Garun Kurbanov, D.Sc. (Philos.), Professor, Department of Culture Studies, State University of Daghestan (Makhachkala, Russia)

Historians of the Northern Caucasus, political scientists and students of North Caucasian religions have been studying Sufism as a political, social and ethnic phenomenon for a long time. Today, there is much more interest in it that is not limited to its theoretical aspects. On the one hand, Sufism is instrumental in creating and developing ethnic communities, their self-awareness and in transferring ethnocultural information from generation to generation. On the other, as an element of re-Islamization and politization of religious life in the Northern Caucasus it has become one of the key social and political factors in the region. An in-depth investigation of its role creates a much more profound understanding of Islam and its institutions and their functioning in the local social, economic, political, and ethnic context.

Secularization of the world has undermined beyond repair the positions of Sufism and the mystical brotherhoods.1 This does not mean that these changes have lulled the forces that used to ignite the Sufis. The words “Sufism” (tasawwuf), “sheikhism,” “muridism,” “tariqat” are re-entering our vocabulary while numerous Sufi brotherhoods have flooded the region. In Daghestan alone there are about 30 thou murids, followers of 16 sheikhs.2 The cult of the saints connected with the tariqats is quite popular, there are thousands of holy places; religious festivals, zikr and pilgrimages to the ziarats gather large crowds.

Viability of Sufism as an ideological system hinges on several specific features caused by sociohistorical conditions.


According to the commonly accepted opinion Sufism came to the Northern Caucasus early in the Middle Ages via Daghestan. An encyclopedic work by Abu Baqr Muhammad ad-Derbendi Rayhan al-haqaiq wa bustan ad-daqaiq (The Basil of Truths and the Garden of Subtleties) says that back in the 11th century Sufi brotherhoods were active in Derbent.

The Naqshbandiyya came to the Northeastern Caucasus in the first half of the 15th century; in the latter half of the 19th century the Qadiriyya tariqat appeared in the region through Kunta-hajji Kishiev), in the early 20th century the Shaziliyya tariqat, through Sayfull Qadi Bashlarov.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Sufi brotherhoods in the Northern Caucasus were connected with fundamentalism—in this they differed from similar brotherhoods in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and the Arab countries. Having emerged outside official religion and serving the deepest requirements of their followers the brotherhoods finally became a popular movement of the initiated; their members closed the ranks around the teacher and obeyed strict murid rules. In short, the brotherhoods assumed several important social functions and became a fairly developed mechanism of protecting their confessional interests. The tariqats represented the interests of their members in the structures of power and courts of justice and defended them against feudal arbitrariness; they expressed the tariqatists’ desire to influence secular authorities and be involved in politics. Their organizational structure fit perfectly their social functions: they were strictly closed and smoothly functioning groups designed to protect their members. Religion and mysticism served for consolation and spiritual inspiration; their spiritual leaders, seemingly aloof and quasi-democratic sheikhs, were absolute rulers.

History proves that muridism’s social role had many sides. The earliest information about the growing influence of the Naqshbandi murids in Daghestan and Chechnia came in 1848 from gendarme colonel Iuriev who submitted a report called “General View of the Causes and Consequences of Disorders in Daghestan that Took Place because of Fanaticism and the Murid Sect that Appeared among the Mountain Dwellers.” His report was prompted by the public appearances in Shirvani of Naqshbandi Murshid Efendi-hajji Ismail of Kiurdamir in 1823. His followers preached that the shortest way to Allah lay through “gazzavat,” a holy war of liberation. The mountain people interpreted it as a struggle against the czarist authorities and local feudal lords.

Shamil’s military victories in the Caucasian war can be partly explained by muridism: it supplied the time-tested ideology and a formal structure of the tariqats. Many of the researchers (Trimengem) believe that the structure made it possible to maintain strict discipline based on an unquestionable subordination of murid novices to sheikhs and imams. In fact, it is precisely this mechanism that turned muridism into a specific religious and political movement. Open rivalry over the main roles in the brotherhoods that started as soon as Shamil had been taken prisoner was one of crisis manifestations; frequently, the brotherhoods fell apart to form smaller groups. Some of their leaders who had acted together within the same tariqat tried to set up independent brotherhoods by compiling new genealogies and pointing to their dogmatic and ritual specificity. Little by little, new conditions sapped muridism’s doctrinal and organizational stability; the tariqats were torn apart by social and ideological differentiation.

