For the second consecutive year, some Daghestani Muslims -- both Sufis and Salafis -- have called on fellow believers not to participate in what they consider the pagan tradition of celebrating the New Year.
Akhmad Anchikhsky, imam of the controversial Kotrov Salafi mosque in Makhachkala, told the Caucasus Knot website that adherents of all strains of Islam in Daghestan were unanimous in affirming that Muslims should not celebrate the New Year. It was, Anchikhsky pointed out, neither an Islamic nor a Daghestani holiday, but not a Christian one either.
Siradjudin-hadji Akhmedov, deputy imam of a Sufi mosque in Makhachkala, similarly stressed that the New Year is not a Muslim holiday. He expressed disapproval both of the ecological damage caused by the large-scale felling of New Year trees, and the risk posed by New Year's Eve fireworks, and of the fact that some Muslims nonetheless mark the New Year by drinking toasts to Allah.
Theologian Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, for his part, noted strong opposition in Daghestan to celebrating the New Year, with prominent sportsmen and religious figures posting video clips on the Internet urging believers not to do so.
Last year, senior Daghestani officials took a stance on the issue. Then-President Magomedsalam Magomedov categorically rejected all objections to the celebration, declaring that "we are a secular republic within a secular state." Days later, police in Khasavyurt, Daghestan's second-largest city, detained 10 young men distributing leaflets calling on people not to celebrate the New Year.
In his New Year's address, Interior Minister Major General Abdurashid Magomedov echoed the president, to whom he is not related, stressing how much Daghestanis of all ages enjoy the New Year festivities, especially children. In a seeming contradiction, the minister affirmed that "no one has ever tried to link [the New Year] with any religious convictions or prejudices." At the same time, he claimed that "each of us believes that miracles happen during the night from December 31-January 1 and dreams come true."
Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan, the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA) appealed 10 days ago to the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus to ban public New Year's celebrations because this year December 31 coincides with the anniversary of the deaths of the Prophet Muhammad and of Imam Hassan. (Hassan was one of the 12 imams who were direct descendants of the Prophet and are venerated for that reason by Shi'ite Muslims, who are estimated to outnumber Sunnis in Azerbaijan by a ratio of 2:1.)
Acting IPA Chairman Elchin Manafov explained that "the day of the death of the Prophet Muhammad is a day of mourning for every Muslim. We are a Muslim country. We should show respect to the memory of the Prophet. That is why this year we propose refraining from New Year celebration."
Manafov went on to point out that January 2 marks the anniversary of the death of Imam Reza, while January 3 is the last day of the Muslim month of Muharram, during which it is not appropriate to hold celebrations. For that reason, Manafov said, New Year festivities should not begin until after that date.
Theologian Shahin Gasanli, head of the congregation of Baku's Meshadi Dadash Shi'ite mosque, similarly advocated refraining this year from celebrating the new year, given that it coincides with the anniversary of the death of the Prophet. But he said no one should be forced to comply with that advice.
Gamet Suleymanov, who heads the congregation of the Abu-Bekr Salafi mosque, was more categorical, arguing that Muslims should not celebrate New Year this year or any other year, as it is "a Christian festival" that "has nothing to do with Muslims." The Abu-Bekr mosque was closed after a bomb attack in August 2008; Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry last month detained two men suspected of plotting to blow up the Meshadi Dadash mosque.
There has been no official ruling from either the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan or the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus in response to the ongoing debate.
As for Chechnya, republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who positions himself as the defender of traditional Sufi Islam, apparently sees no problem in entering into the spirit of Christmas and New Year: on December 29 he showed up to chair a session of the Chechen government dressed as Father Frost.