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Niqab and MMA under fire in North Caucasus following Daghestan terror attack

5 July 2024
Coordination Centre for Muslims of the North Caucasus. Image: Chechnyatoday.com

The niqab and mixed martial arts have come under fire from within the North Caucasus and Russia as a whole following last month’s deadly terror attack in Daghestan.

On Wednesday, the Coordination Centre for Muslims of the North Caucasus decreed that niqabs cause harm to Muslims and threaten discord in interreligious and interethnic relations.

The decree came days after Daghestan’s Muftiate issued and then retracted a decree banning the niqab throughout Russia.

The Coordination Centre unites the nine Muftiates of the North Caucasus — the traditional representative bodies of local Muslims — and their heads, the Muftis.

Debates about the religious permissibility of the niqab, usually a gown covering a woman’s entire body and head, intensified following deadly attacks in Daghestan in June that took the lives of at least 20 people. 

In their statement, the centre argued that the ‘majority of Islamic scholars’ believed that niqabs were optional.

‘Headdresses that hide the face cause practical harm to Muslims, threatening discord in interreligious and interethnic relations. We encourage everyone to do good deeds, which our religion really orders us to do!’, read their statement.


They additionally argued that niqabs were ‘never a traditional form of clothing for the North Caucasus’.

‘Moreover, even in some countries where Islam is the state religion, there is a complete or partial ban on wearing the niqab in public places.’

Daghestan flip flops on niqab ban

On Monday, Daghestan’s Mufti, Abdullaev Akhmed, issued a fatwa, a religious decree, ‘temporarily’ banning niqabs in the Russian republic ‘until complete peace and quiet [prevail] in the region’.

The following day, the Daghestani Muftiate retracted the decree, stating that there were not ‘sufficient grounds for making a decision on a general ban on the niqab’.

Prior to the fatwa, several senior Russian officials made statements in favour of banning the veil, most significantly the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin. In a statement about the 23 June Daghestan attacks, Bastrykin blamed Islamic extremism and called for banning the niqab in Russia.

Bastrykin’s statement was condemned by Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov, who accused him of ‘conflating Islam with terrorism’.

[Read more on OC Media: Kadyrov at odds with Investigative Committee head over Islamophobic remarks]

Calls for banning niqabs in Russia and the North Caucasus predated the attacks in Daghestan, with Valery Fadeev, the head of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council, stating in May that he believed that niqabs should be banned.

'I would like to draw your attention to one more problem: in Russia, niqabs are allowed that completely cover the face of women. Only the eyes remain open. And this despite the fact that now even in some countries of Central Asia, niqabs are prohibited’, he said.

Fedeev additionally criticised the apparent inflow of migrants into Russia, the construction of mosques in Russia, and extremism he said was brought on by mixed martial arts (MMA).

‘On the one hand, who can forbid people to do sports? But on the other hand, why do migrant workers choose martial arts instead of table tennis or badminton?’, he said when asked if MMA clubs frequented by certain ethnicities should be banned.

‘There is an obvious suspicion that these tens of thousands of people may be preparing for something very bad. If the security forces have reasoned concerns that the emergence of such clubs may lead to extremism, then they must be dealt with accordingly.’

On 28 May, a week after Fedeev’s comments, Vladislav Davankov, deputy chair of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, introduced a bill that would prohibit wearing clothes that completely or partially cover faces in public places and buildings. He cited the ‘high level of terrorist threats’ and the need to identify potential attackers using surveillance cameras.

Adam Delimkhanov, a Chechen State Duma member closely linked to Kadyrov, criticised the bill, stressing the need to differentiate between the hijab and the niqab.  

‘Of course, we will not support this bill. I would like to explain to Davankov the difference between the niqab and the hijab: the niqab is a woman's clothing that covers the face, while the hijab does not cover the face’, he said. ‘We ourselves do not approve of the niqab, but as for the hijab, it is the religious duty of a Muslim woman’.

Chechen authorities have long criticised the use of niqabs in the republic; in 2020, the Mufti of Chechnya, Salakh Mezhiev, publicly reprimanded seven girls on state television, forcing them to take their niqabs off.

Read in Georgian on On.ge.
Read in Russian on SOVA.News.
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