The nominal nature of the sheikh’s power, weaker ties between the state and the spiritual (represented by the heads of the Sufi tariqats) powers, deep-cutting contradictions in the brotherhoods and inequality among the members all testified that the traditional organizational principles of muridism were dying out by the late 19th century. At the same time, muridism’s defeat in 1859 and a large-scale migration of Caucasian Muslims to Turkey did not kill off the tariqats. The region remained a highly religious one while Sufism preserved its positions to an extent to which mass psychology and the traditional religious world outlook remained alive.


The Naqshbandiyya is the most influential tariqat in the Northern Caucasus for several reasons: first, it is the elite structure open to the common people; second, it knows how to adapt itself to the changing social and political conditions. The initiated is not a recluse: he lives in the world (safar dar watan—moving to God and remaining in the world). In other words, the initiated as an individual has to adapt himself to social requirements, that is, to remain socially flexible. The Naqshbandi tariqat is open to all ethnic groups. It earned respect during the wars against czarist Russia in the Caucasus by supplying prominent military leaders and murids, for example, Imam Mansour in 1783 to Imam Nadjmuddin Gotsinskiy in 1920-1921.

The Naqshbandiyya is a highly decentralized brotherhood the unity of which is ensured by common aims and fairly simple rituals called the silent zikr. Finally, the brotherhood admits something that smacks of doctrinal liberalism—its conformism goes hand in hand with fanatic radicalism. It is for these reasons that the Naqshbandiyya easily blends with other brotherhoods and never demands their formal disbandment.

It seems that the Qadiriyya is the second influential and respected North Caucasian tariqat; in the latter half of the 19th century it made a weighty contribution to Islamization of the Chechens and Ingushes; was an instant success in Chechnia and Northern Daghestan, that is, the places where fighting was especially stubborn and the pressure of the czarist army especially strong. The brotherhood called itself the Tariqat Kunta-hajji; contrary to the silent zikr of Naqshbandiyya it practiced loud zikr with ecstatic dances, songs and (later) music banned by Shamil and the Naqshbandiyya tariqat. Kunta-hajji preached non-resistance to evil and submission to the unfaithful—the slogans popular among the war-tired mountain dwellers.

The Shaziliyya tariqat was founded by Ash Shazili who lived ascetically in a cave near the village of Shazila. This remains an individualistic system concentrated on man’s inner perfection. Its members never wore special clothes; they never approved of the cults practiced by the common people, yet poverty for them was not deprivation or an absolute rejection of life: it was life’s inner state. In the Northern Caucasus the Shaziliyya complemented the socially oriented Naqshbandiyya.

In Daghestan Avars, Darghins, Kumyks, Lezghians, Lakhs and Tabasarans belong to the Naqshbandiyya; Chechens and Andians, to the Qadiriyya; the Shaziliyya is mainly popular among Avars and, to a lesser extent, among Kumyks. Out of 16 sheikhs now working in the republic, four belong to the Shaziliyya tariqat; 11, to the Naqshbandiyya and one, to the Qadiriyya.3

Secret Knowledge

Even the most superficial knowledge about psychological practice of North Caucasian Sufism demonstrates that it imbibed and adjusted the most effective methods of individual and collective indoctrination that determine the inner content of secret knowledge of all Sufi brotherhoods. The idea about attaining intuitive communication with God through psychological experience became a well-developed system.

There are several key components in psychological technologies employed by the tariqats. First, preliminary training of a novice resolved to change his life; second, communication between the sheikh and the pupil through which the novice obtains an image of the holy teacher; third, maintaining and strengthening the brotherhood’s inner integrity through collective rituals: expression through motion, breathing exercises, and recitation of poetry to musical accompaniment.

