Chechnya: Conservative Islam as an alternative to Radical Islam?

Vladimir Pachkov, SJ

 Vladimir Pachkov, SJ / Islam / 26 February 2021

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“The term ‘moderate Islam’ is being used again. It was invented by the West. There is no moderate or radical Islam; there is only Islam. Use of this term is intended to weaken  Islam” (Turkish President Recep Erdoğan).

“The Prophet showed us the way according to his ‘hadith’ and says that it is worthy of faith. Thanks to faith in this way, we fought… I fought against the Wahhabis for Allah” (Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov).

The dream of a moderate Islam and an Islamic enlightenment, carried forward by Muslims themselves, has remained largely a dream to this day, with few exceptions. It has not yet died out, but liberal Muslims – who allow themselves to be recognized as such – remain isolated, and very often must be protected because they are threatened by their co-religionists. The real dividing line in Islam does not seem to be between fighters for a liberal Islam and fighters for human rights in the Western sense, but between traditional conservative Islam and radical Islam, as preached by Ibn Taymiyya, Abd al-Wahhab and Sayyid al-Qutb.

In some Muslim societies this line of demarcation is very clear and the struggle between these two forms of present-day Islam is very often brutal, as in the North Caucasus, especially among the Chechens. This small people became famous because of the war with Russia in the 1990s. At that time it was considered a “Russian problem.” With the war in Syria, in which Chechens fought on the side of the Islamic caliphate, and with the emergence of a Chechen diaspora in Europe (mainly in Austria, Germany and France), the internal conflict in Chechnya acquired supra-regional significance. Therefore, everything that happens in Chechnya is also of great importance for the countries with a Chechen diaspora: this is clearly demonstrated by the crisis that erupted after the beheading of a teacher in France, near Paris, on October 16, 2020, by an 18-year-old Chechen.

Chechens have also earned a reputation in Europe as the “shock troops” of Islamism. One expert argues that the Islamist scene in Germany is dominated by Chechens.[1] On the other hand, Chechnya is a country where the fight against the radicalization of Islam and Wahhabism has been fiercely fought. The conflict between a militant interpretation of Islam and a more spiritual one began in the 19th century with Imam Shamil’s declaration that holy war was a duty in the context of the last-ditch resistance against Russia, while Kunta-Hajji, a Sufi teacher, preached a pacifist variant of Islam.


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