Irina Babich, D. Sc. (Hist.), leading research associate, Caucasus Department, Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology (Moscow, Russia)

Akhmet Iarlykapov, Ph.D. (Hist.), research associate, Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology (Moscow, Russia)

Kabardino-Balkaria is one of the Islamic republics of Russia: both title peoples are Hanafi Sunnis. Until quite recently practically nobody among the religious figures, to say nothing of the common faithful were versed in the fundamentals of Islam. Knowledge was reduced to the religious rites that were also distorted by ignorance. This was what massive Soviet antireligious propaganda accomplished: the majority was not so much divorced from religion as from Islamic traditions. While looking at themselves as Muslims the larger part of the Kabardins and Balkars lost the traditions of praying, zakiat payment, correct rites, etc. The Sharia norms that cannot be applied outside a normally functioning system of education were pushed to the side by the so-called popular forms of Islam. The situation worsened because the Soviet Muslims were isolated from the Muslims in other countries. By the 1970s-1980s being deprived of an educated clergy and of communication with coreligionists abroad the Soviet Muslims invented a local form of Islam with a great amount of non-Islamic norms, numerous violations of the Islamic rites. The latter was especially glaring in the Northwestern Caucasus far removed from few Islamic educational establishments that functioned in the U.S.S.R.1 It also had lost its own network of Islamic schools.

Religious Community Today

According to official figures supplied by the controlling bodies by late 2002 there were 132 Muslim communities (jamaats) in Kabardino-Balkaria. Throughout the 1990s two or three communities were set up in each of the settlements. As a rule they united the faithful living in the same quarter (jamaat) and attending the same mosque or a prayer house. This explains why today Muslim communities are called jamaats. Their number in any given settlement depends on several factors: (1) on the total number of people living in it; (2) on the degree to which the younger generation (the bulk of the faithful) are involved in religious activities; (3) on the historical specifics of the religions development in any particular district and on the Muslim traditions inherited from Soviet times.

One should take into account the specific features of the local peoples past. For example, the role of Islam in the Balkar villages was greatly affected by the deportation of Balkars (1944-1957) to Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Under Soviet power Islamic religious activities in these republics were much less controlled and were much richer than in the Northwestern Caucasus. Many Balkars received religious education and collected Islamic books. Being returned to the land of their forefathers they preserved their contacts with Muslims in Central Asia and Kazakhstan; in the 1990s, some of them started teaching in local schools at mosques. Today, the Central Asian style can be easily detected in the architecture of new Balkar mosques (one of them is found in the Bylym village).

It is hard to say how many members each of the jamaats has: there are no clear criteria of membership. In fact jamaats may include four categories of Muslims: those who do not attend mosques but perform namaz from time to time and fast at home (this category includes many women); those who attend mosques on large holidays and skip namaz and fasting: those who perform namaz every Friday in mosques (on other days they may or may not perform namaz at home); those who frequently attend mosques (every day if possible) to perform namaz (many of them are young people).

The majority of the middle-aged and old men consider themselves faithful yet they hardly attend mosques (big holidays are rare exceptions). Atheists are few and far between. Islamic resurrection affected the youth (between 15 and 35) in the first place in towns and villages mainly in Balkaria and Bolshaia Kabarda.

The majority of village women does not go to mosques and never perform namaz; older women married to practicing Muslims perform namaz; they go to mosques on holidays or Fridays dressed in hijabs (special kerchiefs and dresses); in Malaia Kabarda they as in Soviet times perform namaz at home. Twice a year, on great Muslim holidays mosques are full of women. In the 1990s, many of the middle-aged women attended courses at the Islamic Institute of Muslim Fundamentals and were qualified by the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria as schoolteachers at mosques.2

The mosque-going crowd mainly consists of Kabardins and Balkars; in the 1990s, several Russians and Ossets who lived in the republic or came to it adopted Islam.

