دفتر روشن


A Study of Sufism in post-Soviet Dagestan of the Russian Federation

A Study of Sufism in post-Soviet Dagestan of the Russian Federation

 Galina M.Yemelianova


Methodology of the research.


            My presentation is based on preliminary results of two successive ESRC-funded research projects    ‘Islam, Ethnicity and Nationalism in post-Soviet Russian Federation’, 1997-1999 and ‘Ethnicity, Politics and Transnational Islam: A Study of an International Sufi Order of Naqshbandi Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani’, 1998-2001. I am going to focus on organisation, doctrine and politics of Dagestani Sufis. I will also outline the major methodological, ethical and political problems of the research.


The main methods employed  in the projects are  : (i)   media analysis[1]  and  (ii) elite interviewing.[2]  

(i) Media analysis serves three roles in the project. Firstly it allows the close monitoring of the ethno- religious dynamic in Dagestan and chart  popular responses to particular events and official policies. Secondly, media analysis  facilitates the isolation of key figures shaping debates about the relationship between ethnicity, religion and nation and forms the background research necessary for the selection of interviewees as well as provide an important point of ‘triangulation’ whereby statements in interview can be cross-referenced against press releases and ‘popularised’ narratives. Thirdly, the media is a key agent in the construction of discourses of Islam and nationalism and thus requires the same critical analysis as state, religious and non-governmental documents and activities. Since it is the discursive role of the media that is central to the study, analysis is  textual – focusing on articles by leading Islamic  authorities, political and public figures, analysts and academics – rather than a quantitative content analysis. All key local and regional newspapers as well as journals that are thematically related to the research have been  studied over a period  1997-2000. 


(ii) Elite interviews are an effective way of accessing information from uniquely privileged actors in the processes under investigation. The respondents’ direct  involvement  in the  shaping of the new spiritual,    ideological and political infrastructures as well as public and elite debates make them ‘double’ objects of study: analysis of interviews will provide valuable insight into the ‘empirical’ processes at work but also into the discursive strategies of key actors in those processes. Respondents have been  selected for approach on the basis of  information acquired  from the  study of periodicals,  the review of  official documents and  specialist  literature,  from the networks and contacts obtained during  research  and  as a result of  ‘snowball sampling’. About 120  interviews have been conducted, evenly divided between:  Shaykh Nazim’s followers; Shaykh Nazim’s opponents among Dagestani Sufis; representatives of non-Sufi (including Salafiya) Islam; members of the Islamic officialdom; representatives of  political, intellectual and  cultural  elite.

Historical background of the research.


  Dagestan[3]  was chosen for the research because of  its strong and lengthy Sufi tradition and its special place in the history of the International Sufi Order of Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani. Islam was brought to Dagestan by the Arabs in the seventh and eighth centuries; by the fifteenth and sixteenth Dagestanis had  adopted  the Shafii madhhab(juridical school) of Sunni Islam. From the sixteenth century onwards the majority of Dagestani Muslims chose to profess Sufi Islam. The resulting interweaving between Sufi and  tukhum (clan) structures brought about  the emergence of a specific Dagestani  Sufism, known as tariqatism, which incorporated numerous  pre-Islamic customs and  adat (customary law) norms.[4] Tariqatism became  the dominant form of popular Islam, although there was also a strong tradition of intellectual, ‘high’ Islam in  Dagestan,  represented by ulema (Islamic scholars).  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Naqshbandi  tariqa  provided  a mobilising framework for resistance to Russian expansionism in the region.

After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Dagestan was incorporated within the Soviet  state.[5] Over seventy years of Soviet atheism had a devastating impact on Islam in Dagestan. The vast majority of Dagestani mosques and  medresses (Islamic schools) were destroyed or closed,  Sufi shaykhs  and ulema  were either  killed or persecuted or forced to emigrate. As a result, ‘high’ intellectual Islam  was  irreversibly undermined, while  popular  Sufi Islam was reduced to unofficial  underground  status. Having nevertheless failed to eradicate Islam, the Soviets opted for its control through the Muftiyats (the Higher Islamic administrations),  staffed  with  collaborationist  Muslim clerics, [6] which were  institutionalised  as  the only legitimate representatives of Soviet Muslims.  From 1943 until 1989 Dagestani  Muslims, alongside their co-religionists from the other  Islamic autonomies of the North Caucasus,  were administered by the  DUMSK (the Muftiyat of the Muslims of the North Caucasus), centred in Makhachkala. The DUMSK’s leadership subscribed to the official position on  tariqatism  which  qualified it as  religious obscurantism  and suppressed any Sufi  activities.  Nevertheless, in spite of the Soviet persecutions Dagestani Sufism survived, although it was pushed deeply underground. Moreover, the Sufi shaykhs and not the official clergy remained the genuine  custodians  of Islamic faith and culture  in Dagestan. Since the Gorbachevian thaw of 1986-1991 Dagestan has been one of  the  epicentres of  an Islamic resurgence characteristic of  the Muslim-populated areas of the former Soviet Union. Post-Communist religious liberalisation  enabled the Dagestani Sufis to end  their secretive existence.