Sufi practices rest upon instruction, the relationships between the sheikh and the murid.4 D. Nurbakhsh had the following to say about this: “A true pupil can see the teacher’s Spiritual Beauty through his heart and immediately becomes enamored of this Beauty. This is the source of Grace. Until the pupil becomes enamored of the teacher’s Divine Beauty he cannot submit to the teacher’s will. Truly, the pupil is the one who has submitted to the will of the teacher not the one who remained the pupil of his own will.”5

Sufis insist that the way of life, thinking, feelings, and the relations with the outside world are based on false ideas. Any man should work on himself for a long time to purify his soul (nafs), suppress emotions, feelings, etc. To be able to do this, one should ascend several stages of perfection. When moving from one spiritual stage (makama) to another the Sufi is moving closer to the state of “fana” (similar of nirvana in Buddhism). The central place in the Sufi conception of “salvation” from worldly delusions and suffering is taken by the teaching about “fana” (annihilation in God), the highest aim of all Sufi schools. This added special importance not only to the ethical theory of reaching the state of serenity but also to the practical methods of changing man’s initial moral and psychological condition. This system includes: relaxation, posture, breathing control, rhythmic movements, and repetition of religious formulas. This is religious meditation ritualized through zikr; this makes possible a directed, unambiguous and highly controlled impact.

The majority of the North Caucasian sheikhs offer vird zikrs to their pupils. Kunta-hajji prescribes its murids vird zikr: they have to repeat the La-il-laha ill-Allah formula 100 times. To perform collective zikr members of the brotherhood arrange in a circle and, at their leader’s signal, start swaying and singing the formula; then they start moving slowly along the circle and applauding rhythmically. Gradually they break into running. Participants say that at a certain moment they become alienated from their “selves” while their souls “are filled with a mythical awareness of divine light.”6 The aim of Spiritual Way is to transform the traveler, to transform his “commanding Self” into “condemning Self” and, in the final analysis, into a “peaceful Self.”

Sufis are convinced that during meditation the pupil should not only forget the world around him but also himself. While the pupil remains aware of himself he remains in the state of infidelity. In this way, zikr of the Sufis is like a rain that washes away the pupil’s egocentric feelings and bares the Divine Attributes in his mind.

The phenomenology of Sufi meditation is marked by amazing and very special polymorphism. My observations have confirmed that the methods used by the North Caucasian brotherhoods make it possible to reproduce nearly all psychological states—both those that the individual has experienced and those that so far remain hypothetically possible, that is, all sorts of personal transformations and illusions are simulated.

In a trance the novice can communicate with the dead, he may ascend to heaven, communicate with God, an atheist may become a cleric while a religious person, an atheist. In a deep religious trance the reproducible states are based on a bright “visible” situation found outside criticism; in the psychotherapist parlance this state is described as “parachuting.” It is in the fana stage that the Sufi acquires a possibility of experiencing his own death and witnessing the other world in all detail. The novice becomes a fanatic: God by his will deprives the Sufi of his own will and endows him with His will. Now every demonstration of the will of a fanatic becomes a demonstration of the Divine Will.

When in a trance induced by religious methods a person loses an ability to respond to logical contradictions. “Mystical images” (like all other visualized images, for that matter) cannot appear “out of nothing” or “all by themselves”: as a result of the excited associative zones of cerebral cortex they always reflect something. What is this something? The generally accepted hypothesis says that the “mystical images” are subjective reflections in man’s consciousness of a new type of cortex activity caused by interoceptor information coming from the organism’s internal medium.

Reflection takes a form of so-called transcriptions, or according to I. Sechenov “uncommon combinations of common impressions.” By inertia consciousness perceives the events of internal medium in the forms typical of the outer world—it knows no other forms. A “mystical journey” is akin to a dream yet a person is awake and is not dissolved in the events around him: this journey looks much more real than an apathetic perception of the boring outer world.

This explains why the sheikhs who are past masters of visualization warn novice murids against experimenting: “Visualization practices are like sleeping next to a pregnant tigress: at night it may wake up hungry and devour you.” One should always bear in mind that the dragons in the enchanted forests are no less real and dangerous than real lorries in real streets. Mystical visualization may escape control of the Sufi and become “self-unfolding.” The phenomenon of uncontrolled nature of astral images confirms that what is called the vegetative life of body is of both “material” and “psychic” origin.

We have to keep in mind that the concealed aspects of North Caucasian Sufism (and of many other similar systems) determine to a great extent the life style and conduct of their followers. The brotherhoods control murids not only because they unite them under teachers, sheikhs or ustazes as their leaders but because their psychic technologies make ideological impact possible.