The Way to the Faith, Religious Leaders, Education, Funding

Islamic renaissance left the middle-aged and old people indifferent to religion. Those of the old and very old people who go to mosques and perform namaz did this under Soviet power, too. There are old men, however, who adopted Islam in the early 1990s; the Muslim ranks are swelling with teenagers and the youth; a larger part of religious communities started going to mosques some five years ago. Normally people turn to Islam under the influence of elder relatives (brothers), friends, classmates, colleagues, schoolteachers, and college friends.

The ways the jamaats came into being in the Northwestern and Northeastern Caucasus are very different probably due to the local traditions. For example, villages in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria formed several jamaats each; in 1999, there were three communities in a large Karachai village of Uchkeken grouped around three juma-mosques. There were mosques in quarters used for everyday praying. As a rule those of the communities that used juma-mosques were considered real jamaats.

In Daghestan all people living in one village belong to the same jamaat, therefore each village has only one juma-mosque. The quarter mosques are used by some of the members of the same jamaat. Up in the mountains everyone has certain rights as jamaat members. For example, the local cemetery can be used only for those who performed all rites and attended mosque at least on Friday. Jamaat members alone have the right to own real estate in the village. These rules drive practically all grown-up males to mosques on Fridays: from 12-year-olds to very old men who can barely reach the mosque (all of them are counted as jamaat members). The jamaats split in the 1990s when Wahhabism had reached Daghestan.3 It was at that time that certain districts acquired separate Wahhabi mosques (one of them in the town of Kiziliurt). There are places where jamaats remain undivided despite contradictions inside it. One can see that in the Northern Caucasus the term jamaat has different meanings depending on location. In Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and other administrative units of the Northwestern Caucasus the terms village community and religious community (to which the term jamaat is applied) mean two different things while nearly everywhere in Daghestan these two concepts mean one and the same thingjamaat. It was Wahhabis who added a new meaning: for them the jamaat is a community of true Muslims.

Each of the communities has a mosque or a prayer house at the cemetery. Today, young imams are trying to explain to the mullahs who lead Friday namaz in the prayer houses at cemeteries that this custom is contrary to Islamic rules. It is rooted in Soviet times when the majority of the mosques were closed and when the Muslims were allowed to keep burial implements in small houses at cemeteries; up in the mountains they were turned into prayer houses. According to official figures there are 102 mosques in Kabardino-Balkaria and 30 prayer houses mainly in Malaia Kabarda.4 In this respect Kabardino-Balkaria follows the North Caucasian pattern where the number of mosques increases from the West to the East: there are about 100 mosques in Karachaevo-Cherkessia,5 over 400 in Ingushetia,6 and nearly 1,600 in Daghestan.7

Just like in the KBR in all other North Caucasian republics each of the communities has either a mosque or a certain structure adjusted to religious needs. Prayer houses at cemeteries are typical only of Kabardino-Balkaria; in other republics such houses are used to store burial implements.

There is no strict hierarchy among the Muslim clergy; each of the mosques has a hierarchy of its own. On the whole the structure can be described in the following way: there is imam khatyb who functions as the leader of the community and the mosque and as a preacher who reads hutba on Fridays; there are also an imam amir (who is imams deputy and works with the youth); muezzin (responsible for the azan), and a duhashi who performs the dua (spiritual prayers) at the funerals.

The Kabardins and Balkars received Islam from the Ottoman Empire; Ottoman clergy was actively proliferating Islam in these parts, which explains why the Arabic word mullah and the Turkic effendi were used to denote Islamic leaders. The former was more frequently used in Malaia Kabarda while the latter in Bolshaia Kabarda and Balkaria. This usage survived till the early 1990s; Islam of the 1990s introduced such terms as imam khatyb and imam amir. They are mostly used by the youth while the elder generation prefers the old terms.8

On the whole there are still few mosque leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria with higher religious education. Older imams who studied in Soviet times did this privately, the Balkarsin Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Grandfathers of many of them with a good command of the Arabic and the fundamentals of Islam shared their knowledge with grandsons. Young imams are more knowledgeable, all of them have primary Islamic education; some of them have secondary and even higher education having graduated from Islamic universities in the Middle East or the Islamic Institute in Nalchik.