Tariqatism: organisation, doctrine and political engagement.


The disintegration of the totalitarian Soviet system which began in the late 1980s  had an invigorating impact on  Dagestani Sufism, or tariqatism.  It emerged from underground and championed the grass-roots re-Islamisation of Dagestani society. Despite the decades of Soviet oppression tariqatists had clandestinely preserved their hierarchical structures, affiliated to specific kinship and sub-kinship local formations. According to some expert estimations Sufis constitute over 60 per cent of the Dagestani Muslim population.[7] The majority of Sufis in poly-ethnic Dagestan are Avars, who are considered the most religious ethnic group. There are also many Sufis among  Dargins,  Kumyks and Nogays who have the reputation for being moderately religious peoples. In terms of organisation Dagestani Sufis are affiliated to between 40 and 50  virds   (schools of teaching within the  tariqa). The biggest are the Naqshbandi and  Shazali  virds. However, the Akkin  Chechens, who live in Dagestan’s  Khasavyurtovskii  raion (district),  mainly belong to the  Kadiri tariqa.[8] There are also some followers of  the Dzhazuli  tariqa and of the Yasawi tariqa ( among Nogay Turks of Nogayskii district).  The virds are headed by shaykhs some of whom  simultaneously teach  according to several different schools.  The most common practice is when the same  Sufi shaykh heads a Naqshbandi and a Shazali vird.[9]  Among the influential living Dagestani  shaykhs  are  Badrudin Botlikhskii, Said-afendi Chirkeevskii, Magomed Amin Gadzhiev, Mukhadzhir Dogrelinskii, Arslanali Gamzatov(Paraulskii), Ramazan Gimrinskii, Idris-khadzhi Israphilov, Abdulwahid Kakamakhinskii, Muhammad Mukhtar Kakhulayskii, Tadjudin Khasavyurtovskii, Siradzhudin Khurikskii  and Abdulgani Zakatalskii. Some Dagestani Sufis follow the path of the dead  shaykhs Ali-khadzhi Akushinskii, Amay, Gasan Kakhibskii, Kunta-khadzhi  and Vis-khadzhi.[10]

Historically  Dagestani  tariqatists, especially those of Naqshbandi tariqa, have been much more involved in politics than Sufis elsewhere in Islamic world. Under perestroika Dagestani Sufis and traditionalist Muslims  generally returned to public life and challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet Islamic officialdom, represented by  the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the North Caucasus, or DUMSK.[11] They became the major driving force of Islamic revival in the republic. A characteristic symbol of the Sufi dimension of the latter  was the restoration of the traditions of ziyarat (popular Sufi pilgrimage)  to over  800  mazars (burial  places of  shaykhs, or  some other objects of Sufi worship).  Tariqatists also strengthened  their involvement in the processes of decision-making on a local level through the promotion of  their representatives in village administrations. [12] This facilitated the renewal of public Islamic festivals, as well as the re-introduction of some elements of Islamic food norms and dress codes which existed in pre-Soviet times.

Among the other important characteristics of the religious revival  were the rapid increase in the number of mosques and Islamic educational establishments. Until 1985 there were only 27 registered  mosques;  there were no Islamic  schools, and less than a dozen Dagestani Muslims were allowed to conduct an annual  hajj ( a pilgrimage).   In 1996 there were already 1,670 registered mosques, nine Islamic institutes, including three Islamic Universities, 25  medresses, 670 mektebs (primary Islamic schools) and eleven Islamic cultural and charity  centres.[13] Dagestan also witnessed the emergence of an Islamic press which did not exist during the Soviet period. Among the first Islamic periodicals were the newspapers As-Salam  (‘Peace’), Nur-ul-Islam(‘Light of Islam’), Islamskii Vestnik(‘Islamic News’) and Mezhdunarodnaya Musulmanskaya Gazeta(‘International Islamic Newspaper’). The  hajj, which used to be a luxury restricted to just a few privileged clerics, became accessible for many thousands of ordinary Dagestani Muslims.

