"The Kabarda-Balkar jamaat: Law-abiding citizens or criminals?"
Кабардино-балкарский джамаат: законопослушные граждане или преступники.Two terrorists are lying in wait. One says to the other: "I can't for the life of me remember are we goblins or hobbits?" "We're Wahhabis," the other replies.
Letter published on rebel site
In the middle of May a letter by the commander of the Kabarda-Balkar sector of the Caucasus front, Amir Seyfullah (his Muslim name is Anzor Astemirov and the law-enforcement bodies are looking for him in connection with the attack by fighters on the Kabarda-Balkar capital [Nalchik] in October last year), was published on the Kavkaz-Tsentr website, complaining about those Muslims who have not taken up arms to defend their faith. A number of details were left out of the original text, which was heavily edited following its publication on the Kavkaz-Tsentr site, concerning the participation of members of radical Islamic communities in the elections and work in the state power bodies, and so on, but the main point remained unchanged. Amir Seyfullah believes that according to Islamic teaching, it is the duty of a true Muslim to wage a constant armed struggle against a secular state to eventually overthrow a faithless power.
Amir Seyfullah reproaches those Muslims who try to conduct a dialogue with the authorities and who believe that they can keep their faith pure by avoiding confrontation.
"The peaceful co-existence of Muslims in an infidel state (a state of non-believers), whatever the circumstances, leads to a decline in their faith. Only open confrontation can prevent them from yielding to temptation. The softer the attitude of the infidel state to the Muslims, the tougher should be the position of Muslims against this state so that the distinction between Islam and kufr [ungratefulness and disbelief in God] should be clear and precise and a hatred of lack of faith should be restored and preserved among Muslims.
There are two types of temptation or enticement which the infidels (non-believers) practice on us: the first is poverty and violence, and the second kindness and material wealth. In both cases their aim is to divert us from our religion.
A Jihad (an armed struggle against non-believers) is one of the most important forms of worship. To refuse to fulfil this duty is a grave sin. The majority do not fulfil their religious duty for safety reasons for themselves and their loved ones. There are also those who believe it is pointless and even harmful to try to resist powerful enemies."
Muslims, according to Amir Seyfullah, are neglecting their main duty which is not just to live but to die in the name of God.
"God has offered us mercy, having given us the chance to fight on His path. Not just to live but to die for Him. For this another great reward is promised us forgiveness for our sins and everlasting paradise where we shall see the most holy countenance of our Lord who is satisfied with us.
For a grateful and loving slave this is the greatest happiness and there is nothing more important in this life. The companions of God's disciple, greetings to him and the blessing of God, have shown us an example of true love for the Almighty and unconditional submissiveness to His behests. They
were prepared without any doubt or hesitation to sacrifice their lives for God."
Contents of letter censored
In the text, which was originally published in unabridged form, Amir Seyfullah wrote with sadness that the number of Muslim members of Kabarda-Balkar jamaats [communities] who were prepared to take up the armed struggle was steadily declining because the amirs are trying to instil in
them the idea that full-fledged participation in the social and political life of a secular state is acceptable. In all probability, the Kavkaz-Tsentr editors decided to censor Seyfullah's letter because the gloomy picture he painted of a reduction in the number of supporters of uncompromising Islam runs counter to the claims of the ideologists of Wahhabism about the triumphant march of Salafia [reformatory movement operating within Wahhabi movement] throughout the North Caucasus.
Some experts believe that Seyfullah's letter points not only to a deep split among the non-traditionally believing Muslims of Kabarda-Balkaria, but also to a deep crisis in the radical wing of the republican jamaat. After the events of 13 October, when a group of armed mojahedin attacked a number of buildings of the state administration and the security forces in Nalchik, the armed Kabarda-Balkar underground was virtually completely crushed. Muslims placed the blame for the annihilation of a section of their brothers on [Chechen rebel commander] Shamil Basayev who, having promised to support the armed attack, failed to bring his armed units into the town.
In an interview for Radio Liberty, the deputy prime minister of the Ichkerian government, Doku Umarov, placed the blame for the failure of the operation on the Kabarda-Balkar jamaat. He said that the Kabarda-Balkar brothers do not have the skills of waging an armed struggle and need help
from the Chechen mojahedin.
