Islam in Chechnya Timeline

By gr33r
  • Period: 642 to 750

    Islam as a Neighbour

    Beginning with the conquests of the Rashidun Caliphate and consolidated under the Umayyad, Islam was present in neighbouring Dagestan and Georgia for hundreds of years. Very small numbers of Chechens converted, but the average Chechen was at least familiar with the religion in passing, due to proximity.
  • Period: 642 to

    Chechen independence

    This is the period of time in which the Chechens or the Vainakh tribes who would become the Chechens in the 16th century were independent.
  • 700

    Note to the reader

    Note to the reader
    To say that the evolution of Islam in Chechnya is the evolution of Chechnya itself wouldn't be far from the truth. If it seems that this timeline describes the history of the nation more than the religion within it, please understand that the nation as a whole is defined by its Muslim identity, and that the history of Chechnya is always closely connected to the feelings of Chechens towards Islam at their particular moment in history.
  • 745

    The Guiding Question

    The Guiding Question
    What role has Islam played in the history of the Chechens, and how has that role changed and stayed the same over time?
  • 990

    Chechnya before Islam

    Chechnya before Islam
    Before the Chechen identity coalesced through Russian invasions and the arrival of Islam, their ancestors were known as the Vainakh, native tribesmen of the North Caucasus. They lived simple lives as herdsmen and farmers, occasionally invaded by Tatars to the north or the Persians to the south. They worshipped Caucasian pagan deities, chief of which was Dela. Like many Caucasian peoples, their pagan faith was not completely eliminated. Many Chechen Muslims continue to refer to Allah as Dela.
  • 1100

    Chechen rugs

    Chechen rugs
    The chief artistic craft of the Vainakhs was carpet weaving, a craft their Chechen descendants have carried on into the modern age. Islam forbids the creation of graven images (ie people) in any format, so Vainakh carpets, with their abstract, unique designs, were unaffected.
  • 1390

    First Contact with Islam

    First Contact with Islam
    The Principality of Simsir, a medieval Chechen state, made Islam the state religion to reinforce its alliance with the Golden Horde, to defend against Tamerlane's empire. This was symbolic, as most Chechens remained pagans. However, a successful invasion by Tamerlane and the struggle that followed led Islam to become associated with the Chechen people and resistance against foreign power; a trend that would repeat itself in Chechen history.
  • 1558

    Ivan the Terrible sends the first soldiers to fight the Chechens

    Ivan the Terrible sends the first soldiers to fight the Chechens
    In 1558 Ivan the Terrible began the centuries-long Russian effort to conquer the Caucasus. Resistance to these Russian encroachments came to be associated with Islam, as Muslim Chechens led the fight to defend their independence. Over the next few centuries, Islam would be assimilated into Chechen culture, rather than being a foreign religion like that of the invading Russians. It became their main cultural expression of spirituality, and what set them apart from the Orthodox Russians.
  • Period: 1558 to

    Chechens Embrace Islam

    Over centuries, the people of Chechnya came to adopt Islam as their national religion. It was a slow, process, with conversions spiking during periods of strife. The Chechens were never conquered by a foreign Muslim power that imposed their religion on them; the national conversion of Chechnya came about solely through the choice of the Chechens.
  • Chechenized Islam

    Chechenized Islam
    A Chechen saying goes: "Muhammad may have been an Arab, but Allah is Chechen for sure." This neatly sums up the "Chechenization" of Islam that occurred over the centuries it was adopted. Mosques were often built near streams, where temples had been built before. Much debate existed early on and up until now about the purity of the faith. Purists worry about the dilution of Islam's teachings, and traditionalists worry about losing their unique Chechen Islam. The issue remains unresolved.
  • Islam changing Chechen culture

    Islam changing Chechen culture
    As Chechens adopted Islam over the centuries, its cultural practices permeated Chechen life. Women covered their hair, mosques became the centres of communities, and pork fell out of fashion. Islam is a holistic way of life, and adherents pride themselves on its consistency around the world. The Quran and the Sunnah (example of the Prophet) were followed faithfully in Chechnya, affecting how Chechens ate, dressed, married and worshiped. Many pre-Islamic customs such as this dance were preserved.
  • Chechen language and Islam