The increased religious activity of the tariqatists was accompanied by their rapid politicisation.    The Sufis’ intrinsic conflict with the Soviet regime  predetermined  their  participation  in the Islamo-democratic opposition movement which  also included dissident intellectuals  and Islamists, incorrectly but widely labeled as Wahhabis. [14] The ultimate goal of the opposition  was economic and political liberalisation and the re-Islamisation of state and society in Dagestan.  Their immediate demands were the resignation of the old leadership of the DUMSK,  which was regarded as the major obstacle to genuine  Islamic revival in Dagestan, and their replacement by a younger generation of Islamic clerics, the ‘young Imams’- including both Sufis and Islamists -who claimed to have had no involvement with the Soviet state and the KGB.   In 1989  Muftii Gekkiev of the  DUMSK  was  charged with corruption,  collaboration  with the KGB and  moral  laxity, and was  forced to resign.[15]

After  Gekkiev’s resignation the Islamo-democratic alliance fell apart. Tariqatists  insisted on their supremacy in the Dagestani  umma ( Islamic community) and alienated the Islamists.  In order to strengthen their religious and political positions  tariqatist activists allied with some of the leaders of  the various nationalist  movements which mushroomed  during  the ‘parade of sovereignties’ in Russia between 1989 and 1992. The  establishment of  closer  links  between the tariqatists  and nationalists  ensured the  Islamisation of the nationalist agenda. As a result, the leaders of the main nationalist organisations clashed over the right to control the Muftiyat, which  they  regarded as  an indispensable attribute of nationhood, as well as an important source of foreign and domestic cash.

In 1989 the DUMSK gave in to the pressure from various nationalist  factions and split into seven separate  Muftiyats, one in each  Muslim autonomy of the North Caucasus. Most of them were headed by representatives of Sufi Islam which was henceforth legalised and became the official strand of Islam. In Dagestan the leadership of the newly established  autonomous Muftiyat- the DUMD (The Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan) - was contested by traditionalists representing the largest ethnic groups, i.e.Avars, Dargins, Kumyks and  Laks. Between 1989 and 1992  the central strife occurred between Avars, who dominated the Islamic officialdom in the Soviet period, and the rest. This  major split  was further exacerbated by internal conflicts. For example, Avar traditionalists were divided by their attitude to the  influential Naqshbandi  shaykh Said-afendi Chirkeevskii whose  vird had a substantial numerical and ideological superiority over the other Sufi virds. As for the non-Avar bloc, its integrity was jeopardised by collisions between Dargin, Kumyk and Lak traditionalists.

Initially, representatives of non-Avar ethnic groups took the lead in the race for the Muftiyat.   In  early 1989 Kumyks promoted their  candidate  shaykh  Muhammad  Mukhtar  Babatov  to the post of Dagestani Muftii. Several months later Babatov was replaced by Abdulla Aligadzgiev, a  protégé of the Dargin ulema.   In January 1990  the Kumyks fought back: Kumyk Bagauddin  Isayev  became  the next  Muftii of Dagestan. However, the religious leadership of Kumyks and  Dargins was short-lived.  From late 1990 the  Avar ‘young Imams’ intensified their campaign  for the restoration of Avar domination within the Islamic officialdom. It is significant that in order to avoid association with the old, Soviet-era Islamic establishment, they stressed their allegedly democratic image. In particular, they established co-operation with the  Islamic Democratic Party (the IDP), led  by Abdurashid  Saidov.[16] In February 1992  Avars resumed their control over the Muftiyat through the ‘election’ of Avar Muftii  Sayid Akhmed  Darbishgadzhiyev. In spite of the democratic image of the new Muftii he failed to gain the support of the majority of non-Avar clerics. Their response was the formation of three other ethnic Muftiyats which claimed to represent Muslims of  Kumyk, Dargin and Lak ethnicity.[17] Faced with growing alienation within the non-Avar  Islamic community, the Avar leadership of the  DUMD abandoned its  pro-democracy stance, broke its relations with the IDP  and turned to the Government for support.  