The situation in Kabardino-Balkaria resembles that in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the Muslim areas of the Stavropol Territory: imams with higher or even secondary religious education are rare. Only young imams have good knowledge of Islam they brought back from Islamic universities in other countries or from the Abu Khanif Islamic Institute in Cherkessk. In Daghestan the situation is different: there are too many young men with higher religious education received at home, in 16 Islamic institutes, their numerous branches, and in madrasahs.

In Kabardino-Balkaria the Islamic institutions are funded by the faithful, sponsors and charities. There have never been and are no waqfs in the republic. Local authorities pay presidential stipends (about 400 rubles) to the most loyal of the mosque leaders.9 Heads of the Christian Orthodox and Jewish communities are rewarded in the same way. In the majority of settlements administrations of the collective and state farms that became joint stock companies support the local imams and mullahs with foodstuffs or money. Heads of joint stock companies pay salaries (500 rubles) to some of the Islamic leaders.10 The majority of the imams and mullahs have secular incomes either as hired hands or from their personal land.

The same applies to all other North Caucasian republics. In Daghestan sadaki (voluntary donations) are widely practiced; in some of the mountain areas the institute of waqf11 was secretly restored together with zakiat.12

Rivaling Generations

In the latter half of the 1990s community and mosque leaders were engulfed by the leadership struggle. The process first affected the city mosques of Nalchik and the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims; the village clergy was also involved. Different generations were competing for posts of village or city imams and influence on the community. The young Muslim leaders know how to read sermons and disseminate Islamic ideology. This helps them triumph over the Soviet mullahs who are neither eloquent nor knowledgeable. Elderly imams sometimes invite young colleagues to read a Friday hutba, many of them prefer to remain formal mosque leaders.13

The republic has no single Muslim community: different generations of the faithful find it hard to agree on many things. The generation gap that had appeared back in 1996-1998 became obvious at the turn of the 2000s.

Young Muslims prefer to distance themselves from the so-called ethnic (traditional) Muslims. By this they mean those who live in Kabardino-Balkaria, perform namaz neither in mosques nor at home and still count themselves Muslims. They recall their faith when it comes to a burial, a wedding or a large holiday. This explains why the young Muslims call the Islam of the older generation the burial, folk, or traditional Islam. They look at themselves as practicing young Muslims developing new, or pure Islam. The older generation responds with calling the Islam of the young Turkic or Arabic.14

The young Muslims want to add more vigor to the religious life in their republic and to partly modernize it: by the early 1990s there were bits and pieces of it. Young people are quite right when they say that on the whole the older generations idea about Islam and corresponding behavior is inadequate. At the same time, they also make errors; they fail to understand the current far from simple political situation and they are too impatient. Meanwhile, gradualism is one of the key Muslim principles that the young tend to forget in their desire to change everything overnight. The old generation rejects these ideas as threatening its privileged position and the historically established principles of Kabardin and Balkar society.

Quite often the generation gap is felt in families: in few families parents and children perform namaz togetherthis is an exception rather than a rule. Normally the dividing line runs between young Muslims and their atheist parents; this happens most frequently in the Northwest Caucasian republics. There, too, the problem has several specific features. When the authorities established strict control over the religious situation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia many of the youth leaders either left the republic or abandoned religious activities. The situation in Daghestan is much more complex: the Wahhabi leaders are mainly young men who in the past tried to compete with old imams; traditional Sufism also has young followers. The Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Daghestan often sends young graduates to auls as imams; in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia it is local administrations that control the imamsin Daghestan it is imams (dibirs) who control the local authorities.

Religious Behavior

Namaz is one of the most important aspects of religious life in Kabardino-Balkaria and one of the causes of generation strife. The old and the young cannot agree on its rules. One of the most important of them is a place suitable for everyday namaz. Historically, the local Muslims pray daily at home and attend mosques on Fridays. This is done in Malaia Kabarda while in Balkaria and Bolshaia Kabarda young Muslims insist on daily mosque attendance. Normally, 5 to 10 young men are prepared to go to mosque every day while old people, mostly those who prayed secretly at home during Soviet power, prefer to perform namaz at home. The majority of the middle-aged and older people who look at themselves as Muslims do not pray dailyat best they attend midday praying in mosques. Young Muslims perform namaz five times a day; some perform the sixth namaz at night (between 02:30 and 03:30 p.m.) especially during the month of Ramadan.15

The generations cannot agree on the praying pose either: some of the younger faithful borrowed the Shafiite tradition and perform namaz bare-headed, they keep the hands above the navel when they bow from the waist and raise their hands to the shoulders when saying Allah Akbar. Old people prefer the Hanafi rite.