    Chechen language and Islam
    The Chechen language is highly distinctive, but has taken a number of loan words from nearby historical powers. Islam has played a major role in this. Classical Arabic is the liturgical language of Islam, and many of these Arabic-derived religious terms have entered the language. Proximity to powerful Islamic Persian and Turkish empires has also brought many words from their languages into Chechen as well. Russian words, especially modern ones, have also made their mark on Chechen speech.
  • Russo-Persian War

    Russo-Persian War
    Chechen tribesmen defeat the Russian Imperial Army at the battle of Chechen-aul, which Chechen legend holds is where the people got their name. The Russians ceded Dagestan and other parts of the Caucasus to Persia, but not Chechnya. Here, again, the Chechen identity is linked to resistance to foreign military power. Having grown over the centuries, Islam became even more tightly linked to this self-image.
  • Chechen cuisine and Islam

    Chechen cuisine and Islam
    The Chechens have a simple, but nutritious cuisine. Dishes are typically made of wheat flour, barley, cheese, and milk, with spices always kept separate from the main dish for dipping. Since adopting Islam, all meat has been traditionally slaughtered according to halal requirements, and pork is not eaten by Muslim Chechens. Chechens are famous for their incredible hospitality towards guests, and this was only exaggerated by Islam's rules on generous hospitality. Typical "jiji-galnash" pictured.
  • Period: to

    Caucasian War

    The Russian Empire spent decades fighting Caucasians of all kinds, before finally crushing the last of the resistance in 1864. 96,000 Russian soldiers died, and Caucasian deaths were likely even higher. Led by Imam Shamil, Muslim Caucasians, especially Chechens, fought a constant guerrilla war against the more powerful Russians, and their struggle once again took on religious overtones. From the Chechen perspective, they were innocent Muslims, being persecuted by evil Christian imperialists.
  • Declaration of Caucasian Imamate

    Declaration of Caucasian Imamate
    Unfair Russian taxation and oppression led to calls in Chechnya and Dagestan (also Muslim) for a holy war to free the Caucasus from the Russians. Imams Ghazi and Shamil started a guerrilla movement to unite the Muslims of the North Caucasus under a free, Islamic banner. They easily defeated the Russians, who were trained to fight in the open fields of Europe, rather than the mountains and forests of the Caucasus. Eventually, however, the Imamate was defeated, and Shamil was captured.
  • Period: to

    Reign of Imam Ghazi Muhammad

    From 1828 to 1832, Imam Ghazi Muhammad presided over the Caucasian Imamate as its first leader.
  • Period: to

    Gamzat-Bek takes control of the Imamate

  • Period: to

    Imam Shamil leads the Imamate

    The Imamate reached its apex under Imam Shamil, the third Imam. State Sufism and proud Chechen identity prevailed over nearly the whole country.
  • Chechen Sufism

    Chechen Sufism
    Chechens practiced a strain of Sunni Islam called Sufism; a mystical branch of the religion that emphasizes a personal experience of God. Sufi orders such as the Nashqbandi were dominant in Chechnya, and Sufi practices such as religious dancing and music that may be seen as heretical by more orthodox Sunnis were widely practiced. The fighters of the Caucasian Imamate, including Imam Shamil, were frequently pious Sufis.
  • Imam Shamil surrenders to Russia

    Imam Shamil surrenders to Russia
    Imam Shamil was finally defeated by the Russian Imperial Army, and lived out the rest of his life in captivity. He was treated respectfully by the Russians, but kept under guard. has become a major national folk hero to the Chechens, with legends even holding that he had superhuman abilities, such as jumping to incredible heights and being able to break a rifle with a strike of his hand. Shamil, a Sufi Chechen hero, has entered into the folklore of the nation.
  • Period: to

    Russian domination of Chechnya

    Since the fall of the Caucasian Imamate, Chechnya has been under Russian domination with a few years of notable exceptions. They remain a part of Russia today.
  • Mystical Sufism in Chechnya

    Mystical Sufism in Chechnya
    Sufism is known for its trance-like rituals intended to trigger personal experiences of God here on earth. One of Chechnya's favourite Sufi traditions is that of zikr, a ritualized dance in which men link hands and move in concentric circles, faster and faster, all while chanting the names of God. Sufism flourished in Chechnya for centuries through the Nashqbandi Order, and was a leading force in the Caucasian War, and both Chechen Wars. Traditions like zikr are a key part of Islam in Chechnya.
  • Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus declared

    Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus declared
    In 1917, the various peoples of the Northern Caucasus split off from the Russian Empire and declared the MRNC. Among the key founders was Said Shamil, grandson of Imam Shamil. The MRNC was recognized by the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Georgia, among others. Not by either side in the Russian Civil War, however. The White Russians fought against MRNC independence, before being defeated by the Soviets. The Soviets promised autonomy for the Caucasians in the USSR, but this never really happened.
  • Korenizatsya

    In the early years of the USSR, the government encouraged minority identity and religion in the old empire. "Muslims of Russia…all you whose mosques and prayer houses have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled upon by the tsars and oppressors of Russia: your beliefs and practices, your national and cultural institutions are forever free and inviolate. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the mighty protection of the revolution."
  • Period: to

    Soviet rule and suppression of Islam

    The Soviet Union heavily persecuted religion, so public prayers and celebrations of Ramadan and Eid were not permitted during these years.
  • Period: to

    1940-44 Chechen Insurgency

    In the words of Khasan Israilov, leader of the insurgency:
    "For twenty years now, the Soviet authorities have been fighting my people, aiming to destroy them group by group: first the kulaks, then the mullahs and the 'bandits', then the bourgeois-nationalists. I am sure now that the real object of this war is the annihilation of our nation as a whole. That is why I have decided to assume the leadership of my people in their struggle for liberation."
    The Soviets carpet bombed swathes of Chechnya.
  • The Aardakh

    The Aardakh
    Following the 1940-44 Chechen Insurgency, the USSR resettled the entire Chechen and Ingush nations to Central Asia, and completely liquidated their Republic. Hundreds of thousands died. Muslim mosques, graveyards, historical texts, and place names were destroyed.
    Though the insurgency had been mostly secular, the Russians nonetheless attacked Chechnya's Muslim identity, laying the groundwork for the connection between radical Islam and Chechen patriotism.
  • Chechen-Slav ethnic clashes

    Chechen-Slav ethnic clashes
    From 1958 to 1965, a number of riots occurred in Chechnya pitting ethnic Russian settlers against the native Chechens. After being deported to Central Asia, many Chechens were upset to find Russians living in their ancestral lands. Disconnected from their heritage and suppressed by the Soviet regime, this was the low point in Chechen religiosity. Being a minority in their own homeland was a more immediate concern for the Chechens, and so ethnic issues took precedence over religious ones.
  • Perestroika

    Gorbachev's "Perestroika" allowed various groups to promote their ideologies freely within the Soviet Union. The Communist ideology had lost all credibility, and in Chechnya, radical Islam rapidly filled the political vacuum. Islamic morals gained influence, prayers were once more conducted in public, and the groundwork was laid for the events that would follow the short independence of Chechnya.
  • Islamization of Chechnya

    Islamization of Chechnya
    With the Soviet Union gone and Chechnya independent, Chechens were unsure about the future of their nation. Initial attempts were made to appeal to the international community by forming a democratic, secular state with equal rights for all citizens. But failure to garner any international recognition led to Chechens feeling that trying to appease the West was redundant. Wahhabi clerics from Saudi Arabia, Syria, and others flocked to the country and easily pulled many to their ideology.
  • Period: to

    Chechen Republic of Ichkeria

    A post-Soviet breakaway republic, that successfully defeated the invading Russian Federation soon after its independence. Due to geopolitical factors and an indecisive government, it was recognized only by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the Taliban government. Under its rule, Chechens experienced a surge in patriotic and religious feeling, but suffered from the rampant crime and corruption present in the Republic while it existed. The government was defeated in the Second Chechen War.
  • Islam in the First Chechen War

    Islam in the First Chechen War
    The Russians invaded in 1994, sparking Chechen nationalism and Islamic zealotry, forcing the invaders back until the Second Chechen War. The Wahhabi/Salafist missionaries of the early 90s had had great success in pulling Sufi Chechens to more radical strains of Islam, and facilitated the influx of hundreds of foreign jihadi veterans, many from Afghanistan. This led many Chechens to see the war less as a struggle for the Chechen nation, and more as one to defend the nation of Islam.
  • Period: to