 The change of political orientation of  the DUMD was accompanied by the regrouping of forces among Avar traditionalists. By 1994 it was clear that Avar shaykh  Said-Aitseev  (Chirkeevskii) had outplayed his rivals both among the tariqatists and ulema and had asserted his control over the DUMD. The new Muftii  Magomed Darbishev  was a protégé of Said-afandi and an obedient orchestrator of his will. Darbishev’s successors  Seyid Muhammad  Abubakarov (Avar, 1996-1998) and  Ahmad –khadzhi Abdulaev (Avar, 1998- ) were similarly  close to Said-afendi. During the period of their administration Said-afandi’s murids (disciples), especially from Gumbetovskii  raion, the homeland of Said-afendi, were appointed to the top posts within the DUMD.[18]

Parallel to the establishment of  his religious supremacy  shaykh Said-afendi  has increased his influence in other spheres of public life. His followers or sympathisers have also penetrated the political structures.  Said-afandi’s  approval  has become  crucial for many Dagestani politicians and businessmen.[19] His growing authority forced some of his former opponents to seek his favour. For example, Said-afandi’sparty included  Kumyk shaykh Arslanali Gamzatov and Dargin  shaykh Abdulwahid Kakamakhinskii. Similarly, Said-afendi’s rivals among the Avar  traditionalists, shaykhs  Tadzhuddin Khasavyurtovskii and Idris-khadzhi Israphilov, joined the opposition camp led by Kumyk shaykhs  Muhammad Mukhtar Kakhulayskii and  Ilyas-khadzhi and  Dargin traditionalists  Muhammad Amin, Magomed-hadzhi and Abdulla-khadzhi Aligadzhiev.

In  1994 the Dagestani authorities responded to  Said-afendi’s demand  and declared  the DUMD as the only legitimate  supreme  Islamic authority  in Dagestan. In fact, the Naqshbandi Sufism of shaykh Said-afandi’s vird was associated with mainstream  Islam in  Dagestan. The rival Kumyk, Dargin and Lak Muftiyats were pronounced illegitimate and self-proclaimed. Alongside shaykh Said-afandi the  DUMD recognised the legitimacy of three other Naqshbandi-Shazali shaykhs -Badruddin Botlikhskii, Arslanali Gamzatov (Paraulskii) and Abdulwahid Karamakhinskii - who accepted the supremacy of Said-afandi. The rest of the Dagestani shaykhs were pronounced  mutashayks (spurious shaykhs).

            The official backing allowed the DUMD and Said-afandi, in particular, to employ the state infrastructure, including the official mass media and the intelligence  services, to secure his domination.[20]  This enabled the DUMD to unleash  a propaganda campaign against  an  advancing Wahhabism which presented the major threat to the  DUMD’s spiritual monopoly. Wahhabis were  portrayed as agents of ‘dollar Islam’ which  was  being artificially implanted by foreign powers hostile not only to traditional Islam but to the national interests of Dagestan and the Russian Federation as a whole. As for the Dagestani authorities they had their own vested interest  in the campaign against Wahhabism, which provided them with a  means to boost their political credibility among a population increasingly disillusioned with corrupt and incompetent Government.

 In December 1997, under pressure from Said-afendi’s group, the Dagestani  Parliament  issued a ban on the activities of the Wahhabis, who were defined as religious extremists. Many Wahhabi leaders were arrested, their offices were demolished and their periodicals banned. This official action had a radicalising effect on  Dagestani  Wahhabis, many of whom were pushed into alliance with the Chechen  separatists. At the beginning of 1998  the leaders  of Wahhabi Jamaat  announced the start of a jihad against the Dagestani regime.  In August and September 1999 they participated in the abortive military Chechen invasion of Dagestan commanded by the Chechen field commanders Basaev and Khattab in  Tsumadinskii, Botlikhskii and Novolakskii raions of Dagestan. The Dagestani authorities’ reaction to the invasion was further  suppression of Wahhabism and adoption of a new and tougher law aimed at the complete eradication of Wahhabism in Dagestan. The participation of radical Wahhabis in the Chechen incursion shifted Dagestani public opinion decisively  in favour of tariqatism  and  undermined the Wahhabis’ chances of success in the perceivable  future. The crack-down on Wahhabism further strengthened  Said-afandi’s  grip over the Islamic community of Dagestan.

