“Chechen Gandhi” Kunta-Haji Kishiev – religion of peace

* In the last 2-3 decades, Sunni Islam has seen a rise in Chechnya, leaving small room for what was once the dominant and specific religion in Chechnya – Sufi Islam. Today, only the elderly resume to these old practices.

Kunta Haji Kishiev was a mystical Sufi sheikh, the founder of a Sufi branch named Zikrism, and a preacher of non-violence and passive resistance. He is considered a saint and the site of Kunta-Haji’s mother’s tomb (located in Chechnya) is a place of pilgrimage for believers.

Kunta-Haji Kishiev was born in 1830 in Melch-Khi village (Gudermes District of Chechnya). At the age of 18 he made his Hajj to Mecca. Soon after, he brought Qadiriyya, “one of the four oldest and most prestigious Sufi brotherhoods”. He also introduced the Loud Zikr (as opposed to silent Zikr), a mystical Sufi prayer-dance of the Caucasus.

In contrast to the ideology of Holy War or Jihad of Imam Shamil (military leader who fought against in the Caucasus wars), Kunta Haji preached the idea of spiritual independence and non-resistance to evil.

“Because of systematic wars, our population is drastically diminishing. The tsarist power is already firmly entrenched in our region. I don’t believe that help will come to us from Turkey and that the Sultan of Turkey wishes our liberty and our salvation. Any further war is disliked by Allah.”

The Zikr became prevalent among Chechens, Dagestani and others; the movement was known as Kunta Haji tariqat.

The movement was first accepted by Russia due to its peaceful purpose. But soon after, Russia became wary of the the potential of Qadiri uniting the population.

In 1864, the tsarist authorities arrested him. Thousands of his adepts, ” the murids”, protested his arrest in the town of Shali and demanded his release – but hundreds were killed and the rest arrested and deported. Kunta Haji died in 1867 in a Russian jail in Novgorod.

After Kunta Haji’s  arrest, the Zikr was strictly forbidden but this measure only encouraged further the spread of Zikr which was practiced in the privacy of people’s homes.

Zikr (or Dhikr) is a is an Islamic devotional act which involves the recitation of the names of God. In other words, it is a form of prayer.

Chechnya chechen men praying North Caucasus people sufi islam muslims

Some adepts recite it quietly “the silent Zikr”, while the Qadiri Sufi Islamic brotherhood practices the loud Zikr (group Dhikr).

They join together in a circular dance to express their love for God and achieve spiritual perfection. The repetitive words are  “La ilaha illa ‘llah” which means “There is no god but God”. The physical effort leads to a trance-like state through mental and physical exhaustion, a state which will bring them closer to God.

Zikr (Dhikr) is also performed by women in a slightly different manner but the same words are recited – “There is no god but God”.

Video and text belong to Swiatoslaw

From the early morning late into the night, Badi is on her feet and she is at work. She is cooking, at 6 AM she wants to feed her guests with three courses and glasses of grape vodka, she runs around her giant Chechen house, and around her beautiful village in Pankisi valley, in front of the mosque she chats with tough men who listen to her humble like little boys, she takes care of other women, organizes them, motivates.  She is one of the leaders of zikr, Sufi ritual, partially forgotten and abandoned, even by men, and here carried on by women.

Eastern voices, here Eastern Europe marries Central Asia. Acceptance, peace, coexistence. This is passion of Makvala Margoshvili, for this is real name of the one everybody calls Badi. She is a founder and leader of folk band Daimoakh, protecting Chechen tradition, chairwoman of Marshua Kawkaz, which means Peace for Caucasus. In the lyrics of their songs, in what they do, in whom they are, there is warmth and peace, love for own kind and for guest, here you can find the essence of what Sufism is in practice, here you will find archetype of grandmothers and hospitality from Caucasus.

Difference between combatant and insurgent “Fighter” or “Terrorist”

References: European Journal of International Law (ejil.oxfordjournals.org)
Ruslan Gelayev, nicknamed 'Black Angel"

Ruslan Gelayev, Chechen commander turned to”terrorist” by the Russian federal forces, who also nicknamed him “the Black Angel”

The qualification of a  conflict as a whole makes the difference between “conflict” and “terrorism”.

The international human rights law provides that during an armed conflict, every individual is classified as either a combatant or a civilian.

A civilian has the right not to be targeted for attack and the right to receive protection from attack.

