Addressing Muslim clergy in late December, Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov called for the second time in six months on the republic's mufti, Issa-haji Khamkhoyev, to resign. Yevkurov said Khamkhoyev, who is 53, is "tired" and cannot cope with his duties, and that he overreacts "emotionally" to criticism. He also said Khamkhoyev's open confrontation in June 2015 with the hugely popular imam Khamzat Chumakov, which narrowly missed turning violent, "undermined the authority" of the official clergy.
Khamkhoyev immediately countered that he was reelected in 2014 by fellow clerics for a third term in accordance with the statutes of Ingushetia's Spiritual Center of Muslims (DTsM), and only they can remove him from that post. The following day, Khamkhoyev traveled to neighboring Chechnya in a bid to secure the backing of his Chechen counterpart Salakh Mezhiyev.
Yevkurov's frustration with Khamkhoyev derives from the latter's categorical rejection, as a member of the Qadiriya Sufi order, of the more traditional Salafism professed by Chumakov and the imams of some 13 other mosques. Those clerics are at odds with the Sufi-dominated DTsM, primarily over minor points of worship. Khamkhoyev has accused them of seeking to split Ingushetia's Muslim community by encouraging believers to reject the authority of the DTsM. He also claims they consider it permissible to kill those who do not share their views.
In the wake of his confrontation with Yevkurov last month, Khamkhoyev wrote on the DTsM Facebook page that those groups of believers who distance themselves from the DTsM constitute "a time bomb that could ultimately lead to bloodshed." He said such religious communities cannot be considered legal until they acknowledge the authority of the imam appointed by the DTsM in their village and "stop designating other people unbelievers."
The Salafi clergy had responded in December to Khamkhoyev's repeated attacks with an open letter rejecting his allegations and in turn accusing Khamkhoyev himself of sowing discord among believers through his dictatorial and heavy-handed approach. They also pointed out that the first religious communities to turn their backs on the DTsM, in the 1990s, were the Naqshbandi Sufis whom the DTsM also considers deviants. They appealed for reconciliation between the various Muslim communities, and concluded by saying that, if a new, qualified mufti is elected who "will defend the interests of all believers in a bid to consolidate our society," they will support him regardless of which branch of Islam he adheres to.
Yevkurov is a career Russian military intelligence officer whom then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named president of Ingushetia in October 2008. As such, he is presumably motivated less by his own religious beliefs than by the pragmatic need to reconcile the Sufi and Salafi congregations
in Ingushetia before the tensions between them spill over into the kind of institutionalized violence that has plagued Daghestan for the past 15 years. As Magomed Mutsolgov, the head of the Ingush NGO Mashr, which provides free legal aid, observed in a blog post, that it is a paradox how the republic's official clergy take such a hard line on any manifestations of religious dissent, whereas the secular leadership actively seeks to promote unity among the various currents of Islam.
Yet, as Moscow-based analyst Akhmet Yarlykapov points out, the DTsM is not subordinate to the republic's authorities and Yevkurov cannot impose his will on its members. When Yevkurov demanded Khamkhoyev's resignation last summer, Khamkhoyev categorically refused, and some 60 imams addressed a collective missive to Yevkurov affirming their support for the mufti.
In a clear attempt to reduce the power of the muftiate, Yevkurov has just established a new board tasked with supervising many aspects of religious life that were hitherto the preserve of the DTsM, including overseeing madrasahs and the lucrative business of organizing the hajj.
Yevkurov also named as his personal advisor on religious affairs Salekh Khamkhoyev, who served previously in that capacity under Republic of Ingushetia President Ruslan Aushev. Salekh Khamkhoyev belongs to the same clan as the mufti but they are not close relatives. Among his immediate tasks is convening a conference to which both Sufis and Salafis will be invited with a view to restoring unity between them.