The Tariqatists’ alliance with the de facto  atheistic  ruling regime affected their position on the pace and scope of religious reform in Dagestan. Unlike the Islamo-democratic opposition, they dropped the goal of an Islamic state and subscribed to exclusively parliamentary methods of achieving the re-Islamisation of Dagestani society. The DUMD leaders envisage this coming about through the Islamisation of education and the gradual re-introduction of Islamic legal norms which existed in the 1920s.[21] They regard Turkish Islam - which is close  to the traditions of Naqshbandiya Sufism - as a possible model for tariqatism in Dagestan.[22] The Muftiyat designated the puppet  Islamic Party of Dagestan (the IPD) to lobby on behalf of the Islamic agenda.[23]  The  IPD’s parliamentary  demands  include  the removal from the Constitution of Dagestan of the clauses on the separation of church and state and of schools from the church, and the official recognition of Islam as the  ‘religion of the democratic majority.’ [24]

In spite of the tariqatist  self-presentation as the champion of Muslims’ interests  the popular rating of the   tariqatist officialdom as represented by the  DUMD  has been low.   Tariqatists have been accused of endemic corruption and  links with criminal mafia groups; the  tariqatist DUMD has also been sharply  criticised  for fraud,  theological  incompetence and  aggressive  intolerance to its religious opponents. [25]  There has been a widely held perception that the DUMD  has used its monopoly over hajj-related  matters  for unlawful enrichment. Specifically, it  has  manipulated  the visa fees and the prices of the Koran and other Islamic literature supplied by various foreign Islamic organisations and funds free of charge.[26]  The public has also been unhappy with the way  in which the DUMD appoints local Imams. Sometimes it installs as village Imams poorly educated persons whose main ‘virtue’ is their loyalty to shaykh Said-afendi. Clerical opponents reproach the  DUMD  leaders  for their  inadequate religious and theological training  and the absence of authoritative ulema among them. It is significant that since the early 1990s Dagestan’s Muftiis have not issued one fetwa.

On the whole, the incorporation of tariqatism within the corrupt and semi-criminal state system has predetermined their association with the ruling regime, the post-Soviet re-shaping of which was over by the mid-1990s.   Its core was made up of the old, atheistic Soviet/Party nomenklatura, the members of which maintained their jobs, although under new ‘democratic’ labels.[27] They were joined  by  some new  figures who represented  either the  Dagestani  nouveau riche, a Dagestani version of new Russians, or the activists of the major ethnic business  parties.[28]  Although according to the Dagestani constitution fourteen titular ethnic groups/nationalities have the right of legislative initiative and are equally represented in the State Council,[29] the actual political and economic power has been monopolised  by the Dargins and the Avars. While the Dargins have secured their influence in the political domain, the Avars have preserved their traditional domination in the economic and ideological spheres.[30]  Most top politicians have been closely connected with their respective ethnic business mafias. The Dagestani Government has been strongly dependent on federal subsidies. So, the ruling regime, including the  tariqatist  Islamic officialdom, has been characterised  by  authoritarianism, widespread fraud, corruption, the inability to curb the increase in crime and terrorism and to handle the acute economic and social problems. The social consequences of this regime have been the continuation of backwardness and stagnation, and the blocking of any structural reforms  leading to the modernisation of Dagestani society and its evolution into a democratic civil  entity.


The role of Shaykh  Nazim  al-Haqqani among Dagestani Sufis.


In Dagestan  Shaykh Nazim has managed to acquire a reasonable number of followers.  During his visit of Dagestan in 1997  Shaykh Nazim nominated a Dagestani Sufi Abdul Wahid( Avar)  as his khalifa. There are murids of Shaykh Nazim in several  raions (districts) of Dagestan, as well as in Chechnya and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya. The majority of his murids are various Turkic peoples, although the ethnic factor is not crucial and there are also his murids among Caucasian peoples-Avars, Laks and Dargins, as well as Chechens.   Shaykh Nazim is also recognised  as a genuine Naqshbandi shaykh by the followers of Dagestani shaykh Sharafuddin,  the predecessor  of Shaykh Abdalla ad-Dagestani, the shaykh of Nazim al-Haqqani.  It is significant that  Shaykh  Nazim  is highly  respected among Dagestan’s pro-Western dissident intellectuals. They distrust Shaykh Sayid-afandi Chirkeevskii  and consider him a descendant of those members of the Naqshbandi tariqa  who submitted to the Russian/Soviet  rule and who have been paid by the imperial Russia, Soviet and post-Soviet regimes in Dagestan. However, the prozelytising activity by Shaykh Nazim  in Dagestan has been seriously complicated by:

the  high level of politicisation of the Naqshbandi vird of Shaykh Sayid-afandi Chirkeevskii;

 its  de-facto  spiritual monopoly over the Dagestani  Islamic officialdom;

 its  juxtaposition with the so-called Wahhabis and rival Sufi authorities;

 the general political  instability  in the region and the recent military insurgence of Chechen-Dagestani Islamists(Wahhabis) in the western Dagestan.

 the technological backwardness of Dagestan that excludes it from the cyber network which is crucial in Shaykh Nazim’s politics in Europe, the USA and other localities.

