Accepted Paper:

Proper 'traditional' versus dangerous 'new': religious ideology and idiosyncratic Islamic practices in post-Soviet Chechnya  


Bella Marten

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on the conflicting Islamic discourses in post-war Chechnya. It examines the divide between the 'traditional' Sufi Islam appropriated by the Chechen government and the more recent reformist trends, termed 'Wahhabism' and claimed the main source of terrorism by the power elite.

Paper long abstract:

Based on recent fieldwork, this paper examines the conflicting Islamic discourses in post-Soviet Chechnya, in order to determine how the religious ideology of Chechen government affects subjective beliefs and practices.

The power elite's use of Islam as an ideological tool rests on the dichotomy between the 'right' or 'traditional' Islam, i.e. Sufism, and the 'wrong' or 'terrorist' Islam locally termed 'Wahhabism'. Building on the clashes between the followers of 'traditional' Sufism and Islamic reformists in the 1990s, as well as on the widespread public antipathy towards 'Wahhabism' as an ideology that was appropriated by the dominant rebel faction in the period between the two armed conflicts in Chechnya (1996-1999), the current Chechen government is engaged in a crackdown on the adherents of reformist or 'non-traditional' Islam, all of whom are lumped together as 'Wahhabis'. In line with the policies of Moscow, 'Wahhabis' are equated with terrorists, and often referred to as 'Satans'. At the same time, the power elite is sustaining a public display of the 'right' practices of Islam and allocating considerable resources to the construction and renovation of mosques and shrines.

I argue that the fight against 'Wahhabi terrorists' on the one hand and the ideological phrasing of resistance in terms of a pan-Caucasian jihad against infidels by a faction of rebel movement on the other has created an atmosphere of fear in which reformist-minded Chechen Muslims cannot openly practice their faith and are forced to find discreet ways of maintaining their beliefs. Moreover, the forceful yet shallow governmental religious campaign ignores the diversity of Islam within its own accepted 'traditional' camp.

Panel W098
Islam within and across religiously diverse communities: case studies from Muslims in the Balkans and Europe