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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Connecticut]On: 11 October 2014, At: 01:57Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T3JH, UK

    Nationalities Papers: TheJournal of Nationalism andEthnicityPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cnap20

    Sufism and politics in theNorth CaucasusGalina M. YemelianovaPublished online: 19 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Galina M. Yemelianova (2001) Sufism and politics in the NorthCaucasus, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 29:4,661-688, DOI: 10.1080/00905990120102138

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00905990120102138

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  • Nationalities Papers, Vol. 29, No. 4, 2001

    ISSN 0090-5992 print; ISSN 1465-3923 online/01/040661-28 2001 Association for the Study of NationalitiesDOI: 10.1080/0090599012010213 8

    After the collapse of communism in Russia, which is the home of more than 14million Muslims, there has been an Islamic revival that has been part of the processof political and intellectual liberalization of society.1 The major Islamic enclaves ofthe Russian Federation are located in the Volga-Urals, the North Caucasus, andcentral Russia. Russian Muslims are concentrated in the eight autonomous republicsof Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia,Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Chechnya. Most Muslims belong to the Hanafi madhhab(the juridical school) of Sunni Islam, although Dagestani and Chechen Muslimsadhere to the Shafii madhhab of Sunni Islam. There is also a small Shia communityin southern Dagestan. A large number of Dagestanis, as well as Chechens andIngushes, profess Sufisma mystical form of Islam, which is also known as parallelIslam.2

    The specific geographical and ethnocultural characteristics of the North Caucasuspredetermined a primary role for Sufism in its societal and political evolution.3

    Despite a century-long suppression, by the Tsarist and then Soviet regimes, SufiIslam has survived and continued to influence the everyday life and politics of theregion.4 However, Sufism as a religious and sociopolitical phenomenon has beenlargely overlooked by researchers due to Soviet-era political and ideologicalconstraints and to inertia following the demise of the communist system. This articleexamines the historical continuity of the Sufi tradition in the eastern part of the NorthCaucasus, which roughly corresponds to present-day Dagestan, Chechnya, andIngushetia. 5 The focus of the study is the political and ethnic dimensions of Sufism.The first part of the article studies the importance of the historic legacy linked to theSufis participation in the gazawat (the Islamic liberation war) against the Russianconquest of the North Caucasus in the nineteenth century and its impact on theevolution of North Caucasian Sufism. The second part examines the present-daydoctrinal and sociopolitical characteristics of North Caucasian Sufism. It alsoconsiders the relations of Sufism with the political authorities, the Islamic establish-ment, nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists,6 or Wahhabis,7 as well as its positionwithin the global Sufi context. The secretive nature of Sufi tariqas (orders) and the

    SUFISM AND POLITICS IN THENORTH CAUCASUS

    Galina M. Yemelianova

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  • G. M. YEMELIANOVA

    inaccessibility of the mystical essence of Sufism to all but the Sufis themselves havelimited this research.8

    The Historical Evolution of Sufism in the North Caucasus

    Historically, Dagestan9 was the first enclave of Dar-ul-Islam (the Land of Islam) onthe territory of the former U.S.S.R. The Arabs brought Islam to Derbend in southernDagestan in the seventh century. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, themajority of Dagestanis had adopted the Shafii madhhab of Sunni Islam, although theNogays of northern Dagestan opted for the Hanafi madhhab. Since the sixteenthcentury there has been a Shia community in southern Dagestan which emerged underthe influence of Safawid Iran. During the Middle Ages Dagestan was one of theworld centers of Islamic learning and scholarship. During its golden age, whichlasted from the late sixteenth until the middle of the seventeenth century, Dagestanhad a reputation as the bahr al-ulum (the sea of sciences) and the country of ulema(Islamic scholars). The Dagestani cities of Derbend, Tarki, Kazikumukh, and Kunzahwere recognized places of spiritual enlightenment for the Muslims of Eurasia. TheDagestani ulema Ali-khadzhi al-Kumukhi, Muhammad al-Kudutlya, Abu Bakr al-Aymaki, Tayid al-Kurakhi, and Muhammad al-Akusha were highly respected outsideDagestan.10

    The first Sufis appeared in Dagestan as early as the eleventh century. Amongnotable Sufi thinkers was Muhammad Abu Bakr ad-Derbendi, who lived in Dagestanduring the eleventh century.11 The ideas of the luminary of Islamic mysticism, AbuKhamid al-Ghazali (10591111), had a particular influence on the further develop-ment of Sufi theosophy in Dagestan. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Sufikhanaqas (lodges) in Tsakhur in southern Dagestan were the centers of Sufilearning.12 The Naqshbandi tariqa took particularly deep root in the region.13 TheNaqshbandiyya first reached the North Caucasus from the Black Sea region ofeastern Anatolia and later from Central Asia. In Dagestan the Mujaddidi branch ofthe Naqshbandiyya was particularly influential.14 The majority of Dagestani Naqsh-bandiis were Avars, Dargins, and Kumyks, although there were also Naqshbandiis ofother ethnic origins. Among the other influential Dagestani Sufi tariqas were theKadiriyya15 and to a lesser extent the Yasawiyya. The latter had particularly strongpositions among the Nogays of northern Dagestan. Compared with Dagestan, inChechnya and Ingushetia, the proliferation of Sufism, and Islam in general, beganmuch later, in the eighteenth century, and has not yet ended. The first propagators ofIslam there were Azeri (Shia) and Kumyk (Sunni) missionaries. Most Chechens andIngushes, like Dagestanis, opted for the Shafii madhhab of Sunni Islam. Similarly,they chose the Naqshbandiiya tariqa although the positions of the Kadiriyya werestronger there than in Dagestan. On the whole, from the eighteenth century themajority of Muslims in the eastern North Caucasus were Sufis.16

    The spread of Sufism was enhanced by the physical and social characteristics of

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  • SUFISM AND POLITICS IN NORTH CAUCASUS

    the eastern part of the North Caucasus, such as its mountainous landscape and theextreme multi-ethnicity and societal fragmentation of Dagestanis and Vaynakh. Themajor viable social unit was a clan, also known as a sihil, qaam, jins, gar, or neqiamong the Vaynakh peoples. Several clans formed a tribe, known as a tukhum,haldan, hamadan, tabun , or taip among Chechens and Ingushes. During thethirteenth and fourteenth centuries a wider sociopolitical formation emerged: therural commune a jamaat among the Dagestanis and a tukhum among the Vaynakh.This was a sociopolitical and territorial entity that united several tribes. Councils ofelders who represented the constituent clans headed the rural communes. Inter-clanand inter-commune relations were regulated by the adat (customary law), whichstructured the economic, political, and sociocultural norms that distinguished localcommunities as coherent sociocultural entities. Members of a commune spoke thesame language, which was recognized as a local lingua franca. Jamaats and tukhumswere self-sufficient formations that enjoyed a large degree of independence.17 Adatand other pre-Islamic local norms and traditions regulated inter-clan, inter-tribe, andinter-commu