 In Dagestan Shaykh Nazim has to deal with official propaganda forged by the Muftiyat which presents him as a spurious shaykh, or mutashaykh. The Muftiyat recognises the legitimacy of only four Dagestani shaykhs: Sayid-afandi Chikkeevskii, Badruddin Botlikhskii, Arslanali Gamzatov(Paraulskii) and Abdul-Wahid Kakamakhinskii. All of them belong to the Naqshbandi-Shazali tariqa and  claim to be   successors to Shaykh Sayful-qadi who is considered as kutba. They argue  Shaykh Nazim’s claims   to his place in the  Naqshbandi  silsila derived  from the succession controversy which existed since  Dagestani  Naqshbandi  Shaykh  Abdurahman as-Sughuri (d.1882). The latter headed the  most militant members of the  tariqa who accused the others of complacency  towards the Russian occupation and preferred the emigration to submission to the Russian rule. It significant that the  largest  part of  Naqshbandis  accepted the Russian domination (the line of Shaykh Sayful-qadi). They, however, criticized their opponents for politicization which their regarded as tagayur (deviation) from the Naqshbandi principles. Hypothetically, it may be possible that Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani represents  that militant branch  of the tariqa while Shaykh Sayid-afandi and other Dagestani official shaykhs belong to the mainstream Naqshbandi tariqa.

The  Dagestani official  Islamic periodicals have accused Shaykh Nazim of:

forging the  Naqshbandi teaching for his own personal  and political ends, i.e. violation of the basic principle  man tagayyara laysa minna  ( those who changed are not with us );

presenting himself as one of the nine and the  last genuine  Naqshbandi shaykhs who perceived the truth;

not recognising the  madhhabs;

the succession to shaykh Abdalla ad-Dagestani who was himself  a mutashaykh;

the devaluation of the institute of  ijaza (permission)  by its thoughtless and arbitrarily distribution;

the distortion of the Sufi ethics by invading the spiritual domain of other Dagestani shaykhs, by ignoring and bypassing the Dagestani Muftiyat;

the violation of the Naqshbandi zikr  by introducing some elements of a loud  zikr of ‘Allah, Allah, Allah’, instead of the respective internal zikr;

the close relations with Nadirshah Khachilaev (Lak), former chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia (the UMR)  who from September 1999 has been under  the official criminal investigation related to his involvement in the  Chechen-Islamist  invasion of Dagestan;

being commissioned by British an Turkish intelligence to undermine the genuine tariqatism in Dagestan from within.[31]

The official  military and political crack-down on Wahhabism and all other non-traditional religious organisations and movements  which began in August 1999 has pushed Shaykh Nazims’s followers and sympathizers deeply underground. Since then the official mass media has fought the alleged conspiracy of ‘the third force’ represented by MI 6 and the CIS which seeks to destabilise  the Islamic regions of Russia and Central Asia in the interests of the American and British oil and gas companies building an alternative gas and oil transport route from Central Asia to Pakistan via Afghanistan, i.e. by-passing Iran and Iraq. It is also alleged  that  Saudi Arabia, the USA and the UK have contributed a great deal towards Chechnya’s  transformation  into a base of international terrorism and  Wahhabism in order to perpetuate the economic weakness of Russia and to secure its position as a provider of raw materials to the West.  Wahhabism, hence,  is qualified as an extremist religious and political movement.  In terms of the project this means that any academic, or other association with Great Britain is perceived as suspicious. 


Notes on contributors.


Dr Galina Yemelianova is a specialist in Islamic studies. She received her PhD  in  Islamic  history  from Moscow  State University in 1985.  Until 1994 she was a Research Fellow at the Institute of  Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy  of  Sciences  in Moscow. Since 1994  she  has  been  a  Research Fellow at  the Centre for Russian and East European  Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. She has researched and published extensively in Russia and internationally on history and contemporary  ethno-political  and religious issues in the Middle East and the Islamic regions of the Russian/Soviet empire and post-Soviet Russia.  She is currently working on the  ESRC-funded project ‘Ethnicity, Politics and Transnational Islam: A Study of an International Sufi Order’  focusing on autonomous republic  of  Dagestan of the Russian Federation.


