Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Chechnya and the Zikr

April 9th, 2009 · 3 Comments


With Chechnya back atop the news, Microkhan wanted to take a moment to delve into the country’s rich-yet-brutal history. Much of what we know comes from the excellent 1998 book Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus. It’s dated, of course, since it stops well short of Russia’s comeback and the installation of a murderous, Kremlin-friendly regime. But it provides historical context for the conflict, and does a fine job of illustrating why so many Chechens resist any sort of Russian national identity.

One of the book’s key points is that the uniqueness of Chechen religious practices makes the society incompatible with Russia. The Chechens follow a brand of Sufi Islam that focuses on an ecstatic sort of worship—the circular zikr, depicted above. As the authors explain:

The Qadiriya originated in Baghdad in the twelfth century and was brought to Chechnya by the Dagestani sherpherd Kunta Haji. Qadiri worship is more dramatic; its adepts perform in the loud zikr in which they rush round in a circle, shouting holy prayers even louder and louder in an ecstasy of clapping and stamping. When Jokhar Dudayev seized power in 1991, the zikr became a political spectacle, and dozens of dancers gathered in the central square in Grozny and danced more and more furiously. When the Russians were poised to invade, it became an independence dance as one desperate dancer rand around the circle brandishing a Chechen flag, pressed in by a crowd of rhythmically clapping people.

Microkhan will follow soon with more Chechnya posts. It’s been a longtime subject of fascination ’round these parts.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Russ Mitchell

    You never read this kind of detail in the NYT and other papers. This is the kind of cultural reporting that makes the world come alive.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Russ: Many thanks. I have several more Chechnya posts lined up for the coming weeks, in honor of, uh, the cessation of formal hostilities (or whatever line the Kremlin is spouting). Keep an eye peeled.

  • The Inevitable Crackdown

    […] And previously on Microkhan: the unique religious practices of Chechnya. […]

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