If the civilian joins the armed forces, he exchanges the rights of a civilian for the rights of a combatant. A combatant has the right to take part in hostilities. The combatant also loses any right not to be attacked.

However, if a combatant is captured or surrenders, he may not be prosecuted as a murderer for killing enemy combatants; instead, he becomes a prisoner of war, and can be held only until the end of active hostilities.

In order to apply international human rights law regarding combatants – the states in question (in this case the Russian federation) have to accept the notion of “armed conflict” in the region.

Since the second Russian-Chechen war when Russia regained control over Chechnya – it denied that it faced an internal armed conflict in Chechnya anymore, characterizing the events simply as terrorism and banditry and, consequently, it denied that international humanitarian law applied.

Russia refused to accept the “combatant” status anymore, and from then on it treated the hostile subjects as “insurgents” – which falls under penal code and they can be classified as criminals.

A combatant who kills a soldier is guilty of nothing; an insurgent who kills a soldier is guilty of murder. 

Under humanitarian law, the rules apply to all parties in a conflict – government forces and dissident armed groups alike.

Under human rights law (where the existence of a conflict is denied), the rules apply only to the government.


Therefore, by refusing the existence of armed conflict in the area and by treating the hostile subjects as “criminals and bandits”, Russia gave itself full legality over its own actions without need of justification.

Any opposition to Russia is classified as “terrorism”, “banditry” or “insurgency”, any talks to the opponent sides are refused – and according to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s declaration – they will all be “fully eliminated”.


Kala-Koreysh (first muslim settlement) Dagestan

Kala Koreysh Dagestan North Caucasus islam

In the mountains of Dakhadaevskiy district in Dagestan, 1000 meters above sea level and 3 kilometers from the village of goldsmiths Kubachi lies Kala-Koreysh, an VIII century medieval fortress, which was the former capital of a feudal community (Kaytag utsmiystva) and the first muslim settlement in the Caucasus.


In the middle-ages, Kala-Koreysh was a well-defended fortress that served as political and cultural center, and most importantly it became the focal point for the spread of the Islamic faith in the Northern Caucasus. Built on top of inaccessible mountains by the Kuraysh in VII-VIII century, it stands at the confluence of five important rivers and it’s accessible through one single road. Built on a strategic point, they could control trade in the region and at the same time spread the faith.

Kuraysh was the name of the merchant tribe into which Prophet Muhammad was born – Kala Koreysh means “the fortress of koreyshids”. Several Kuraysh tribesmen came to the mountains of Dagestan as conquerors after Arabs conquered Derbent in 654  – the biggest city of Dagestan at the time. The spread of Islam began in the Cacausus which ended in the XIXth century with the conversion of the Ingush people.

As people started moving to the lowlands in the XVIII century, its role as an important cultural and commercial center gradually decreased. The last inhabitants were forcibly evicted to Chechnya by the Soviets in 1944 and most of the structures were destroyed.

Today, the only constructions still standing in Kala-Koreysh are a IX century mosque and a mausoleum; only one person lives here as guardian of the sacred place. The alabaster tiles of the partially destroyed mosque are displayed in the Regional Museum.

Kala Koreysh also has a graveyard where both noblemen and common residents were buried; tombstones date back to the IX-X century and contain sacred Islamic texts. The unique carving on the tombstones is very similar to the Kubachi pattern design (for more on Kubachi click here). The graveyard also has pagan sarcophaguses which are not typical of Muslim culture (where the dead are buried only in the ground).

Today, Kala Koreysh serves as tourist spot and place of pilgrimage for devout Muslims (the pilgrimage is called “ziyaret”).

Sacred mountain of Ingushetia (central Caucasus mountains)

Myatceli temple

Myatceli temple

At North Ossetia – Ingushetia border lies Table Mountain –  considered a holy sacred mountain by the Ingush people since ancient times. The Vainakh people (Ingush and Chechens) practiced pagan beliefs before their conversion to Islam in the 19th century.

Table mountain was place of special ceremonies, and Myatceli temple, located on Myat Loam peak at 3000 meters altitude, served this special purpose.

More details on Ingush pagan beliefs and practices in the following documentary (minute 6:35)

The border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia was created in 1944 by the Soviets (after Chechen/ Ingush deportation), who ceased a part of Ingush territory to North Ossetia – and so the Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz was created.

Mukhtarov mosque, North Ossetia-Alania

Mukhtarov mosque was built between 1900-1908 in Vladikavkaz – the capital city of  North Ossetia-Alania, North Caucasus.