[1] See:A.Bell and P.Garrett, eds.(1998) Approaches to Media Discourse, Oxford:Blackwell;

A.Berger (1991) Media Research  Technique, London:Sage Pablications;  and A.Teun van Dijk, ed. (1985) Discourse and Communication: New Approaches to the Analysis of Mass Media, Berlin:Walter de Gruyter.




[2] See: R.Hertz and J.B.Imber, eds.(1995) Studying Elites Using Qualitative Methods, Sage; G.Moyser and M.Wagstaffe,eds. (1987) Research Methods for Elite Studies, London: Sage Publications ; and D.Richards (1996)’Elite Interviewing: Approaches and Pitfalls’, Politics, vol.16, no3, September.  


[3] Dagestan  is an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. It is situated in the eastern part of the North Caucasus. Its territory is 50,300 square kilometres and its population is 1,954,252 (1995). The urban population makes up 43.6 per cent of the total while the rural population is 56.4 per cent. Dagestan is one of the least economically developed autonomous republics of the Russian Federation and is strongly dependent on federal subsidies and other suppliers. It is populated by over thirty different ethnic groups, each of which has its own culture and speaks a distinctive language incomprehensible to the rest.

[4] The term tariqatism  derives from an Arabic word  tariqa  (‘a path’)  which also  means a mystical form of Islam. At the  core of tariqatism is the mystical link between  a Sufi  shaykh  and his disciples, or murids.   The authority of a shaykh is based on a mystical permission, or barakat,  which is transferred from the founder of the tariqa to successive shaykhs. The line of succession of  shaykhs  is known as the ‘golden chain’, or silsila.  An important  characteristic of a shaykh is his ability to perform miracles, or  karamat.  Tariqatists believe that the

 tariqa  provides closer contact between Allah and an individual  Muslim than orthodox Islam.

[5] In 1922 Dagestan was transformed into an autonomous republic within the Russian  Federation of the USSR.

[6] The institution of  the Muftiyat was  introduced by Tsarina  Catherine  the Great in 1789. During the Soviet time there were four  Muftiyats:the Muftiyat in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) administered the Muslims of Central Asia; the Muftiyat in  Baku (Azerbaijan) was in charge of Muslims of the Transcaucasus;  The Muftiyat in Makhachkala (Dagestan) controlled  Muslims of the North Caucasus and  the Muftiyat in Ufa (Bashkorstan) dealt with Muslims of the Volga-Urals and Central Russia. 

[7] Interview with Magomed Kurbanov, the Deputy Minister of Nationalities of Dagestan, Makhachkala, 30 June 1998.

[8] Interview with Magomed Kurbanov, the Deputy Minister of Nationalities of Dagestan, Makhachkala, 30 June 1998.

[9] For example, the leading Dagestani shaykh  Sayid-afendi Chirkeevskii simultaneously controls a number of Naqshbandi and Shazali virds.

[10] Nur-ul-Islam, no3, March, 1997.

[11] In the case of Dagestan the term ‘Islamic traditionalism’ is wider than the term ‘tariqatism’ since it also includes non-Sufi ulema whose present unofficial leader is Abdul-khadzhi Aligadzhiev.

[12] By the end of 1999 Imams and other Islamic authorities controlled the decision-making  process in 68 villages of Dagestan. Islamskii Vestnik, no 22, 1999. 

[13] Ibid.

[14] Historically, Wahhabism was a religious and political movement within the most strict and rigid Khanbali  maddhab of Sunni Islam. It originated in the mid-18th century in Arabia and was named after its leader Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab. Strictly speaking the use of the term ‘Wahhabism’  in relation to Dagestani Islamic fundamentalism is  incorrect because  the latter  is based  on a wider doctrinal foundation than the teaching of Abd al-Wahhab.  However, due to the term’s wide acceptance by politicians and journalists this article uses it as the description of Dagestani Islamic fundamentalism.

[15] A.Malashenko, Islamskoe Vozrozhdeniye v Sovremennoi Rossii, Moscow: Carnegie Endowment,1998, p.106.

