[Re: Jihad and Revolution in Chechnya]

Abu Nasr abu-nasr at SPAMusa.net
Mon Aug 14 12:09:55 MDT 2000

Dear Sev!

One cannot name non-Sufi Islamic movements in Chechnya because there's no
reason to separate Sufism from Islam.  Throughout the Muslim world since Abu
Hamid al-Ghazali died in 1111, Sufism has been a part of established Islam.
Sufism is not some sect; it is a dimension of Islamic thought and practice
that is totally intermingled with other aspects of Islamic thought and
practice.  (There are different Sufi orders, of course, that might be like
'sects'.)  Sufis have been part of regimes and of anti-regime movements.
There is just no way to call Sufism depoliticised, any more than you can call
protestantism depoliticised in the west because it emphasises an individual's
relationship with God.

You said Islam is "Din wa-dawla" (religion and the state) while Sufis, you
say, are depoliticised or secular.  But this kind of dichotomy doesn't exist.
Many Sufis have insisted on the importance of Islamic law and practice.  Also,
for hundreds of years it has been impossible to draw a line between Sufis and
non-Sufis in Islam, and it is consequently impossible to find "Islamic
movements" with no Sufi influence anywhere in the Muslim world from the Middle
Ages up to the 20th century.  Sufis had a hierarchical organisation that
allowed them to play organised political roles in many many instances, but
these were not movements against Islam or against Islamic law.

The idea that Sufism is separate and distinct from Islam comes from 19th
century Orientalists who, among other things, believed in racialist doctrines.
 These doctrines held that the beliefs of Semitic peoples were different from
beliefs of Aryan peoples which were different from beliefs of Turks, etc.
Hence they claimed that Sufism was an "Aryan" version of Islam since it was
supposedly more "spiritual" than "Arab" "Semitic" Islam with its emphasis on
rules and regulations.  They compared maybe the great Persian-language Turkish
Sufi poet Jalal al-Din al-Rumi and the Iranian al-Attar with Arab legalistic
writers and said, "there was no such Sufi poetry in the Arab world because
Sufism was not in accord with the 'Arab mentality.'"

Unfortunately for such neat racist ideas, the greatest Sufi thinker (and also
an excellent Sufi poet) was Muhyi al-Din Ibn Arabi (died 1240) of Arab tribal
origin living in Spain and North Africa, and another great Sufi poet was the
Egyptian Arab Ibn al-Farid also of the 13th century.  In general Sufism is
deeply ingrained into Islamic practice in the Arab world as elsewhere in
Islamic countries.

Sufism is just part of the standard Islamic world's thought and practice.  It
is not a separate sect.

It is true that fundamentalists have often targetted Sufi influences as
"un-islamic" as they seek to go back to a mythical "pure" Islam centering on
legal norms and practices as found in the Qur'an and the practice of the
Prophet.  At the same time, though, these fundamentalists do NOT oppose
al-Ghazali nor Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (founder of the Qadiriya order that you
said was prominent in Chechnya) because these Sufis upheld the traditional
legal norms and practices.  Neither were the Naqshbandiya particularly

Egyptian society has historically been deeply permeated with all sorts of Sufi
orders and their activities, yet that did not prevent so-called Islamist
movements from arising right there.

In the 20th century in Libya the mass struggle against Italy was led by the
Sannusi Sufi order that itself advocated many "fundamentalist" ideas, such as
a disregard of traditionalist authorities in the Azhar university.  The
Sannusis were certainly not depoliticised and they were heroes to the
contemporary Muslim Brotherhood across the border in Egypt.

Since you asked me to back up what I said, here is one source that might be
helpful in demonstrating that Islam was of great importance in defining the
identities of North Caucasian peoples before the October Revolution.
According to Alexandre Bennigsen (a White Russian emigre, I believe) in his
1967 book "Islam in the Soviet Union" published in London, "Islam did, in
fact, give to the northern Caucasus a very strong feeling of unity, for it
used the written Arabic language, which was the only one able to serve as the
language of civilisation and intertribal relationships and as such was used by
all literate people. . . .  The inhabitants of this region considered
themselves first of all as 'Muslims', then as members of this or that
community, and only at long last as 'a nation': Avar, Chechen, Cherkess etc."
(p. 22-23).

Regarding the situation in the Northern Caucasus in mid-1917, Bennignsen

"In the north Caucasus, the situation was very different (from that in
Turkestan).  The moderate national movement there (in the Caucasus) was led by
members of the nobility who were of Russian education, not seldom loyal to the
tsarist regime, and liberal in persuasion.  Its goal was regional autonomy
within the framework of a Russian federation.  But as a movement it had scant
influence.  The 'Mountain Peoples' as a whole were ruled by the Sufi
brotherhood of the Naqshbandiyeh, known in the Caucasus as the sect of the
Murids.  This had organised the resistance of the mountain people to Russsian
conquest from the time of Shaikh Mansur in 1785 to that of the Imam Shamil,
the hero of Caucasian independence.  The Murid ambition was to re-establish a
theocratic state." (p. 73)  Clearly Bennigsen sees no contradiction between
the Naqshbandi Sufi political leadership and the fact that Chechens were and
identified themselves as Muslims.  He also points to the Naqshbandi
leadership's aim of establishing an Islamic theocratic state in line with what
we consider "fundamentalism" now.