Islamic ethnographer's view
The Caucasus Times editors have asked a well-known ethnographer and researcher into non-traditional Islamic faith in the North Caucasus, Akhmed Yarlykapov, to talk about the situation which has developed among the Muslims of Kabarda-Balkaria. Akhmed Yarlykapov is a candidate of history and a member of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian
Academy of Sciences.
Сaucasus Тimes: - One tends to connect Wahhabism with an armed struggle and obligatory resistance to the military authorities - with a Jihad. However, experts know that this group of believers is not so homogenous as it appears from the side. This became obvious after the attack on Nalchik. About 150 people took part in this armed action, although, according to different versions of the story, there were five or more thousand of them in the republic. To what extent do you think the radical Muslims of the North Caucasus in general can be politically in tune with what is reall going on?
Yarlykapov Indeed, there is no trace of unity among Muslims of this type and a clear example of this is the Kabarda-Balkar jamaat. According to the estimates of the leaders of this jamaat, in particular Musa Mukozhev, the number of his active members is put at 10,000 Muslims. This figure has probably been hiked up about double, but it must be about 5,000. And, of course, the events in Nalchik clearly demonstrated that the vast majority of the people are prepared to adapt to the situation of the need for an armed Jihad here and now. Seyfullah's statement reflects precisely these realities which, incidentally, are not very convenient for those who used these people for their own ends. I am more than sure that the Kabarda-Balkar jamaat was used in a cold-blooded and brutal manner. They were given the role of a linking component in this tragedy.
The fact that the majority of Muslims turned out to be unwilling to support their fellow believers by taking up arms shows that there are a great many thinking young people among the members of the jamaat who are capable of understanding the whole complex picture of the conflict in the North
Caucasus. As far as adaptation is concerned, I have met with and spoken to the leaders of this group and its rank-and-file members a number of times and I have not noticed a broad spread of Wahhabi views about the need for a small armed Jihad. On the contrary, they are fully prepared to cooperate
with the secular authorities and with the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Kabarda-Balkaria.
I believe that there are two reasons for the radicalism of the military wing: the large number of young people who were attracted to the movement and very serious abuses by the local authorities and the security forces, especially the Interior Ministry. Only an idle person could ignore the tyranny and repressions employed against the non-traditional believers. On the whole, there is a certain constructive potential among the members of the jamaat, and therefore, one should not dismiss outright every possibility of a dialogue with them or their participation in legal political life. The majority are aware that there are other means other than using weapons to express one's opinion.
Сaucasus Тimes: - There is a story going around that during the attack on Nalchik local armed Wahhabis did not hang around to wait for the promised help from those who were commanding them from outside. There was even a letter from one mojahedin member, the authenticity of which is difficult to establish, which referred to serious complaints against Basayev in this connection. Do you know to what extent this situation has helped to deepen the split between the members of the jamaat?
Nalchik events provoked split in jamaat
Yarlykapov There is very little information about this. I am an ethnographer and I am used to relying on facts, but I can with a certain degree of confidence suggest that the events in Nalchik have stepped up the conflict within the Kabarda-Balkar jamaat which was apparent back in 2004. Even then a group appeared who actively opposed the leader Musa Mukozhev who believed that it was necessary to behave within the law. The numbers of these people increased over the years and their positions gradually grew in importance.
But Nalchik did not just deepen the split, it made young people even more disorientated. It seemed there was no-one to keep an eye on them. The point about the Kabarda-Balkar jamaat was that it was a rigidly centralized structure with a specific and peremptory ritual of subordination by the lower members to those above them, like the leaders Mukozhev and Astemirov and the rest. Such organization requires an efficient and permanent leadership. When Mukozhev was forced to go underground, his people, particular the young, had to look after themselves. And this is dangerous. They do not know what to do and they can easily fall under the influence of new arrivals who take the trouble to explain to them which way to go.
Сaucasus Тimes: - Akhmed Aminovich, to what extent can the Salafia doctrine be adapted to the conditions of a secular state? Seyfullah writes angrily about the fact that some amirs are allowing Muslims to participate in political life, to vote and to take part in the work of the power bodies and state establishments.
