Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has elevated his long-standing feud with his Ingush counterpart, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, to a new level by overtly siding with Ingushetia's mufti, Issa-hadji Khamkhoyev, whose resignation Yevkurov called for in late December.
Yevkurov's rationale is that Khamkhoyev, whom Kadyrov previously criticized for his conspicuous absence from regional religious gatherings in Grozny, has discredited Ingushetia's Sufi-dominated Spiritual Center of Muslims (DTsM) through his confrontation in June 2015 with respected preacher Khamzat Chumakov, and his broader animosity toward Ingushetia's peaceful and law-abiding Salafi minority. Kadyrov as a staunch promoter of Chechen Sufism has long denounced Salafis as terrorists and extremists.
For the past seven years, Kadyrov and Yevkurov have exchanged barbs over where the border should be drawn between their respective republics and over the Ingush authorities' apparent inability to apprehend Islamic militants who used Ingushetia as a base for operations in Chechnya.
Now Kadyrov is implicitly affirming not only that he alone is qualified to define and defend "true" Islam in the North Caucasus but that Yevkurov is in the wrong in seeking to promote reconciliation between the DTsM and clerics such as Khamzat Chumakov and Issa Tsechoyev, who refuse to acknowledge the authority of that body or of Khamkhoyev personally.
The forum Kadyrov chose for sending those messages was a February 2 conference in Grozny attended, according to the website Kavpolit.com, by "many thousands" of representatives of the Qadariyya and Naqshbandi Sufi brotherhoods from Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan, including Khamkhoyev.
Addressing that conference, Kadyrov again equated Salafism with terrorism. He branded its representatives, including Chumakov and Tsechoyev, as "shaytans," or devils. He further claimed Tsechoyev receives funding from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Kadyrov conflated the peaceful and nonviolent preachings of Chumakov, who has consistently denounced bloodshed and Islamic extremism and sought to dissuade young Ingush from "heading for the forest" to join the ranks of the Islamic insurgency, with the militant and puritanical Salafism professed by the North Caucasus insurgency and the terrorist organization Islamic State. Chumakov for his part has always rejected as artificial any differentiation between "traditional" and "nontraditional" Islam, meaning Sufism and Salafism.
Second, Kadyrov argued that insofar as Salafism is tantamount to "terrorism," its proponents should not be allowed to express their views publicly. He called on the Ingush leadership not to permit Chumakov and Tsechoyev to preach, and warned that if they try more than once to do so on Chechen territory, "heads will roll."
In short, Kadyrov, who in his entire political career has never quoted publicly a single sura from the Koran, appears to be setting himself up as the supreme arbiter and primary defender of "pure" Islam in the North Caucasus.
The conference participants adopted a resolution denouncing Salafism for preaching terrorism and extremism. They condemned the creation of any council on religious affairs that includes even a single representative of "pseudo-Salafism" and warned that Sufi brotherhoods will disavow any of their members who agree to serve on such bodies. (Yevkurov has recently established a new board tasked with supervising many aspects of religious life that were hitherto the preserve of the DTsM.)
They affirmed that dialogue between Sufis and Salafis is permissible only with the explicit intention of demonstrating to the latter the flaws in their beliefs and holding them accountable under Islamic law.
The resolution adopted at the Grozny congress also categorically rejects any "innovations" in Islam. Kadyrov's wholesale reinterpretation of what constitutes "traditional" Chechen Islam encompasses not only the veneration of sacred relics and the tombs of Sufi saints but the hitherto alien concept, apparently borrowed from the Roman Catholic Church, of "holy water."
One year ago, when Chumakov and Ingush oppositionist Magomed Khazbiyev were both under pressure from the Ingushetian authorities, Kadyrov welcomed them both in Grozny, where Chumakov addressed the mass meeting Kadyrov orchestrated to protest the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that led to the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris.
Kadyrov is also on record, according to Ingush human rights defender Magomed Mutsolgov, as having criticized Khamkhoyev as the only Muslim leader in the North Caucasus who refuses to participate in the large-scale religious events Kadyrov organizes. Mutsolgov attributed Khamkhoyev's reluctance to do so to the latter's desire not to antagonize Yevkurov, in light of the enmity between Yevkurov and Kadyrov.
Now that Yevkurov is openly seeking to remove Khamkhoyev from office for his reluctance to bury his differences with Chumakov, however, Kadyrov has demonstratively sided with Khamkhoyev against Yevkurov.
Chechnya's mufti Salakh Mezhiyev was quoted by kavpolit.com as telling the Grozny conference he has tried for the past month to establish contact with Chumakov and Tsechoyev to arrange a meeting with them but that they ignored his invitations.