Pre-Soviet Sufism

It turned out that the North Caucasian tariqats easily accept the ideas of social protest; in 1862-1864, there was a wave of protests in Chechnia; early in January 1864, the Russian authorities frightened by the rapidly growing number of Qadiri murids and being convinced that another bout of unrest was inevitable, arrested and deported Kunta-hajji and his murids. On 18 January, 1864, 4,000 murids who gathered in the village of Shali were attacked by Russian troops: 200 were killed on spot, about 1,000 were wounded, and many of those who survived were deported. Kunta-hajji died in prison in May 1867. His tariqat was not officially outlawed yet loud zikr was strictly banned; the Russian authorities encouraged wide-scale emigration of Qadiris to Turkey. According to certain sources, in 1865, about 5,000 Chechen families moved to the Ottoman Empire. This did not diminish, however, the tariqat’s influence.

In 1877, two tariqats—the Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya—inspired uprisings in Chechnia and Daghestan that were cruelly crushed. Thousands of murids found themselves in Siberian exile. For some time the idea of gazzavat remained abandoned while both tariqats were functioning as semi-legal organizations. Their defeat did not deprive them of respect: between 1877 and the 1917 revolution nearly all adult population of Chechnia and Ingushetia belonged either to the Naqshbandiyya or Qadiriyya. In 1917, in Chechnia alone there were about 60 thou Sufis7; in Daghestan their number was slightly smaller. This was a unique phenomenon: all over the Muslim world the mystical brotherhoods were losing their political influence to liberal or radical Islamist movements and were pushed to the roadside of public life.

By strange coincidence, in the 20th century the Sufi brotherhoods in the Northern Caucasus did not grow weaker—in fact, they removed official Islam from the scene. In Daghestan their mosques had 73,986 desiatins of land that produced an income of 1,672,210 rubles.8 According to documents from the Central State Archives of Daghestan there were 2,000 mosques in the republic at that time, 2,500 mullahs and 2,000 mutalims, tens of thousands of murids headed by sheikhs. Religious schools were functioning in many places: 1,500 schools at mosques (madrasahs) taught about 45,000 children. M. Aglarov wrote: “In 1890, the waqf lands in the Avar okrug took 572.75 desiatins; in Gunib okrug, 2,152; in Andi okrug, 500. Across Daghestan the waqf lands covered 13 thou desiatins (there were 1,702 mosques).”9 In 1924, N. Samurskiy wrote in his book about Daghestan: “Nowhere across the Soviet Union are the clerics as influential as in Daghestan… There the cleric is not merely a religious figure—he is a judge, a teacher, an educated leader, a freedom fighter and a carrier of knowledge.”10 Historical sources confirm that in 1925-1927 the waqfs and zakats in Daghestan brought 1.7m rubles; in Kabarda, 270 thou, in Chechnia and Ingushetia, 300-500 thou.

Religion affected social thought and determined its specifics. Sufism as an ideology of the mountain peoples added religious hues to ideological and political movements; theological arguments were used to justify secular ideas. In May 1917, the newly formed Union of Allied Mountain Peoples put out an idea of an Islamic state.

Tariqats and Soviet Power

Tariqats remained the only real force with which Soviet power had to deal with in Daghestan. In 1917-1921, the Sufi brotherhoods found themselves in the heat of fighting in the northeastern Caucasus. The congress of Daghestani ulemas and clerics conducted in August 1917 in the village of Andi made Naqshbandi sheikh Nadjmutdin Gotsinskiy Imam of Daghestan. This restored the tradition of Imamate cut short in 1859. Sheikh Uzun-hajji was very popular in Chechnia; by 1918 he had 10 thou murids under his command; in the fall of the same year he proclaimed Chechnia and northwestern Daghestan the North Caucasian Emirate; this move was supported by the murids of Sheikh Bamat-hajji Mitaev headed by his son Sheikh Ali Mitaev who had 6,000 fighters under his command.

For a year the murids stood opposed to the Red Army that in few weeks’ time had conquered Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. The uprising was finally suppressed in September 1925 when the Bolsheviks took Imam Gotsinskiy and two surviving Naqshbandi sheikhs prisoner.

Late in 1923, the new authorities started an antireligious campaign; the Shari‘a courts were liquidated; in winter 1923/24 the Red Army disarmed and destroyed Naqshbandi guerilla groups in the mountains and secret Qadiri cells. This first large-scale purge among the Sufi novices caused another wave of unrest. The uprising started in the fall of 1929 in Chechnia, several months later it spread to northern Daghestan; hostilities went on till spring 1930 and ended in a truce and a general amnesty.