Invasion of alien ritual elements is typical not only of Kabardino-Balkaria. There are several factors behind this phenomenon: the young Muslims are ignorant of (or deliberately ignore) differences between the madhabs; the spiritual administrations published leaflets that described the rites of different madhabs (this happened in Karachaevo-Cherkessia); the rites are deliberately mixed to practice the Wahhabi principle islam bi la mazahib (Islam without madhabs.) Some of the Daghestani Wahhabis performed namaz according to the Hanafi madhab. Correlation between the madhabs is a very topical question in the Northern Caucasus; there appeared several publications dealing with the subject.16


The contemporary Islamic movement in the republic attaches great importance to Muslims appearances, including their clothes. Today, one can see hijabs, male robes (white and black) worn by the imams; young people are busy explaining the Islamic rules of male clothing, etc.17 In the old times hijabs as an Islamic attribute were absent from Kabardino-Balkaria where women, however, had inevitable kerchiefs on their heads. Today young Muslims are encouraging their mothers, sisters, and wives to wear hijabs in the hope that gradually these will replace kerchiefs worn by women in the mountains. Teenage girls and wives of young Muslims in Bolshaia Kabarda and Balkaria agree to wear a true hijab that consists of a kerchief and a dress. On the whole the majority of local women treat these new trends negatively.

Having adopted Islam, old man in the Northwest Caucasian mountains started growing beards in the 17th-19th centuries. During Soviet power this tradition disappeared completely and the older generation does not want its revival. Young men wear beards as a token of their faithat least this was the case till the late 1990s.18

This is true of the Northern Caucasus, yet in the mountains of Daghestan women wore Sharia-prescribed dresses even during Soviet times because their ethnic closes are functionally very close to hijabs. While in the Northwestern Caucasus hijab causes irritation in Daghestan it is accepted as a matter of fact. Yashmak has been and is unknown in the Northern Caucasus.

Religious Awareness

The idea of jihad among the young Muslims was formed mainly by Chechen and Arabic propaganda that interpreted it as a war against the infidels, against Russia in particular. Radical literature and videos disseminated in Kabardino-Balkaria support this interpretation.

One-sided knowledge about true Islam created an impression among groups of young Muslims that Islam and an Islamic state were two sides of the same coin. They know next to nothing about those states in which religion is separated from the state (such as Turkey and others). As a result they are convinced that it is their duty to fight for an Islamic state that should replace the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.19 It should be added that in other Muslim republics of the Northern Caucasus there are young men who believe that Islamic rule is the best possible form of state. They regard true Islamic power based on the Sharia as the most just and free of the shortcomings of secular power seen as unjust and corrupted. We all saw how Islamic state was established: Ichkeria that was announced to be an Islamic state existed with short intervals through the 1990s in Chechnia. An Islamic enclave in the Kadar zone of Daghestan existed for several years. Many of the young Muslims looked at the war Chechens waged against the federal forces as a jihad rather than an attempt at restoring state independence of the Chechen people on the basis of nationalist ideology. Young men from Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Stavropol Territory and Daghestan were fighting against the federal forces in Chechnia. Many of them were doing this for religious reasons: they wanted to support Muslim brothers in their fight against infidels.

