Thursday, March 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sufism Not Salafism Now the Real Force in Daghestan, Avar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – Nurmagomed Guseynkhanov, the nom de plume of an Avar adept of the late Sufi Sheikh Said Afandi, says that Sufism, not Salafism, is the real force in Daghestani life, that it controls the Muslim Spiritual Directorate there, and that it has its followers in various government offices, including the force structures.

            In an interview with Avraam Shmulyevich, an Israeli expert on the Caucasus, that was posted online yesterday, Guseynkhanov says he is using a pseudonym to talk about Sufism because his doing so would infuriate both Sufis and their opponents, at least some of whom might be inclined to kill him (

            The Sufis of Daghestan represent “a historically more stable community than the salafis,” Guseynkhanov says, “but over recent decades, [they] have partially mutated and transformed themselves.”  The Sufism of the Imam Shamil in the 19th century was both militant and directed against both internal and external enemies of Islam.

            Today, Sufis in Daghestan are less militant but equally committed to the elimination of customary law (adat) and its replacement with the shariat. Sometimes, as a result of Soviet oppression and the impact of post-Soviet developments, that reality is obscured, and Sufism is viewed as having died out or at least become very weak.

            But the reality, Guseynkhanov argues, is that an attachment to Sufism remains just below the surface and that it will break out in response to an appeal.  Everything remains in the memory of the people, and “as in time of war, someone must be the first to jump from the trenches and shout, ‘Hurrah, Attack.”

            Sufism in Daghestan is like a river, the Avar says. It can be contained for some time by the banks of a canal, but if an earthquake takes place, it can “burst” those banks and flood the entire surrounding area.  The late Sheikh Said Afandi was just waiting for an appropriate time to declare hazavat or holy war.

            Not, it should be said, against Russia but rather ‘within the republic in order to cleanse it of the clans.”  Because that was his mission Guseynkhanov, members of the latter had him eliminated, but even they are incapable of suppressing the feelings that he represented and that Sufism in Daghestan represents.

            Had he been able to issue a call for hazavat, the Avar says, “several hundred thousand people would have risen up.” And although he is gone, that possibility remains. Such people would not be fighting for an independent Daghestan but rather for a shariat-dominated republic that could remain within Russia if Moscow allowed it to follow Islam.

            There is ample precedent for that from the times of the Russian Empire.  The tsars allowed most shariat laws to continue, and “if in the Russian Federation, they would see that this movement will not lead to a division inside the country but could establish order, then they will understand” that such an arrangement” is needed by the RF leadership.”

            Many Sufis already occupy powerful positions in the Daghestani government, but they are sometimes opposed by other groups. As a result, it has happened that as their faith grows, such people “have left the organs, the MVD, and even some from the FSB,” Guseynkhanov reports.

            But such departures do not happen all that often, the Avar continues, because the Sufis of Daghestan operate “according to the principle: Render unto God what is God’s and unto Ceasar what is Caesar’s: one thing in the mosque, another on the street, and yet a third in offices,” an approach consistent with Sufism but not one that many in Moscow will find reassuring.

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