Very soon, however, the brotherhoods violated the truce conditions: in summer a Kunta-hajii murid murdered the chief of the Ingush GPU department responsible for purges in religious organizations; this was followed by the murder of the head of the Chechnia GPU. The authorities responded with arrests, tortures and executions of murids. The brotherhood’s resistance was finally put down by 1936.

What were the political aims of fifteen years of resistance? It is hard to give an authentic answer. Soviet power obviously knew that the Sufi brotherhoods were an organized, disciplined and efficient force able to oppose the regime. To a certain extent this explains the deportation of the Chechens and Ingushes to Siberia and Kazakhstan on 23 February, 1944. It was also planned to deport the Daghestani peoples as well.

There is a commonly accepted opinion that the attempt at genocide of over one million North Caucasian Muslims produced an unexpected result: Sufi brotherhoods did not disappear—they became even stronger. The exiled peoples looked at them as a source of ethnic identity; they were their survival mechanism. In exile, the Chechens acquired new Sufi brotherhoods, the most popular of them being Vis-hajji.

Late in the 1950s, cruel persecutions of the brotherhoods renewed, their members were branded “reactionaries,” they were accused of hostility toward Soviet power and of economic sabotage. In 1958, 1963, and 1964, Makhachkala, Grozny and Nazran witnessed trials yet repressions proved unable to stem the Sufi brotherhoods’ growing influence. In 1975, prominent Soviet sociologist V. Pivovarov wrote: “Over half of the Muslims in the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic are members of murid brotherhoods.” In 1986 there were 280 murid groups and 8 thou murids acting in Checheno-Ingushetia.11

Politization of Post-Soviet Sufism

Democratization of public life in Russia has undoubtedly enabled the Sufi brotherhoods to step up their ideological and moral propaganda. Sociological studies of that period registered a considerable increase of membership. The North Caucasian republics were swept by religious euphoria—it was commonly believed that faith alone could guarantee spiritual revival. The local people hoped that Sufism would help overcome the social crisis, the local authorities that fairly recently had been unanimous in denouncing “religious obscurantism” appealed to religion. Mosque attendance increased, Sufi festivals and ceremonies attracted crowds. The tariqat infrastructure, fairly ramified in the past, was gradually restored; madrasahs and religious institutions patronized by the sheikhs were set up; the Sufi educational system was gradually taking shape and a new generation of murids appeared.

Late in the 1980s, the brotherhoods started insisting on recovering their cultic objects and other property. Grozny, Gudermes, Makhachkala, Nazran, Khasaviurt, and Izberbash witnessed mass rallies that performed ritual zikr; organizing committees of a congress of local Muslims were mushrooming, officials of the Spiritual Administration of the North Caucasian Muslims were threatened with mob lynching. The rallies demanded changes in secular and religious structures and freedom of travel to Mecca. In some places tariqat members tried to occupy administrative buildings; on 13 May, 1989 the reformers incited the meeting in a mosque in Buynaksk against Mufti of the Spiritual Administration Gekkiev. The law enforcement bodies had to respond to the disorders and act against those who started them.

Rallies attracted the faithful in large numbers; the reformist leaders unable to form the new clergy within democratic political tradition started flirting with influential sheikhs so that to exploit their authority for political ends. Being part of the traditional social ties and having numerous centers of spiritual and political influence the tariqats became the centers of religious, economic and even political activities. They actively settled ethnic and clan disagreements and protected the interests of provincial Muslims in the center. The traditional jamaats and the tariqat structure inherited from Soviet times serve as a foundation for shadow groups that gradually filled in all key posts in the district, city and village administrations. For the first time members of Sufi brotherhoods were elected people’s deputies.

Thousands of murids joined the reformers; at the early stages the idea of Muslim solidarity could be discerned in the structurally complex reformist-stimulated processes. Muslim solidarity seemed to be formed by a religious group as part of a religious community that, together with others, formed a Muslim republic. At least, this was the reformers’ favorite idea. All attempts at setting up a new administrative structure failed yet under their pressure in 1989 the Spiritual Administration of the North Caucasian Muslims (set up back in 1944 in Makhachkala) fell apart into the Chechen-Ingush, North Ossetian, Kabardino-Balkarian, and Karachaevo-Cherkessian administrations.