[16] The IDP was formed in 1990 by Dagestani intellectuals of democratic orientation under the leadership of Abdurashid  Saidov. The original programme of the party presented a paradoxical combination of Islamic and democratic ideals, opposing the rule of the corrupted Party nomenclatura and calling for its replacement by an Islamic-democratic  Government. In doctrinal terms  it favoured tariqatism although it was also tolerant towards Wahhabism.

[17] G.Yemelianova, ‘Islam and Nation Building in Tatarstan and Dagestan of the Russian Federation’, Nationalities Papers, vol.27, no 4, 1999,  p.619.

[18] Among Said-afendi’s murids who occupied the top positions  in the Islamic administration were, for example,  Muftii Abubakarov (1994-1998); his  father Khasmuhammad –khadzhi who headed the Council of the Dagestani Imams of the Central Mosque of Makhachkala; and  Arslanali Gamzatov, the head of the  Council of the Dagestani  Ulema. 

[19] Interview with M.Kurbanov, Makhachkala, 17 July 1997.

[20] In spite of close collaboration between the DUMD and the Dagestani authorities, relations between them have not been trouble-free. For example, in 1997-98 the DUMD bitterly criticised the Government for slowing down the Islamisation  project, promoted by the DUMD, and for ‘insufficient ‘ hostility towards Wahhabis. As-Salam, no23, December, 1997. 

[21] In particular, the  DUMD  calls for the  introduction in state schools and colleges of  religious subjects; the right of  various religious organisations to teach religion outside the curriculum; the creation of Islamic nursery schools; the right of students at religious institutes to study general subjects as well and the creation of a state Islamic University which would produce qualified Imams and Islamic teachers. The DUMD also presses for the declaration of  Friday as a holiday; the introduction of some elements of the shariat into the legal system,  the amendment of the symbols and paraphernalia of the state in line with the requirements of Islam;  the adjustment of the  slaughter of animals and birds to the shariat;  the  imposition  of restrictions on the sale of alcohol and erotic literature and  the introduction of  Islamic dress codes for women. As-Salam, no22, December, 1997; As-Salam, no 13 (77), July, 1988.

[22] The new Central Mosque in Makhachkala, opened in 1996, was built with Turkish aid, and until 1998 a representative of Turkey was the Imam of the mosque. 

[23] The IPD was formed in 1994 as a result of a split in the Islamic Democratic Party (the IDP) between the democratic faction led by its founder Abdurashid Saidov, and the pro-government faction of Surokat  Asiyatilov. The leader of the IDP is  a Parliamentary Deputy, former wrestler and University lecturer.

[24] Dagestanskaia Pravda, Makhachkala, 29 May 1996; As-Salam, no24 (64), December, 1997; Nur-ul-Islam, no12, July, 1998; Islamskii Vestnik, no24, 27.07-02.08.98.

[25] For example, one of the main donors of the DUMD is Sharapuddin Musaev, the head of a large organised crime group in the town of  Kaspiisk known as the Kaspiisk mafia.

[26] According to some figures, financial machinations made the DUMD some $182,000 profit from the hajj in 1998 alone.

[27]In the aftermath of the break-up of the USSR the Dagestani authorities were the most resistant to any democratic reforms. They hung on to the Soviet political system until 1995, much longer than anywhere else in Russia.

[28] The term ‘ethnic party’ was introduced by the Dagestani sociologist Enver Kisriev to describe quasi-party political organisations based on ethnic and clan solidarity. See E.Kisriev, ‘Dagestan’, Mezhetnicheskie Otnosheniia i Konflikti v post-Sovetskikh Gosuarstvakh, Ezhegodnii Doklad, 1998, p.39.

[29]The Dagestani Constitution of 1994 nominated the fourteen largest ethnic groups as titular. They are: Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins, Russians, Laks, Tabasarans, Chechens, Azeris, Nogays, Mountain Jews and Tats, Rutuls, Aguls and Tsakhurs. Konstitutsiia Respubliki Dagestan, Makhachkala:Yupiter, 1994, p.20.

[30] The Dargin clan includes, for example, M.Magomedov, the head of the State Council of Dagestan and Amir Saidov, the Mayor of Makhachkala.  The leaders of the Avar clan are M.Aliev, the chairman of the People’s Assembly (the Parliament), G.Makhachev, the vice-Premier and former leader of the Avar national movement, S.Asiyatilov, the leader of the Islamic Party of Dagestan (the IPD) and Muftii Abdullaev of Dagestan.

[31] Nurul Islam (The Light of Islam), No 8, August, Makhachkala, 1997.


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