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Kadyrov criticises religious sect for sticking knives into their heads

13 February 2017
Aslanbek Zubayrayev with Ramzan Kadyrov (Grozny TV)

After a video emerged of a ritual where worshipers had knives stuck into their heads, Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov publicly condemned Chechen followers of Iraqi Sheikh Mohammad al Kasnazani.

Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov and local theologians have publicly condemned followers in Chechnya of Iraqi Sheikh Mohammad al Kasnazani, who claim his teachings are the only correct ones. The group’s leader, Aslanbek Zubayrayev, who claims to be the Sheikh’s authorised representative in Russia, was last week summoned to a televised meeting with Kadyrov.

He was accused on-air of indoctrinating young Chechens into the group despite not knowing Arabic and having little knowledge of the the Koran. After questioning Zubayrayev, The Chief Mufti of Chechnya and other local religious authorities proclaimed that he was an impostor and a charlatan.

Zubayrayev responded by claiming that he is acting in the framework of Islam and his Shaikh’s teachings. ‘We are trying to bring the word of Allah to each man’s heart: whether they are a believer or unbeliever’, he stated.  

Local religious communities have not spoken out against the teachings of Sheikh Kasnazani, to the contrary, many have expressed respect and esteem for them. However, a video that has emerged in which one of Kasnazani’s followers sticks knives into the heads of squatting young Chechens, has caused alarm. Zubayrayev, with a knife sticking out of his head, stated to the camera that with this rite they prove that the teachings of Kasnazani are the true Islamic ones. Zubayrayev claims that the absence of even a drop of blood on their heads clearly confirms this. However, many in his native republic do not agree.

In his televised meeting with Zubayrayev, Kadyrov took out a knife and offered to repeat the stunt. ‘Let me cut off your arm, and if it will heal without any blood, I will accept your teachings’, he said. Despite the fact that no-one dared to volunteer, Zubayrayev appeared to remain steadfast in his beliefs.

The teachings of Sheikh Mohammad al Kasnazani first appeared in Chechnya during the First Chechen War. Adam Deniyev, from the village of Avtury, became a public figure as the chief promoter of the Iraqi preacher’s ideas. He created the Adamalla public movement, which promoted Sufi ideas that verged on fanaticism. At the same time, the self-styled Caliph Adam cooperated with the Russian authorities and special services, and actively condemned the action of separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev’s government as ‘Islamic radicals’.

Deniyev’s fanaticism led him to believe that he could bring back the dead. One of his followers stabbed himself with a knife in the hope that the Caliph would revive him. Witnesses claimed that Deniyev conducted rituals over the body of the believer and fell into a trance, only to open his eyes after some time, but the dead man continued to lie breathlessly. Deniyev explained that while speaking to the deceased, he had said that he did not want to return and prefered the afterlife.

News of his failure to revive the man spread quickly throughout Chechnya, and the number of people following Deniyev’s teachings declined rapidly; although some groups continued to support him. Deniyev’s congregation included an armed unit, which was implicated in the January 2000 kidnapping of Radio Liberty journalist, Andrey Babitsky. According to official reports, Babitsky was taken by an unknown militant commander, Said Usakhodzhayev (assumed name), who wanted to exchange him for three prisoners of war. Deniyev acted as a mediator between Usakhodzhayev and the Russian authorities, securing Babitsky’s release. However, according to Deniyev, he himself was the one responsible for the kidnapping.

In early 2000, Deniyev joined Chechnya’s local government under then head Akhmat Kadyrov, as Deputy Chief of Staff and Special Representative to the Middle East. In 2001, he was killed in a bombing during a live broadcast in his native village. His death was a blow for the Russian authorities, who had been secretly supporting him. Russian presidential aide Sergey Yastrzhembsky named the murder of Deniyev as a big loss for Kadyrov’s administration.

In the video which recently emerged of Zubayrayev and his followers, one of the young Chechens to whom knives were stuck into was Deniyev’s son. The video shocked many Chechens, who did not understand how young men could mutilate themselves in this way. However, given the government’s attitude to other Islamic sects, they were confident that they would not avoid repercussions; which the meeting at Kadyrov’s residence confirmed.

Publicly condemning the adherents of various religious movements is a long-standing practice for the authorities in Chechnya. Recently, several elderly followers of a Sunni missionary movement called Tabligh, which was set up in India in the 1920s, were brought before Kadyrov. One of the old men had recently travelled to India, joined the sect, and upon returning, had began to recruit others. After a long conversation with Kadyrov and religious leaders broadcast on television, they acknowledged their mistake and renounced their newly-found religious affiliation.

Due to the hardships of war, Chechens present a convenient target for many religious and pseudo-religious movements; these usually follow a similar pattern. Psychologist Abdul Minkailov (not his real name) claims that people are usually told that all their problems are negligible compared to the afterlife. They themselves are to blame for their poverty or, for example, that a bomb destroyed their house and killed their children. Representatives of these movements take advantage of this guilt by providing them with solutions: ‘join the sect, or go to fight in Syria.’

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