A new administrative body was never formed; on 10 July, 1990 M.M. Babatov left his post of a mufti while the newly appointed mufti, Abdulla Aligajiev, grandson of Naqshbandi sheikh Ali-Gajji Akushinskiy, failed to bring peace. Disagreements over administrative posts threatened to split the North Caucasian brotherhoods. In 1992-1994, there were three spiritual administrations—of the Avars, Darghins, and Kumyks—all of them obviously ethnically biased. There were also the Lezghian and Lakh kaziats. The Daghestani reformers’ “shared interests” in the face of the common enemy—the old clergy and local authorities—were splitting under ethnic pressure. An interesting and contradictory situation was taking shape: the reformers tried to remain loyal to their ethnic group and to Sufism as another symbol of unity. Ethnicity prevailed.

At the same time, Sufism was bogging down deeper in politics. Here is what Sheikh Muhammad Nasim Makhdi, founder of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, had to say to a correspondent of Nezavisimaia gazeta: “Islam is a political religion… People say that politics should be divorced from religion. For Islam this means that it should be cut into several parts with a sword. Non-political Islam will be dead and motionless.” In the Northern Caucasus Sufism is regaining its predominantly political nature; the restored brotherhoods are looming prominently on the political scene; they have their own programs of social changes along the Islamic lines. The parliamentary elections of December 1995 stimulated their activities; two Muslim alliances—the Alliance of the Muslims of Russia and the NUR Movement—were prepared to run for the RF State Duma. The developments in the Northern Caucasus and Chechnia (where the tariqat had become part of the political superstructure and where Islam’s involvement in administration through the Muftiat, the council of the ulemas and the Shari‘a courts inspired the local reformists) added impetus to the process. Numerous regional religious-political organizations mushrooming in the Northern Caucasus brought the reformists together. In 1992, the Supreme Religious Council of the Peoples of the Caucasus was set up in Grozny under sheikh-ul-Gajji Allahshukur Pasha-zadeh; he was also appointed head of the Administration of the Muslims of the Caucasus and head of the consultative council of the “Caucasian Home” International Forum.

Sufism in the Northern Caucasus does not reject peace; it is not an ascetic doctrine either. French academics look at the local Sufi brotherhoods as similar to the Zaviyya Brotherhood in Northern and Western Africa and point to their “anchoretic” features. British researchers, on the other hand, look for the Hindu-Muslim syncretism in Sufism while in Turkey the Sufi brotherhoods are described as heretical (Shi‘a extremist) organizations that have much in common with the Bektash units. Pre-revolutionary students identified the Shamanic roots in the Sufi brotherhoods. Western Marxists concentrated on minor details to deprive Sufism of its mystical side and reduce it to social protest or ritual magic. There is also a specifically Iranian idea about Sufism that reduces it to fundamentalism à la Khomeini; in the United States where studies of Sufism are still a fairly recent discipline certain researchers make a fairly common mistake by saying that in the Soviet Union it was devoid of social-political importance. Reality is much more complicated than that.

The Sufi brotherhoods are not secret societies like the Masonic lodges, neither they are a parallel Islam, or a religious alternative. The Sufi communities act independently; they are closed to aliens and they are rivaling structures. Sometimes, “contradictions between sheikhs and their supporters were quite serious according to what clerics admitted.”12 Today, there have been no attempts to unite all Sufi communities into region-wide tariqats in the face of the common Wahhabi and extremist threat even though there are no significant ideological, organizational, and strategic differences among them. In fact, such unification has to overcome the traditions of isolation, ambitions of sheikhs and the monoethnic composition of each of the brotherhoods.

In Daghestan the Sufi brotherhoods coexist peacefully and even cooperate with state and local administrations. This has become especially clear in recent years when both sides joined ranks against religious-political extremism and Wahhabism. One should say that the war of 1999 in Daghestan tipped the political balance in favor of tariqat Islam and against the Wahhabi trend. The war and the defeat of Wahhabism in the republic added political weight to Sufism and the tariqat clerics. Sociologist Kisriev has written that the victor learned how to use the social accusatory pathos and political activeness from the defeated enemy.

In recent years Daghestan has seen several events dedicated to prominent Sufi sheikhs Muhammad-Efendi al-Yaragi, Jamalutdin al-Gumuki, Abdurrakhman as-Suguri, Ali-hajji Akushinskiy, Sayfulla Qadi Bashlarov that stirred up public interest in Sufi ideology and practice.

