuccessfully last year to replace Berdiyev, argued that it is Mukhetdinov, not Kadyrov, who does not understand how a Muslim should behave.

Mukhetdinov’s immediate superior, Council of Muslims of Russia chairman Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, stressed that Russia’s muftis do not share Mukhetdinov’s view. Gainutdin characterized Kadyrov as “a genuine leader” who sets an example to the heads of other republics with a predominantly Muslim population.

In the face of that barrage of criticism, Mukhetdinov claimed he was misquoted. He characterized Kadyrov as “a politician who embodies the Muslim elite of our country, and one of the few heads of Muslim republics who is not a nominal but a practicing Muslim.”

Further evidence of Kadyrov’s status as a candidate member of what pundits refer to as the Politburo 2.0 is the fact that a far more influential agency than the Council of Muftis of Russia has similarly leaped to the defense of Kadyrov’s reputation. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s office denied on March 25 as untrue an article in “Novaya gazeta” claiming that Federal Security Service (FSB) officers tasked with investigating the case of members of Kadyrov’s bodyguard arrested in Moscow in the summer of 2011 for kidnapping, torture, and extortion went on strike after the men in question were released from pre-trial custody.

Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov for his part denied that Kadyrov has any bodyguards. He added that “no member of Kadyrov’s entourage has ever tortured or kidnapped anyone or engaged in any similar crime.”

It is not clear whether the purpose of a search of the Moscow office of the human rights watchdog Memorial on March 27 was to confiscate extensive documentary evidence of the involvement of the “kadyrovtsy” in precisely such crimes.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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