Friday, November 6, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Daghestan’s Ban on Wahhabism Should Be Repealed, Khasavyurt Mayor Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 6 – In 1999, Daghestan became the first republic to legally ban Wahhabism, but that step, Khasvyurt Mayor Saygipasha Umakhanov says, had exactly the opposite effect than intended, calling attention to a trend that otherwise might have remained quite marginal.
Indeed, he said this week, it has “at times” seemed to him that “if there had not been a law ‘On Wahhabism,’ this trend in general would not have existed in Daghestan.” Consequently, he said, his republic and by implication any other Russian jurisdiction with similar legislation should repeal such laws (
Umakhonov’s call is important for three reasons: First, as he noted, he was among the first to call for the adoption of this law a decade ago fearful that his republic was going to be transformed by Muslim missionaries and Daghestani Muslims returning from study abroad who rejected traditional Islamic practice.
Second, his comments highlight the way in which Wahhabism became less a description of a particular kind of Muslim than a curse word employed by Russian officials and journalists, on the one hand, and traditionalist Muslims, on the other, to castigate any Muslim trend of which they did not approve.
And third, by calling for the repeal of the 1999 Daghestani law that many elsewhere have voiced support for, Umakhanov puts himself and his republic on a collision course with Moscow, many of whose leaders have used Wahhabism as a spectre to haunt Russians Muslim and non-Muslim alike and to justify repressive actions.
But a comment posted in response to his call when it was reported on a Muslim news site ( may give aid and comfort to those who think the Daghestani law should not only be preserved but extended across the Russian Federation in order to defend against the radicalization of the Muslim community there.
“Pavel abu Muhammed” – a screen name -- said that “Wahhabism and traditional Islam are one and the same thing” and that because that is so, there is no reason for there to be a secular law about either. That view, clearly intended as support for Umakhanov’s view, almost certainly will be seen by others as a reason for concluding that the Khasvyurt mayor is wrong.
If Wahhabism and traditional Islam are truly “one and the same thing” as this author suggests, any practice or belief that departs from the more clearly articulated positions of Wahhabism cannot be viewed as genuinely “traditional Islam” and must be changed, a position some Muslims would find attractive but that many Russians would find abhorrent.
Umakhonov’s comments came at a roundtable in his city earlier this week at which participants, who included politicians, officials, siloviki, and students, were asked to address two questions: “What is preventing Daghestanis from being united?” and “What must be done for the consolidation of society?” Some of them made equally intriguing comments.
Valentina Antonyuk, the head of the city section of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), said that from her point of view, the biggest problem in Daghestan and Russia as a whole is that officials frequently talk about “the state” or “the country” but almost never about “the people.”
Not only is that what she said was an unfortunate departure from Soviet times, but it means that the politicians only care about the people “until [the former] have realized their ambitions” and taken office. After that, “the ‘people’ is again left with its own problems and aspirations,” that she suggested the powers that be are doing nothing to address.
Local representatives of “Just Russia” – Gadzhiyev Magomedov and “United Russia” Aziz Azizov, in contrast stressed that while there were positive aspects to the Soviet past, “there was also a great deal of negative things in its, including the absence of pluralism of opinions.” And both stressed that any future unity could be achieved only by discussion.
But other speakers, including local officials and the head of the city Council of Imams, stressed that the situation could be improved only if people became more active, more willing to change their own psychologies, and more ready to defend the longstanding historical, cultural and religious traditions of the people of Daghestan.

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