    First Chechen War

    The First Chechen War was fought between the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the Russian Federation; both fresh out of the recently defunct Soviet Union. Despite overwhelming military superiority, the Russians failed to retake Chechnya, and the Chechens held on to their independence for a short while. Hundreds of foreign jihadis fought for Chechnya, and the war followed the same pattern it always does; Russian initiation, Muslim fighters head for the hills and wage guerrilla warfare.
  • Period: to

    Second Chechen War

    The Russians learned from their mistakes in the first war, and annihilated Chechnya in the second. Infighting between Sufis, Salafists, secularists, nationalists and petty criminals since 1996 left Chechnya an easy target for newly elected Vladimir Putin. Many Chechens felt disillusioned by the failure of their leaders to establish a true Islamic state, and the Second Chechen War seriously discredited Islamist movements within Chechnya, as well as contributing to Chechnya's annexation.
  • Islam in Modern Chechen Identity

    Islam in Modern Chechen Identity
    Modern Chechens are divided between Sufism and Salafism; Sufism, the more peaceful, albeit mystical form of Sunni Islam is promoted by the Russian government and Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov. However it was the fundamentalist Salafis who fought back against the Russian invasions so recently, and they offer a much more devoted form of the religion. Chechens are presented with a real dilemma; be a Sufi like their forefathers, or fight the Russians in the mountains...like their forefathers?
  • Period: to

    Ramzan Kadyrov as President of Chechnya

    Ramzan Kadyrov grew up fighting the Russians as an Islamist guerrilla himself; now, he rules Chechnya as a close ally of Vladimir Putin. He is a proud Sufi Muslim, like his father, the Chief Mufti of Chechnya during the First Chechen War. Many hate him for his kowtowing to Moscow, and his being a Sufi. Many see him as a capable, modern leader equipped to deal with Chechnya's 21st century problems. Westerners hate him for his extremely conservative policies on women's dress and homosexuals.
  • The Caucasus Emirate

    The Caucasus Emirate
    On October 7th, 2007 Dokka Umarov was named the first emir of the Caucasus Emirate, which seeks to remove all Russian presence from the North Caucasus and establish an independent Islamic Emirate. In the modern era, Islamic extremism has become closely intertwined with Chechen nationalism; though the former lost credibility under the Republic of Ichkeria, the latter is as strong as ever, and the two go hand in hand. By 2015 the group had disappeared, with most members joining The Islamic State.
  • Chechens and ISIS

    Chechens and ISIS
    Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, many Chechens who feel that the struggle against Russia in Chechnya is going nowhere have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate) has also pledged allegiance to the group, giving the Chechen jihad a global perspective.
  • Modern Chechens making Hajj

    Modern Chechens making Hajj
    In recent times, Chechens have been making the annual Hajj in record numbers, roughly 2,600 per year, showing their return to religion after the Soviet era.
  • Chechen diaspora

    Chechen diaspora
    In recent years Chechens have spread across Russia in large numbers. With the resurgence of traditional Islamic culture, Chechens are having big families and are practicing their faith more than ever before. For a Chechen living in Moscow or other parts of Russia, media and pop culture consumed is often the same as that of ethnic Russians. Islam is a key part of a Chechen's identity outside of the homeland, and the diaspora is highly observant. Moscow today is the biggest Muslim city in Europe.
  • Republic of Contrasts

    Republic of Contrasts
    Russian documentary on modern Chechnya Islam has seen a flowering among Chechens since the fall of the Soviet Union. Mosques and madrassas have reopened and are full of students. Fashion is Islamic and stylish, and everyone seems to be practicing. Material wealth is usually associated with a loosening of morals, but for the Chechens, it has only strengthened them. Islam has moved into the void that Communism left in the lives of thousands of Chechens.
  • In Perspective

    In Perspective
    Looking back on the history of Chechen Islam, it is clear that the religion is at the core of their identity. The Chechens as a self-identified group have literally never existed without being Muslim. Islam is the wellspring of Chechen rebel spirit across time. Islam's importance has stayed constant, but outside factors have forced change. The USSR, global terrorism, and western influence have all shaped Islam's role at one time or another, and only time will tell how they will shape its future.