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Friday, September 03, 2004

Lo and behold, "Wahhabi follower" behind Russian Hostage-taking

According to the Moscow Times, "the group [of hostage-takers] is probably being led by Magomed Yevloyev, an ethnic Ingush and follower of the radical Islam Wahhabi movement" RIA-Novosti reported, citing law enforcement officials.

BACKGROUND: According to a Reuters "Fact Box" on Chechen "separatists" (no longer online),
"A mountainous region in the Caucasus range, Chechnya is inhabited by a mainly Muslim people with a fearsome reputation dating from the late 18th century when
warlord Sheikh Mansour led a jihad (holy war) against Russian rule
."

MORE BACKGROUND: I don't know how accurate this is, but I found it on the web and it makes for relatively fun history reading.

Shaykh Mansour, "First Mujahid of the Caucasus"

By the late eighteenth century the Russian Orthodox threat to the Caucasus had not gone unnoticed by the mountain tribes. Their lack of unity, however, made effective action impossible, and soon the fertile lowlands of North Chechenia and (further west) the Nogay Tatar country were wrested from Muslim hands.

The Muslims who remained were forced to become the serfs agricultural slaves of Russian lords. Those who refused or ran away were hunted down in an aristocratic Russian version of fox- hunting. Some were skinned, and their skins were used to make military drums. The enserfed women often had to endure the confiscation of their babies, so that the pedigree Russian greyhounds and hunting dogs could be nourished on human milk.

Overseeing this policy was the empress Catherine the Great, who sent the youngest of her lovers, Count Platon Zubov (he was twenty-five, she seventy), to realise the first stage of her Pan-Orthodox dream by which all Muslim lands would be conquered for Orthodoxy. Zubov's army broke up along the Caspian shores, but the warning had been sounded. The Caucasus looked up from its internal strife, and knew it had an enemy.

The first coherent response to the danger came from an individual whose obscure but romantic history is very typical of the Caucasus. He is known only as Elisha Mansour an Italian Jesuit priest sent to convert the Greeks in Anatolia to Catholicism. To the anger of the Pope, he soon converted enthusiastically to Islam, and was sent by the Ottoman sultan to organise Caucasian resistance against the Russians.

But at the battle of Tatar-Toub in 1791 his resistance came to an untimely end; and, captured by the enemy, he spent the rest of his life a prisoner at a frozen monastery in the White Sea, where monks laboured unsuccessfully to bring him back to the Catholic fold.

Mansour had failed, but the Caucasians had fought like lions. The flame of resistance which he lit soon spread, nursed and fanned by one man of genius: Mollah Muhammad Yaraghi. Yaraghi was a scholar and a Sufi, deeply learned in the Arabic texts, who preached the Naqshbandi Way to the harsh mountaineers.

Although he converted many thousands, his leading pupil was Ghazi Mollah, a religious student of the Avar people of Daghestan, who began his own preaching in 1827, selecting the large aoul (village) of Ghimri to be the centre of his activities.

For the next two years Ghazi Mollah proclaimed his message. The Caucasians had not accepted Islam fully, he told them. Their old customary laws, the "adat", which differed from tribe to tribe, must be replaced by the Shari'ah. In particular, the kanli vendettas must be suppressed, and all injustices dealt with fairly by a proper Islamic court. Finally, the Caucasians must restrain their wild, turbulent egos, and tread the hard path of self-purification. Only by following this prescription, he told them, could they overcome their ancient divisions, and stand united against the Russian Orthodox menace.

In 1829, Ghazi Mollah judged that his followers had absorbed enough of this message for them to begin the final stage: of political action. He travelled throughout Daghestan, openly preaching against vice, and overturning with his own hand the great jars of wine traditionally stored in the centre of the aouls. In a series of fiery sermons he urged the people to take up arms for the Ghazwa, the armed resistance:

"A Muslim may obey the Shari'ah, but all his giving of Zakat, all his Salat and ablutions, all his pilgrimages to Makka, are as nothing if a Russian eye looks upon them. Your marriages are unlawful, your children bastards, while there is one Russian left in your lands!"
It was the time of Jihad, he proclaimed. The great Islamic scholars of Daghestan gathered at the mosque of Ghimri, and, acclaiming him Imam, pledged their support.