I have no idea as to whether the present-day rebels in Chechnya had
underground fundamentalist ideological antecedents in the Soviet period.  But
to say that because Sufism has been present or strong in Chechnya any
fundamentalist movement must therefore be "alien" is simply wrong.  Egypt has
for centuries been a hotbed of Sufi activity -- virtually all its religious
scholars and writers for centuries before 1900 have been members of one Sufi
order or another.  Yet Egypt was also the fountain head, the origin, if you
will, of modern fundamentalism.

On one post somebody asked if Sufism wasn't influential in the Ottoman empire.
 It was an extremely prominent feature of the religious establishment.  The
last powerful Ottoman emperor, Sultan Abd al-Hamid II in the last half of the
19th century, had a special Syrian Sufi shaykh to whom he listened.  Yet among
his advisors, Abd al-Hamid II also counted Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, the
radical anti-imperialist who also preached a return to "pure" Islam and whose
activities began the trend that led to today's fundamentalists.

I must say that the notion that Islamic fundamentalism is "alien" to Chechnya
makes as much sense as the imperialist line that Marxism is "alien" to Arabs
and Muslims because they are so "religious."  "Just look," they say, "those
Arab Marxists get all their ideas from Europeans like Marx and Lenin, so
clearly Marxism has no relevance to the Arab world."  Obviously this is a

Fundamentalism arose mainly in the 20th century as an ideological response, a
rebellion, indeed against traditional Islamic institutions and authorities who
rubberstamped state instructions, and accepted the status quo.  "Why are we
being victimised, slaughtered by imperialists, reduced to serfdom?" asked the
fundamentalists.  "Because our states have strayed from the real message of
the Qur'an and the Prophet.  All these regimes that claim to be Islamic are
really in error and it is up to us to delve into the Qur'an and the Prophet's
practice and use those as guidance in our struggle to liberate ourselves from
the foreign oppressors and their local lackeys."  Such fundamentalist ideas
and language have found receptive audiences from Morocco to Indonesia; there
is no reason why they should be classed as "alien" in Chechnya.

Whatever the role of the Russian government today -- neo-imperialist prison
house of nations or victimised third world country full of minority
nationalities -- Russia as a whole is undergoing a wrenching, socially
devastating, counterrevolutionary return to capitalism.  For the vast majority
of Russians and Chechens it is as close as you can come to hell on earth.  It
is also not so different from the disasters faced by peoples of the third
world  (including Islamic ones) earlier in this century where one of the
powerful response that was elicited was fundamentalist.  That such a response
should be found in Chechnya is not, therefore, surprising.

Revolutionary greetings!

Abu Nasr

"sev" <sev at cyberia.net.lb> wrote:
Dear Comrade Abu Nasr:
    It seems u have totally misunderstood me or my poor english!
    Sufism is mystical and sufis are Muslims. There are lot of Sufi orders
and yes it is based on personal experience of the person who is to be guided
by the murshid (i think that's what he is called) through the direct and
correct path, ie tariqat.
    Scholars agree that the term Islamism means the Fundamentalism or
radicalism of Islam...call it anything u like..actually there are alot of
labels...but it is by convention that Islamism is the ism of Islam (i said
sufis hate islamism, and u quoted me wrong!) .Sufists are
depoliticized...true they have fought in national struggles and i mentioned
that....to answer why would be to go deep into circumstances of the time and
where this special struggle was taking place......but Sufis are
depoliticized...we should agree on that... Islam is din wa dawlah..ie
religion and state...Sufis are secular towards the State..and reject an
Islamic state like that of KSA or Iran...or that's what i thought..i hope
u'll correct me
    Actually, the internet provides us with alot of information...alot of
Chechen official and unofficial sites have put pictures and
interviews...look at them and then compare them with the Mujahideen who
fought in Afghanistan....i'll even send u the names of organizations which
are present....
    do u think imam shamil or the other 2 would have been accepted if they
have not fought wars? ohh fundamentalism does not only dislike sufism...but
it has called for many Jihads against them....
    you assume that Chechnya is an islamic country with an islamic society
etc...and hence the soil of local islamic movements...can u name me some
local islamist movements?..or even better, name me any movement during the
Soviet era...or even before 1920!...or trace some non-Sufi islamic presence
in the social institutions or the society at large in chechnya...
    my conclusions are subjective...that i know...but i'm drawing my
conclusions from the data available to me...i hope u'll support your
arguments...because i want to c if i'm right in my analysis or wrong....
    Let us look at the picture from a better standpoint and try and
understand the facts before categorizing them as straight or deviant.

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