The North Caucasian Sufis are renewing their contacts with large Sufi centers in other countries. The Supreme Naqshbandi Murshid Nizami Kuprusi from Cyprus visited the Caucasus while a group of Sufis from Daghestan visited the burial of Sheikh Jamalutdin al-Gumuki in Istanbul.

According to K. Kkanbabaev, some of the influential Sufi sheikhs (Sayyid Afandi Atsaev, Tajudin Ramazanov, Arslanali Gamzatov) modernized the ideology of Sufism in the Northern Caucasus. They head not one but two tariqats (the Naqshbandiyya and Shaziliyya); the authority and teachings of the first Naqshbandi sheikhs are pushed back while the teaching of the sheikhs who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century (Sayfulla Qadi Bashlarov, Khasan Afandi Kakhibskiy and others) is coming to the fore. Contemporary Sufi communities are mostly monoethnic.

Today the following sheikhs enjoy authorities among their compatriots: Sayyid Afandi Atsaev (born in 1937) from the village of Chirkey (Buynaksk District); Tajudin Ramazanov (b. 1919) from Khasaviurt; Magomed-Mukhtar Babatov (b. 1954) from the Kiakhulay village; Serajutdin Israfilov (b. 1954) from the Khurik village (Tabasaran District); Batrudin Kadyrov (b. 1919) from the Botlikh village; Arslanali Gamzatov (b. 1954) from the town of Buynaksk. Recently several more sheikhs were allowed to have murids: Ilias Iliasov (b. 1947) who is imam of the Safar mosque in Makhachkala; Magomed-Gajii Gajiev (b. 1954), the first deputy rector of the Imam Shafia Islamic University in Makhachkala.

According to Khanbabaev13 Sayyid Afandi Atsaev has over 10 thou murids living in the Buynaksk, Kiziliurt, Khasaviurt, Shamil, Gergebil, Gumbetovskiy and Kazbek districts, in Makhachkala, Khasaviurt and Kiziliurt. It is commonly believed that he also influences the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Daghestan the leaders of which are his murids. Sheikh Ramazanov has about 3 thou followers in the town of Khasaviurt, and the Khasaviurt, Tsumada, Kiziliurt, Buynaksk and Akhvakh districts. Magomed-Mukhtar Babatov has his followers mainly among the Kumyks and Darghins (there are over 3 thou of them) who live in the villages of Kiakhulay, Tarki, Al’burikent and in the cities of Makhachkala and Kaspiysk. Three thousand murids of Serajutdin Israfilov live in the Tabasaran, Khiv, Suleyman-Stalskiy and Akhty districts. Kadyrov has one thousand followers living in the Botlikh, Akhvakh and Khunzakh districts. A. Gamzatov has approximately the same number of murids among the Kumyks and Avars in Buynaksk, and the Buynaksk and Karabudakhkent districts. The sheikh is Chairman of the Council of the Alims of the Spiritual Administration of the republic’s Muslims, Rector of the Sayfulla Qadi Islamic University in Buynaksk. M. Gajiev has about 3 thou followers in the Buynaksk, Kaiakent, Khasaviurt, Babaiurt, and Karabudakhkent districts, in the villages of Tarki and Khushet and in Makhachkala. I. Iliasov has about 100 murids in the villages of Al’burikent and Leninkent and in the Karabudakhkent District.

Exact information about the composition and number of the murids and the places where they live, about their organizational structure and leaders is hard to obtain: each of the Sufi communities is a society strictly closed to the uninitiated; it is a corporation that supply inflated figures of the number of their members. In 2001, there were 1,499 Islamic organizations in the North Caucasian republics connected in one way or another with Sufi brotherhoods; 1,099 of them functioned in Daghestan; 130, in Kabardino-Balkaria; 92, in Karachaevo-Cherkessia; 150, in Chechnia; 6, in Ingushetia; 15, in Adigey; 7, in North Ossetia.14

Studies conducted in these republics have testified that despite efforts and unquestionable successes in promoting Sufism, training novices and strengthening its institutions of certain brotherhoods the tariqat has not yet become a nation-wide integrating center. No matter how respected are the sheikhs, alims and imams at the local level, especially in the countryside, there are no religious and political leaders of the republican scale among them. At the same time, in certain republics the tariqat sheikhs use the official clergy to impose in their republics fairly wide-scale Islamization programs that presuppose abandoning the principles of a secular state.