Islamic Organizations

The Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria is an official religious structure that is expected to control all Islamic communities, mosques, and prayer houses. It was set early in the 1990s while the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Northern Caucasus was falling apart and the republics acquired administrations of their own. It elects its leaders once in five years at a congress of the republics Muslims. Its control of religious developments in the republic is limited: some of the members of the clergy, mainly the young ones, refuse to recognize its leading role; skip its events, and avoid paying taxes. Instead, they contact with the Islamic Center created in the early 1990s as the Administrations youth branch; the Center works mainly with the village youth and tries to involve it in religious activities. In 1995, the republican Ministry of Justice registered the Center as an independent organization. In its turn, it created several administering and controlling structures: the council of jamaats that brings together young leaders and the Shura, a congress of young members of jamaats from one administrative region. The Center gets its money from foreign charities stationed in Nalchik and Moscow.

In 1997-1998, as the Center was gaining authority among young Muslims and was claiming the leading role its relations with the Spiritual Administration worsened. It became an opposition structure. The Spiritual Administration and the state bodies used lack of certain formalities in the process of its registration (the Center failed to submit reports about its activity to the Ministry of Justice) as a pretext. The Center was closed down and has been functioning without registration since 2000. In recent years the state structures supported by the Administration are actively opposing the Center leaders; the Center itself was groundlessly accused of Wahhabism.

The Center gained popularity and trust of young people in the majority of regions,20 yet the older generation remains resolutely opposed to the radical modernization of Islamic practices. Until the end of the 1990s the generation gap was glaring. In the early 2000s, the Center changed its tactics by shifting its attention from the old people to children and teenagers. It is promoting the ideas of new Islam in the hope of eliminating some time in the future the non-Islamic elements of the Islamic rites. Religious education is one of the priorities. Late in the 1990s the republican authorities that had no clear policy in this sphere closed down nearly all schools at mosques that the Center had set up; the Administration had no desire to busy itself with primary and secondary religious educationit supported the Islamic Institute.

The obvious diarchy in the republics Islamic community sets it apart from its North Caucasian neighbors where emerging diarchy was quenched by force. In Karachaevo-Cherkessia the radical Imamate Karachaia organization and the jamaats of young Muslims were closed down with the help of the Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Security Service. In the Stavropol Territory the jamaats of young Muslims were persecuted despite its members constant declaration of loyalty to the Spiritual Administration.21 In Daghestan the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the republic became the only legal organization when a Law on Banning Wahhabi and Other Extremist Activities was adopted in 1999.

Islamic Education, Literature, and Shaping Islamic Ideology

In the mid-1990s, the RF Ministry of Education permitted lessons of Arabic as a foreign tongue in secondary schools. Some of the schools in Kabardino-Balkaria opened circles that studied Arabic after classes; in others, the Arabic became part of the curricular. Late in the 1990s, the same ministry banned this practice. Today, some of the schools offer lessons in Islam and the Koran as additional classes; there are Sunday schools at mosques in some places that teach the fundamentals of Islam and the Koran.22 In those places where such schools had been functioning until the late 1990s and were closed by local administrations circles of Islamic studies were opened at mosques.23 They are functioning in many cities: Terek, Tyrnyauz, Baksan, and Nalchik.24 The largest of the madrasahs named after Adam Dymov, a great Adighe enlightener of the early 20th century, opened in Baksan in 1991 had been functioning successfully until 2002 when the city administration closed it down. There are primary Islamic schools at the mosques in Volniy Aul, Aleksandrovka, and in Nalchik suburbs. In 1996, a missionary school The Minaret was opened in Nalchik.

Until 2001 one-year beginner courses for preachers had been functioning at the Islamic Center; they were closed down together with the Center as a legal person. Today, its former teachers give private Arabic lessons. Since 2001 the Center has been organizing a weekly seminar at the Nur mosque for young Muslims who come from all corners of the republic to Nalchik.

In 1992, The Salvation International Islamic Organization gave money to open the Sharia Institute in Nalchik, the first higher Islamic educational establishment in Kabardino-Balkaria; in 1994, it was renamed an Institute of the Arabic Language. At first the Arabic was taught by Adighe repatriates from the Middle East; later Arab teachers appeared. In 1996, the Institute was closed down. In 1997, the republican Spiritual Administration opened an Islamic Institute.

A system of religious education in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia is nearly identical though the latter lacks a well-organized community of young Muslims. Daghestan has a well-developed system of Islamic education with all the necessary stages from Koranic studies at home, through a mekteb and madrasah to an Islamic institute or a university. Even though at all stages old programs and textbooks are used the republic has a body of relatively knowledgeable Islamic clergy.

