09 June 2003, 12:00

Interaction of Common Law (adat, toreh) with the Shari'a in Ethnopotestary and Ethnopolitical Culture of North Caucasian Peoples

The problem of the connection between the items of Koran-Shari`a (as the original source) with the common law in the Caucasus studied before the revolution (by M.M. Kovalevsky, F.I. Leontovich, etc.) has recently acquired a new meaning. The connection between common law with "potestarity" (the term of Y.V. Bromley) - the internal power structure, as well as its influence upon "high"  State and international politics have become the subjects of new studies.

It has been stressed many times that common law, in spite of seeming similarity of its issues, varies greatly. Hanifi Muslims among Adygs understood "adat"  as a certain code of honor (accepted even by Kabardin Christians in Mozdok), Turkish nomads preserved pre-Islam customs and preserved certain parts of the Orda ("yasa", "jasa") orders, while Shafi'i Vainakhs, Avars, Dargins, etc. (including Murides) accepted the traditions and coordinated opinion of the elders.

While influencing the Muslims of the Caucasus and the Black Sea region, the Osman Empire of Turkey always propagated the ideas of "Shari`a" as a uniting factor. A 17th-century Sultan's document is known where Nogaits tribe are prescribed "to give up the dirty custom called "toreh" and to observe the rules of "Shari'a".

While forming the Islamic proto-state in Avaria and Chechnya in the 1830s-1850s, Imam Shamil, as well as all the Murid (military Sufic) vird Nkashbendiya he commanded, accepted "Shariatism". "Shari'a" would be later understood as a synonym of the Koran and "Islam in general". Later, a "Shari'a unit" of the mountaineers would actively fought for the Soviet power together with the Red Army.

The opposing vird Kadiriya, on the contrary, preferred the local "'adatic"  orders, especially after Shamil making peace with Russia. Restored during the exile and activated during the rule of Jahar Dudayev, the radical part of Kadiriya preserved this attitude. The war cult of the wolf ("borz") can be considered as a part of local mixed symbolism.

The new "Shariatism" emerging in the late 1980s-the early 1990s was connected with the populiarity of hajj, the trend to imitate "the original"  Arab Islam and a peculiar understanding of Jihad as "Gazavat"  war and the intention to form "a Caliphate" - an Islamic state. These trends could be connected or even united (no wonder that a well-known specialist in Turkish studies, N.A. Aristov called Afghanistan "Anglo-Indian Caucasus"  back in the end of the 19th century-the beginning of the 20th century). These were the signs of the world Muslim movement towards "politically-oriented renewal"  in the religion (in different countries, there were "Muslim brethren" , "'Mujaheds" , " Muhmins"  or "Vakhabites"  etc.). In the former Soviet Union, an important step towards this movement was made when the "renewal"  Islamic revival party Nakhdat was founded in Astrakhan, at a secret meeting of Daghestan, Moscow and Tajik leaders (Kizil-Yurt, June 9, 1990). The founders' connections with radical Muslims in Saudi Arabia and in Afghanistan could be traced. Contradictions were growing between traditional Muslims of various regions (including the Murids of Northeastern Caucasus) with advocates of  "the renewal"  who are often erroneously called "Vakhabites"  ("Saudites") or "Khanbalites". Conflicts between sellers who came from other cities and who wanted to get the best places on Astrakhan markets were often believed to be disputes between "Vakhabites" and "Tarikatists". On May 12, 1997, a conflict resulting in murder took place in the cemetery of the village of Chabanmakhi (Buinaksk district of the Republic of Daghestan) (See: Saudovskiye idut! (Rossiyskiye Taliby) [Saudi Arabs Are Approaching! (Russian Talibs)] // Commersant, 1997, No. 31, p. 20-21) because of different opinion on the Muslim funeral rites as understood by "local lore" and "traditional approach". The situation would become even more complicated because of the events in the neighboring Chachnya and because of the military action in Daghestan in September 1999.

In Chechnya, with its traditional Islamic party headed by President Aslan Maskhadov, radical politicians advocating "Shariatism" protested. The enforced approval of the "Shari`a Criminal Code"  of the Republic of Chechnya and opened a number of "Shari`a Courts"  which became notorious for their Medieval practices and cruel attitudes. Some orders of President Aslan Maskhadov were against this "Shari'a renewal". In the middle of September 1999, the State Council (Parliament) of Daghestan passed the law "Concerning forbidding Vakhabism and all other extremist activities on the territory of our Republic".

These measures are far from being perfect because basic concepts of Islamic common law are closely connected with everyday life of the people. Yet here we face two types of attitude towards Islamic culture (both in legal matters and in the matters of everyday life): one attitude originates from the local ethnic traditionalism, while the other originates from ?the fundamental purity? of the spiritual doctrine (or the way it is understood).

It is difficult to foresee the prospects. For example, in Russia, reforms of Patriarch Nikon were nothing but ?renewal? and they became victorious. It isonly clear that contradictions in religious aspects must not be used as an excuse for military conflicts and must not be propagated by force. In all other matters, the analysis of historical and religious matters is replaced here by the analysis of concrete sociological matters and conflicts.

April 12, 2000

Author: V.M. Viktorin, Candidate of History, Councilor of Astrakhan Regional Administration.; Source: Nauchnaya Mysl Kavkaza [Research in the Caucasus]. Rostov-on-Don: North Caucasian Research Center of University-type Education, 2000. No. 4 (24).

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