When talking about the historical side of the problem one would like to point out that Sufism added ethnic specifics to Islam in many of the North Caucasian republics; it tried to bring together the wide and varied local religious practices; it was instrumental in enriching the local version of Islam with ancient traditions, legends, songs, and music.

The brotherhoods with their high mobilization potential created by very specific inner structure, specific psychological technologies, religious fanaticism, strict secrecy, discipline and unquestioned subordination to the sheikhs allow them to claim religious exclusiveness and demonstrate their intolerance of dissidents. It was under Soviet power that this helped create shadow clans that slowly but surely were infiltrating into the local power structures.

Today, hundreds of activists are working within the tariqat brotherhoods; they cooperate with or, rather, dominate the spiritual administrations of some of the local republics; some the sheikhs head the councils of the alims at the spiritual administrations (or are their members). In some of the republics, especially in Daghestan, the brotherhoods are engaged in setting up structures that would extend to the sphere of information, education and upbringing. The tariqats are actively blending with ethnic political groups; the majority of those engaged in studying the situation point out that the religious functionaries in the republic are bound not only by a vow to obey the sheikh but also tend to cooperate with the rivaling ethnic political groups and parties.15

It seems that the above is not equally applicable to all North Caucasian republics; some of the conclusions are probably subjective yet nobody doubts the fact that part of the clerics outside the tariqat and the secular population of the republics are seriously displeased with the tariqat’s intentions and claims though this displeasure is not always publicly expressed.

1 See: “Arest sektantov, deportatsia ikh vozhdia, delo v Shaliakh, gde pogiblo bolee sotni spodvizhnikov zikra, otrezvilo Chechniu. Uchenie zikra ischezlo stol zhe bystro, skol i poiavilos,” in: A. Ipolitov, Uchenie zikra, ego poslegovateli v Chechne i Argunskom okruge. Sbornik statey o kavkazskikh gortsakh, Tiflis, 1869; “Segodnia sektanty sokratilis do neznachitel’nogo men’shinstva,” in: A.M. Tutaev, Reaktsionnaia sekta Batal Khadzhi, Grozny, 1968.
2 See: K.M. Khanbabaev, Religiozniy faktor v protsessakh mirotvorchestva i narodnoy diplomatii na Severnom Kavkaze, Makhachkala, 2003, p. 17.
3 See: “Sufism v Daghestane: istoria i traditsii,” in: Daghestan—perekrestok religiy, kul’tur i tsivilizatsiy, Makhachkala, 2002, p. 29.
4 See: “Nachalo virdov i ikh posledovatel’nost. At Teletli,” Assalam, No. 23, 2003, p. 5.
5 See: D. Nurbakhsh, Psikhologia sufizma, Moscow, 1999, p. 9.
6 S. Liausheva, S. Iakhiev, “Sheikh Kunta-hajii i ego shkola,” NG-Religia, 29 May, 1997.
7 See: Rossia, Zapad i musul’manskiy Vostok v novoe vremia, St. Petersburg, 1994, p. 12.
8 See: M.A. Abdullaev, Iz istorii nauchnoy i pedagogicheskoy mysli dosovetskogo Daghestana, Makhachkala, 1986, p. 40.
9 M.A. Aglarov, Sel’skaia obshchina v Nagornom Daghestane v XVII-nach. XIX vv., Moscow, 1988, p. 79.
10 N. Samurskiy, Sovetskiy Daghestan, Makhachkala, 1925, pp. 126, 128.
11 Rossia, Zapad i musul’manskiy Vostok v novoe vremia, p. 12.
12 D. Makarov, Ofitsial’niy i neofitsial’niy islam v Daghestane, Moscow, 2000, p. 11.
13 See: Daghestan—perekrestok religiy, kul’tur i tsivilizatsiy, pp. 29-31.
14 See: Gosudarstvo, religia, tserkov v Rossii i za rubezhom. Informatsionno-analiticheskiy bulleten, No. 2, Moscow, 2001, p. 117.
15 See: A. Makarov, op. cit., pp. 11-12.

SCImago Journal & Country Rank
Ðåêëàìà - Advertorial UP - ÂÂÅÐÕ E-MAIL