In the early 1990s, books about Islam by prominent Islamic authors in Russian and Arabic started arriving from the Middle East and Russian centers such as Moscow, Kazan, and Makhachkala. In the latter half of the 1990s books in the Kabardin and Balkar languages appeared. The flow of Islamic educational and extremist printed matter that engulfed the republic had to be supervised. With this aim in view a Council of the Ulemas was set up in 1999 at the Islamic Institute.25

In the 1990s, the young Muslims were formulating their ideology of Islam based on an idea of a revival and partial modernization of Islamic activities in the republic. The methods applied were: religious education; propaganda of Islamic education in secondary and sports schools; knowledgeable preachers in mosques on Fridays that could explain the key postulates of modern Islamic ideology.26

It was at the same time that the leaders of young Muslims began analyzing national traditions. In an urge to modernize Islamic life in the republic they looked at Kabardin and Balkar culture as a certain expanse to be revised according to an Islamic hadith that said that only those of the traditions should be saved that did not contradict Islam.27

This applies to other North Caucasian republics. In Kabardino-Balkaria, however, secular Islamic studies are taken into account. The young Muslims of Chechnia, Stavropol Territory and part of Daghestan spend much time learning how to handle arms and improve their physical condition in training camps in Chechnia (Urus-Martan) and Daghestan (Karamakhi). They also dedicate approximately equal amount of time to learning the fundamentals of Islam. In other words, their ideology attaches great importance to preparations for minor, armed jihad.

The Role of Sufism

As distinct from Daghestan, Chechnia, and Ingushetia and, to a certain extent, Karachaevo-Cherkessia there are no Sufi tarekats or sheikhs in the so-called traditional Islam of Kabardino-Balkaria. In the Northern Caucasus the fundamentalist leaders are hostile to the local variant of Sufism and the sheikhs that promote it among the faithful; they are convinced that Sufism contains basically non-Islamic customs and rites. They are very much against the cult of the saints, veneration of the sheikhs and holy burials and celebrations of mawlid (birthday of Prophet Muhammad). An absence of Sufism in Kabardino-Balkaria made discussions in the Muslim community less heated. While in Daghestan and especially in Chechnia it proved impossible to continue peaceful discussions between the Wahhabis and the tarekat members nothing of the sort happened in Kabardino-Balkaria. There is tension between the young, or new Muslims and those who are called traditionalists and who mostly belong to the older generation yet the boundary that separates mutual accusations and discussions and an open hostility was never crossed.

This cannot be explained solely by the fact that an absence of Sufis deprives the reformers of objects of criticism. The North Caucasian Sufis are radically minded; they not only idealize Sufism but also are out to make it a traditional form of Islam.28 Confrontation of two radical views with strong supporters ended with the use of arms.

Politics of the Republican Authorities

One can identify two periods of relationships between power and the contemporary Islamic movement in Kabardino-Balkaria. The first stretched from the early 1990s to the middle of the decade when the authorities either treated Islam neutrally or even supported and funded it. The second started late in the 1990s and continued till early 2000s when radical Islam first rooted in other North Caucasian republics reached Kabardino-Balkaria.29 The republican administration and the law enforcement bodies had to take adequate measures that negatively affected a large part of the loyal Muslims. A decision of the republican authorities about the religious community of Kabardino-Balkaria issued in 2000 limited, to a great extent, activities of the Islamic communities, mosques and educational establishments and provoked an open conflict between the Spiritual Administration and the Islamic Center.

Between the late 1990s and early 2000s the republican authorities were acting in three directions: the law enforcement bodies tried to trace down and liquidate armed groups of Islamic radicals; the mosques and Islamic educational establishments were limited in their activities; powerful anti-Wahhabi propaganda was launched to detach people from the contemporary Islamic movement.

