Muslim Wire

Islamization or Local Tradition?

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 25, 2009

The Chechen president insists his morality campaign is aimed at foiling radicalism, but many Chechens don’t see it that way. From Liberali.

GROZNY, Chechnya | “The Heart of Chechnya” is the big new mosque in the center of the Chechen capital, Grozny. Its size and design is so impressive that locals are sure it is the biggest mosque in Europe.

The mosque was built by special order of the young president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. He dedicated it to his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, the Chechen leader who, several years ago, was killed by guerillas for being too close to the Kremlin.

“Islam is flourishing here,” Ramzan Kadyrov said of post-war Chechnya. He is a frequent visitor to the mosque.“We are doing everything to make it attractive for people to become Muslims,” he continued.

This large mosque is one of many erected since 2008 in line with Ramzan Kadyrov’s “return to spirituality and morality” campaign. Local people call these processes “the Islamization of Chechnya.”

Women’s dress was the first item regulated under Kadyrov’s new campaign. Since the beginning of 2008, no woman is allowed to enter a state building unveiled. Those who try are fired, and not allowed to enter the building.


Ramzan Kadyrov

The leader gives orders; people under his command follow the instructions. Last summer, local women walking along the streets of Grozny without veils and in short skirts were filmed, and later the same day shown on local television.

“Where are the eyes of her male relatives?” “How can we entrust them with the upbringing of future generations?” Comments like these dotted the special reports on these women.

Islam is supposed to be everywhere. New regulations have been imposed for taxi and mini-bus drivers. They are now obliged to have a television set inside their vehicles. Readings from the Koran and sermons of mullahs and imams are to be shown to their passengers. If no TV set is installed, the driver gets fired.

Scenes like these amaze newcomers to Chechnya. They may worry about the favoritism shown to Islamic customs in a republic well known for its problems with Islamist radicals and Wahhabism.

In the past few years, Chechnya experienced two bloody wars between local guerillas and the Russian army. Religious struggle against the Russian rulers was one of the main reasons for this conflict.

Some political observers and analysts outside Chechnya have criticized this campaign of return to pure traditions, or so-called Islamization. They are afraid this campaign will bring a new wave of Chechen separatism.

Kadyrov is well known for having the support of Vladimir Putin, the former Russian president and current prime minister. Kadyrov won this favor for his struggle against the guerillas and for the rebuilding of Grozny.

Some people joke that with all that trust and support from Putin, Kadyrov managed to bring in Islamic tradition to a degree no separatist could have dreamed of.

Ramzan Kadyrov says he doesn’t care about criticism of his campaign. He says these regulations do not violate the laws of the Russian Federation and are in accordance with Sharia.

Although Kadyrov speaks of his good intentions, the local people say the campaign is going too far and that there is no authority inside the republic to make Kadyrov review or stop it.

Every morning a long line stretches in front of Chechen State University. Nine security guards with Kalashnikovs conduct “face controls” of students. They pay special attention to female students’ clothing; whether they are veiled and their dresses long enough. Women wearing makeup or wearing a veil that does not completely cover their hair have no chance to get to their classes.

Suzanna Isaeva penciled her eyes this morning and got into an argument with the guards. They said her makeup was too provocative, and they would not allow her to enter the building.

“Islamization – what do they mean by this word? Is it only about making women put on veils? Prohibiting short skirts? Let’s get to the very root of the problem first,” Isaeva protested.

“They should, first of all, deal with men, many of whom are alcoholics and drug users – why don’t they start with them?” As she speaks, she flushes and begins to whimper.

Isaeva is studying journalism, but like the majority of people here, she understands that she has little chance to make a change.

The dress regulations began the day after Ramzan Kadyrov’s visit to Isaeva’s university.

“It was a surprise visit. Ramzan Akhmadovich [Kadyrov] came here without his security, and what did he see? Boys were smoking, girls were talking loudly and laughing. They were doing it in front of older people, which is a big shame, according to the pure Chechen traditions,” said Mokhmad Kerimov, a rector of the university.

“Ramzan Kadyrov rebuked us and we took it into account,” he said.

Two years have passed since that surprise visit, and a lot of change is evident at the university now; all the girls are in veils and long dresses. Boys wear neckties and are clean-shaven.

No one has publicly protested against these regulations, but in private conversation girls say, “The president should not set a fashion.”

“No one will listen to a woman here, what’s the point?” they say to the idea of protest against the regulations they don’t like.

Fashion issues are very topical problems here. A décolleté wedding dress without sleeves has little chance to be sold in Grozny. Locals say it is “too European.” The person who was first to propose this kind of thinking was again Ramzan Kadyrov.

“The bride is a symbol of modesty. In recent years, our brides have been wearing clothes that are too revealing. If it continues in this way, we will lose our traditions very soon,” Kadyrov said.

“We need to return to our traditions” – this is the main thrust of the local propaganda. Local television shows programs with students and teachers talking about the importance of Chechen ethics.

Some state institutions organize fashion shows to present clothing they would like their employees to wear. They propose dresses and suits that do not violate Chechen traditions.

The Chechen Republic’s Culture Ministry restored the “Arts Council,” a censor’s office that was abolished after the fall of the Soviet Union. The people from this council now check all new songs and novels. They decide if the work is appropriate fare for the public; the main criterion is accordance to Chechen traditions.

Edilbek Khasmagomadov, an analyst with the Strategic Research Center, said Kadyrov was trying to replace an ideology of Islamic extremism with an ideology of Sufi Islam, considered more traditional in the Caucasus.

“I cannot say that Kadyrov is trying to turn Chechnya into an Islamic state. He is trying to use traditional Islam and to oppose it to politicized Wahhabism. I don’t think Kadyrov is trying to root Sharia in Chechnya,” Khasmagomadov said.

Temur Aliev, an advisor to the Chechen president, thinks Kadyrov’s campaign is not fully understood by people who live outside Chechnya.

“They think this is a struggle for some superficial symbols. This is not,” Aliev said.

“For us this is a serious struggle against radical Islam and Islamists.”

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