Grozny emerges from ru­ins to be­come ‘show­case for Is­lam’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

GROZNY, Rus­sia: As the plane from Moscow touches down in Grozny, the cap­i­tal of the Rus­sian re­pub­lic of Chech­nya, a young woman wraps a scarf around her hair. “Here it’s bet­ter to be veiled,” she told AFP. On Grozny’s streets, many women fol­low her ex­am­ple and wear head­scarves or a hi­jab that cov­ers the chest, while oth­ers are in long dresses that hide their arms and legs. “We don’t force women to wear a head­scarf,” the city’s mayor Mus­lim Khuchiyev said. “But we re­mind them that this is the Chechen tra­di­tion and what our faith calls for”.

Un­der au­thor­i­tar­ian leader Ramzan Kady­rov, in power since 2007, the role of Is­lam has grown mas­sively in the Rus­sian North Cau­ca­sus re­pub­lic. In Grozny, dozens of mosques have been built from the ru­ins of a city dev­as­tated af­ter sep­a­ratists waged two wars against the Rus­sian army. Grozny hit the head­lines in re­cent months af­ter Rus­sian op­po­si­tion daily No­vaya Gazeta pub­lished a re­port al­leg­ing that gay men were be­ing per­se­cuted by the Chechen au­thor­i­ties. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in the con­ser­va­tive re­gion is taboo.

Kady­rov, 40, has also ex­pressed sup­port for polygamy, which is against the law in Rus­sia, say­ing that “for me, the most im­por­tant thing is Is­lamic law”. With al­co­hol sales re­stricted, school chil­dren study­ing the canons of Is­lam and women of­fi­cially en­cour­aged to wear head­scarves for work and study, re­gional au­thor­i­ties are ac­tively pro­mot­ing Is­lam.

Ma­lika, 29, goes to the mosque ev­ery day with her hus­band. “In the last two or three years, peo­ple have be­come more and more re­li­gious,” she said, adding that she makes her daugh­ter take lessons in re­li­gious moral­ity. “Of course the au­thor­i­ties en­cour­age us. A re­li­gious woman is a good mother, a re­li­gious man is a peace­ful per­son,” said Ma­lika as her phone rang to alert her to one of the five daily calls to prayer, which are also broad­cast around the city over loud­speak­ers. “Grozny has emerged from ru­ins to be­come a mod­ern Mus­lim city, a show­case for Is­lam,” Khuchiyev said.

Tak­ing pride of place in the cen­ter of Grozny is the Akhmad Kady­rov Mosque, named af­ter Kady­rov’s fa­ther. Chech­nya’s pre­vi­ous leader, Akhmad Kady­rov was as­sas­si­nated in 2004. It was opened in 2008 on the site of the ru­ined for­mer par­lia­ment build­ing, de­stroyed by Rus­sian bombs. Now “the largest mosque in Europe... is al­ready not big enough,” said Khuchiyev. Asked about fi­nanc­ing for the mosque, the mayor sim­ply said “the money came from Al­lah”, echo­ing a phrase of­ten used by Kady­rov him­self to bat away ques­tions about pub­lic spend­ing.

Most of the city’s grand re­con­struc­tion projects were en­abled by lav­ish fund­ing from Rus­sia. Since tak­ing power Kady­rov has sought to elim­i­nate the Is­lamist in­sur­gency known as the Cau­ca­sus Emi­rate that grew out of the pro-in­de­pen­dence fight­ing units in the sec­ond Chechen war that erupted in the late 1990s. “We ab­so­lutely had to build new mosques so that peo­ple came back to the good Is­lam,” Khuchiyev said.

Khuchiyev means that Chechens should em­brace re­li­gion with­out be­ing drawn into the Cau­ca­sus Emi­rate or the Is­lamic State group, to which the Emi­rate has now sworn al­le­giance. A large num­ber of Chechens have joined IS fight­ers in Syria and Iraq, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties.

In re­cent years, Kady­rov has ex­panded his mes­sage to ad­dress the wider Is­lamic world. Af­ter the vi­o­lence erupted this month at a sen­si­tive holy site in Jerusalem, he seemed to de­clare sup­port for Pales­tini­ans on his highly pop­u­lar In­sta­gram ac­count. “Almighty Al­lah has al­ways at the nec­es­sary mo­ment put a sword in the hands of a war­rior for Is­lam who is ca­pa­ble of lib­er­at­ing Al-Aqsa,” the post read. Al-Aqsa mosque is part of a com­pound in Jerusalem’s Old City known as Haram AlSharif, or Tem­ple Mount to Jews.

Moscow-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Niko­lai Petrov said Kady­rov’s de­sire for “a spe­cial role in the Mus­lim world” has been vis­i­ble ever since Char­lie Hebdo. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Chechens joined a govern­ment-directed protest against the French satir­i­cal mag­a­zine for pub­lish­ing car­toons of Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH) in Jan 2015, just days af­ter staff at Char­lie Hebdo were mur­dered in an at­tack. Kady­rov’s “lat­est state­ments on Is­rael and Pales­tine, on Chechens in Syria, and even the scan­dal over gays in Chech­nya - all this only strength­ens his po­si­tion,” said Petrov. “The greater the shock tac­tics, the stronger his sta­tus as leader.”

Grozny is aim­ing to be a place of in­flu­ence for Mus­lims in­ter­na­tion­ally, Khuchiyev said: “Peo­ple come from very far away to pray and study here”. How­ever, the em­pha­sis on Is­lam has alien­ated some res­i­dents, such as Ye­lena, who has lived in the city since she was born. Ye­lena, a Rus­sian Ortho­dox mem­ber, said she feels “like a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen”. “Grozny is a Mus­lim city, for Mus­lims,” she said. — AFP


GROZNY, Rus­sia: Young peo­ple take a photo in front of the Heart of Chech­nya - Akhmad Kady­rov Mosque and large let­ters read­ing ‘I love Grozny’ on July 26, 2017.

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