The anti-Wahhabi propaganda identified a young Muslim with a Wahhabi, a radical or a member of an armed group. As a result the majority believed that all young bearded Muslims were Wahhabis and radicals, a threat to society wishing to topple down the legal authorities; that many of them were connected with the criminal world of the Northern Caucasus and that the mosques they frequented were unsuited for children, teenagers, and the youth. Official propaganda insisted that Islamic education in all its forms offered by the young Muslims should be avoided because they were teaching a wrong sort of Islam. The children and teenagers caught in the young Muslims web start ignoring their parents while young men force their parents to perform namaz under the threat of death. Official propaganda describes the Mt. Elbrus area and Bolshaia Kabarda as the most dangerous places.

The local people reject the attempts at reforms of Islamic life; they are even frightened by such efforts, which is a negative result of the anti-Wahhabi propaganda. In Kabardino-Balkaria as in other North Caucasian republics there are Muslim radicals, and political extremists who side with them and are trying to pass for Muslims while plotting against the state. In this respect what the law enforcement and power structures are doing is necessary and justified. On the other hand, the anti-Wahhabi propaganda of the late 1990s and early 2000s damaged to a great extent the positive trends of reforms of Islamic life, development of Islam as a religious and moral foundation needed to give a new lease of life to mountain society. Having described all young Muslims as real or potential radicals and having isolated them from society the authorities and law enforcement structures indirectly contributed to their radicalization. This was the easiest but not the best method of opposing radical movements. It is much harder to learn to distinguish between radicals and those who support moderate views and actions.


One can say that the following describes the Islamic movement in Kabardino-Balkaria: the ranks of the communities (jamaats) are swelling at the expense of teenagers and the youth; the young Muslims support the Islamic Center that stands opposed to the Spiritual Administration and the authorities. It acts according to a well-substantiated propaganda system designed to add more vigor to local religious activities and to reform Islam as it is practiced in the republic. Leaders of the communities and mosques are competing for leadership, the rivalry is unfolding together with a conflict between generations; the process of reassessment of national cultures has been resumed together with the efforts to add Islamic elements to them. There is a desire to set up a complete system of primary, secondary, and higher Islamic education. History of Islam in Kabardino-Balkaria between the 10th and the early 20th century shows that the above features can be found in any movement that wants to strengthen or revive Islam. The movements designed to extend the sphere of Islam and (or) modernize it inevitably created social tension. For this reason the current Islamic movement in Kabardino-Balkaria can hardly be regarded as part of the process of radicalization of North Caucasian society as a whole. We are convinced that the Islamic movement per se does not breed conflicts in the region.

One can say, however, that no force in the republic is working consistently and deliberately toward Islamization of society. At first random attempts were made by foreignersAdighe repatriates and Arabswho knew next to nothing about local life and local people; later, in the latter half of the 1990s the local clergy tried to do the same. The Islamic Center, the main ideologue of the contemporary Islamic movement, does not pay enough attention to what remained of the Islamic foundation the republic preserved after 70 years of persecution of religion. Today, alien, mainly Shafiite, behavior norms (the way namaz should be performed, etc.) are planted in Kabardino-Balkaria. In this way, one of the key Islamic principles, gradualism, is violated. It was by the late 1990s that the young Islamic reformers realized that they had been wrong in many respects. Today, they are concentrating on the idea of gradualism.

There is an obvious desire to bring together the ethnically alien Kabardins and Balkars and, partly, Russians and Ossets in their common movement toward Islam. This explains why the jamaats are practically free from ethnic conflicts. There is a trend toward replacing the idea of resurrection of national cultures (of Kabardins and Balkars) with the idea of developing Islamic culture as a common cultural and ideological foundation of new identities.

At the same time, there are tension-building factors in the republic. An extended sphere of Islam gives more power to the young reformers; the Islamic Center that is building up its authority among the Muslims is becoming a real political force, something that the Spiritual Administration is not. To preserve its political weight the Spiritual Administration has to rely on the authorities and the law enforcement structures and is groundlessly accusing the young Muslims of anti-state policies.