Yarlykapov I see nothing new in this situation. Indeed, the actions of the amirs are in no way opposed to the views of Musa Mukozhev which, generally speaking, dominated in this jamaat. Despite the deep doctrinal fundamentalism, the leaders have always been aware that they live in a secular state and must behave in accordance with the laws established by it. Of course, they have dreamed of a Shari'ah law-based state, but here they were absolutely clear that they could approach their goal only through elections, through conviction and by means of publicizing their ideas. No
methods advocating arms or violence have ever been proclaimed.
Сaucasus Тimes: - But what about the demand which the representatives of the Chechen underground are submitting to all Muslims? They claim that for each Muslim to join their Jihad is fard'ayn, in other words the obligatory duty of a believer, failure to obey carrying a strict punishment.
Yarlykapov Islam is very interesting in the fact that much in it depends on interpretation, on an expert, someone who makes some claim or other. Interpretations of the basis of faith and its various points can differ radically from one another. Some eminent theologians come out with
explanations that there is no Jihad being waged in Chechnya and that the Muslims there are not being oppressed. And in the Kabarda-Balkar jamaat there are different approaches to this problem. There are, of course, also those who proceed from more radical versions of a Jihad. Quite a number of Kabardinos have fought, and probably still are fighting in Chechnya.
Сaucasus Тimes: - When Wahhabism had only just emerged in the North Caucasus, it was extremely aggressive and it totally rejected the establishment of traditional Islam the adats which became a part of dogma, and Muridism [Sufi Islamic trend] everything that its followers call the priesthood. Does it seem that today Salafism has altered radically and is adapting more and more to tradition and becoming less radical?
Hope for compromise
Yarlykapov Yes, this was apparent right at the very beginning. When I talked to representatives of the elite of the radical movement in Karachay-Cherkessia in 1998, they had already intuitively tried to limit the harshness of doctrinal structures. There were certain provisos, with criticism of personal religious practices of our North Caucasus Sufis, but they still acknowledged Sufism and its right to exist in Islam. That is literally what they said.
Life itself will determine that the Wahhabis will either be wiped out, as the Kharijites [first Muslim sect] once were, or they will be able to adapt to the realities of the modern world, like the "Muslim brothers" in Egypt or the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, or those selfsame Kharijites. Their Ibadite, a more moderate sect, has survived to this day and blends in fully with its environment. I believe that with the course of time a compromise will be found in the North Caucasus, too. At the same time, there is a very significant group which continues to adhere to the more cruel aspects of Wahhabi teaching. These are people who are real fighters and who form the armed underground.
Сaucasus Тimes: - How justified are the fears that the armed underground in the North Caucasus is gaining strength? Should we expect no less dramatic events this summer than the attack on Nalchik or the capture of Nazran?
Situation likely to worsen
Yarlykapov There are more than real grounds for these fears. It is quite obvious that qualitative changes are happening within the movement. It is becoming more intellectual and people who are highly educated and out of the ordinary are hurrying to join it. Suffice to recall the candidate of history, Abduzagir Mantayev, who defended his thesis on Wahhabism, or Yasin, recently killed in Makhachkala, who led a very active intellectual life, spoke French and Arabic, wrote articles for the Dagestani press, worked in television and suddenly took up arms and became a leader of the underground in Makhachkala. This shows that developments which cause a reaction of moral rejection have by no means been eliminated in the North Caucasus. And intelligent people are no longer restricted to formulating ideas and doing academic work but also see their duty in the armed struggle. This is an extremely dangerous trend. As for things hotting up in the summer, this is obviously natural and inevitable.
Сaucasus Тimes: - Does the federal centre realize that there is a powerful movement of radical Muslims in the region? Is it capable of making a detailed analysis of this phenomenon and to see the distinction, separating the radical wing from the moderate one? Do the authorities have an "intelligent" answer which would take into account all the parameters of what is happening?
Yarlykapov I can only speak for myself because I am not into political circles which work out strategic approaches. Obviously, the federal centre is aware of what is happening. At least, there are very solid analytical centres in Moscow. True, it is difficult not to get the impression of a
certain laxity about the overall intellectual situation, but still, their impression of the situation in the Caucasus as a whole is sufficiently adequate, and I imagine they have a programme of what you called an "intelligent" response. But the problem is that one is constantly being distracted by momentary situations and having to respond to problems which break out spontaneously. Therefore in most cases one has to react in the context of the situation and urgent needs dominate over a conceptual approach.
Islam Tekushev, Caucasus Times