On the other hand, being relatively young the Islamic movement of the youth has no firm ideological basis yet it tries to identify Islamic and state development and organization. These ideas cannot be described as a call to topple down Russias power in Kabardino-Balkaria; the Islamic movement of the youth does nothing illegal in this sphere though the idea that further development of Islam is possible in an Islamic state alone is actively promoted among the teenagers and the youth of the republic. This should be regarded as the first step toward more active efforts to turn the republic into an Islamic state.

The republican and district leaders repeatedly violated the Law of the RF of 1997 on the freedom of confession by banning daily mosque attendance and closing Islamic educational establishments, etc. A powerful wave of anti-Wahhabi propaganda raised by the republican authorities in the media resulted in negative attitudes toward the Muslims. Having found themselves in social isolation and being aware of the negative impact of official propaganda the Muslims acquired a reason to oppose Russias authorities represented by the republican administration.

There is no doubt that the above has increased tension in Kabardino-Balkaria and that public order in the republic is fragile: the sociopolitical situation may change a great deal if new seats of conflict connected with Islam appear.

The paper is prepared with the support of Social Science Research Council, Program on Global Security and Cooperation, 2002-2003, U.S.A.
1 There were two officially functioning Islamic educational establishments in the Soviet Union: the Mir-i Arab madrasah in Bukhara and the Islamic Institute in Tashkent (the Uzbek S.S.R.).
2 Materialy polevoi ekspeditsii, Kabardino-Balkaria, I.L. Babich, 2002-2003, Tetrad (further on Tetr.) 1, Inventory 1, File 20.
3 See: V.O. Bobrovnikov, M.Iu. Roshchin, Chelovek, priroda i obshchestvo v gornom daghestanskom aule (po materialam khushtadinskogo adata), Dahgestan: selo Khushtada, Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS, Moscow, 1995.
4 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 22.
5 In 1997, 91 mosques were registered in Karachaevo-Cherkessia (see: Puti mira na Severnom Kavkaze: Nezavisimiy ekspertniy doklad, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, RAS, Moscow, 1999, p. 52).
6 See: Ibid., p. 51.
7 See: Religii i religioznye organizatsii v Daghestane, Spravochnik, Makhachkala, 2001, p. 97.
8 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 3, 9, 14, 21.
9 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 1.
10 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 17.
11 See: V.O. Bobrovnikov, Islam i sovetskoe nasledie v kolkhozakh Severo-Zapadnogo Daghestana, Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, No. 5, 1997; A.R. Shikhsaidov, Islam v Daghestane, Tsentralnaia Azia i Kavkaz, No. 4 (5), 1999, p. 114.
12 See: A.A. Iarlykapov, Religioznye verovania, Narody Daghestana, Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 2002, p. 71.
13 Tetr. 1, Inventory I, File 1.
14 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 1, 5.
15 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 14, 15; Tetr. 2, Inventory 1, File 25.
16 See, for example: A.A. Iarlykapov, Nogaiskaia step: etnos i religia segodnia, Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, No. 3, 1998, pp. 89-98; idem, Opyt polevykh issledovaniy islama na Severo-Zapadnom Kavkaze, Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, No. 3, 2001, pp. 132-135.
17 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 10.
18 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 5, 20; Tetr. 2, Inventory I, File 26.
19 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 14, 26, 28; Tetr. 2, Inventory I, Files 33, 34.
20 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 17.
21 For more detail, see: A.A. Iarlykapov, Problema Wahhabizma na Severnom Kavkaze, Issledovania po prikladnoi i neotlozhnoi etnologii, No. 134, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, RAS, Moscow, 2000, pp. 10-11.
22 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 15; Tetr. 2, Inventory I, File 28.
23 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 3.
24 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 6.
25 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 9.
26 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 1, 5, 10, 25; Tetr. 2, Inventory 1, Files 28, 33.
27 Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, File 25; Tetr. 2, Inventory 1, File 36.
28 D.V. Makarov, Ofitsial'niy i neofitsialniy islam v Daghestane, TsSPI, Moscow, 2000, pp. 14, 35.
29 See: I. Tsagoev, Pod chornym znamenem jikhada, Gazeta Iuga, No. 7, February 2001; Tetr. 1, Inventory 1, Files 1,11, 13.

SCImago Journal & Country Rank