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“He declared jihad for a Christian ruler” – experts explain how Kadyrov distorts Islam to justify war against Ukraine

Ramzan Kadyrov, who positions himself as a righteous Muslim, has once again used non-existent concepts of Islam, directly contradicting it and violating religious dogmas. Now the head of Chechnya is not only promising blood vengeance against the Chechen opposition, but is also declaring a Muslim-Orthodox jihad on the Ukrainians. This has nothing to do with the Qu’ran and Islam, the dissemination and protection of which is the sole purpose of jihad. Experts and people from Kadyrov's entourage explain: the head of Chechnya will now use any methods in order to keep Putin in power – otherwise a tragic end awaits both.

An alliance with infidels against infidels

Reports of a Ukrainian attack on the Chechen military headquarters in Kherson surfaced on October 25. About 30 people were killed, while Kadyrov himself claimed 23 were killed and 58 wounded. Immediately afterward, in the middle of the night, the Chechen leader published a 13-minute voice message on his Telegram channel, in which he said that Ukrainian cities must be “wiped off the face of the earth,” demanded that Chechens volunteer at the front, regardless of age, and declared Jihad on the Ukrainians – or, as he put it, “Satanists.”

In declaring jihad, Kadyrov claimed that Ukraine wasn’t the site of a “special military operation,” but a war “between Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Satanists.” Kadyrov has repeatedly declared Ukrainian «Satanists» Russia’s enemy recently – Orthodox Christians haven’t made it into Kadyrov’s classification yet. Taking this and Vladimir Putin's regular photo shoots in Orthodox churches into account, we can conclude that Kadyrov is now including the followers of other religions in his list of allies, and is immediately declaring jihad on the Ukrainians. Kadyrov calls not on Muslims to unite on the path of Allah, but on his “compatriots.” This directly contradicts the very definition of “holy war” and Islam in general, a source with experience in Chechen government told The Insider.

“Of course, if we look at the issue with 'Satanists' from a religious perspective, Islam clearly structures non-believers. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are considered ‘ideological party-mates.’» This idea is developed through the concept of «Ahl al-Kitab” (“the people of the Scriptures”). Satanists, as well as polytheists, are considered to be a great evil. So in theory, Kadyrov can explain his actions by some kind of war against the Satanists.

However, the word “jihad” has also appeared here – Kadyrov declared it on the Ukrainians. The very concept of jihad in the Muslim religion means holy war between true believers, who the Muslims consider themselves to be, and infidels – that is, Christians. Moreover, jihad is waged with the aim of spreading the ideas of Islam. Kadyrov is trying to use these concepts to mislead people. It's not the first time that this has happened. Let's take for example the way in which he and his supporters announce so-called ‘blood feuds’ against their critics for insulting them. In simple terms, people understood: if you killed someone, you or someone close to you would be killed [in revenge]. Blood feuds are declared in the case of murder, when blood is spilled. Insults have nothing to do with this sociocultural method of deterrence.

Human rights activist Abubakar Yangulbayev, whose family Kadyrov and his right-hand man, State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov, threatened with blood vengeance, claiming that he would cut off their heads, also believes that there can be no jihad against Ukrainians, no matter how much Kadyrov calls them Satanists.

“For Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists are all unbelievers, on a domestic level. Some theological scholars in Islam have an interpretation that Christians and Jews are people of Scripture, they aren’t like atheists and pagans, but in general they’re still infidels.”

Do Kadyrov's manipulations have any effect on Chechens?

The head of Chechnya is an adherent of a school of Sufism that allows one to combine religiosity with a life of leisure. Moreover, the Kadyrov regime describes the supporters of Salafism as dangerous sectarians and declares blood feuds against them. Kadyrov also lists Chechen opposition figures as Salafists, which enables him to publicly call on religious fanatics to kill “sectarians” who displease his government. He chose a convenient “satanic” definition for Ukrainians along the same lines. Judging by the numerous TikToks posted by Kadyrov’s henchmen from the front lines, one might get the impression that his religious manipulations are successful, and that he is indeed listened to. This is not the case, The Insider's sources say.

“There are many sensible, educated young men in Chechnya who understand everything that is going on,” says a Chechen official. “However, because of the threats, torture, and persecution, they cannot and are afraid to speak out against it. At the same time, there are also those who blindly believe what they are told. We’re talking here about the uneducated part of the population. They're mostly war children who were unable to get access to education due to the hostilities in Chechnya. I’m immediately reminded of one of the videos recently posted on the «Adat» Telegram channel. It shows a Chechen wounded in Ukraine shouting: “Allahu Akbar, Akhmat Sila.” I think it's a very revealing video.”

“Akhmat Sila” roughly translates to “Akhmat Power/Strength,” and is a battle cry used by Kadyrov loyalists and athletes in reference to Kadyrov’s late father, Akhmad.
According to Abubakar Yangulbayev, Chechens who go to fight in Kadyrov's regiments are not moved by his religious speeches:

“Is there some kind of psychological indoctrination? It’s more likely to be mercenary and practical. Chechens go there, but they're in the minority – there was even a report by [civil rights group] Memorial that there are only 3,000 of them [in Ukraine], and Kadyrov confirmed that. All these [claims of] 10 or 70 thousand are lies – there's no proof of what he says anywhere. People go there because of the money and the chance of military gain, i.e. the possibility of acquiring war trophies, such as weapons. The motivation is exclusively material.”

According to a representative of “Vayfond”, a Chechen human rights association, most people in Chechnya understand that Kadyrov uses religious dogmas as he sees fit, as they know the laws of Islam very well. Kadyrov's pseudo-religious speeches don’t affect any ordinary Chechens, as this war simply has nothing to do with religion, says the source:

“Kadyrov has been trying to push the idea of jihad since the beginning of the war, but it hasn’t gained any traction. No matter how many thousands of people he gathers, no matter how much the mufti of Chechnya prays in Arabic using the word 'Ukraine' – this idea can’t be pushed through. Jihad could have been pushed through during the First and Second Chechen Wars, when there was a struggle of Muslims against infidels who threatened [the Islamic] religion, but now he’s stretching it way too far. One reason for Kadyrov's low support in Chechnya is that Chechens are very religious – they pray five times a day and devote a lot of time to thinking about the afterlife. The idea of jihad can’t be accepted, as this war is a direct path to hell – you can't fight for a Christian ruler, Putin, against another nominally Christian ruler [in Volodymyr Zelensky]. Kadyrov’s soldiers go to war as Kadyrov can deprive them of everything they didn't have before – money, power and everything else. If Kadyrov loses power, the same Chechens will put them on a stake together with their leader.”

Moreover, Kadyrov shares many similarities with former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who also skillfully used Islamic symbols to manipulate and was obsessed with greed, the human rights association says. A Swiss watch worth several thousand dollars was once photographed on Baghdadi's arm during a sermon at a mosque in Mosul. The IS structure in general has much in common with the Kadyrov regime. In particular, both are based on total violence, which binds all militants through a system of collusion, terror and civilian intimidation.

“Kadyrov and Baghdadi have something in common – they have used religion to recruit people for their own selfish purposes. They call people shaitans, they kill, Muslims included. They seem to be different, but if you go point by point, they’re almost identical,” says the Vayfond representative.

Does Kadyrov believe in his speeches?

The Insider's sources are confident that Kadyrov is aware of his own manipulations, and doesn't delude himself when deceiving others – just a few years ago, Kadyrov actively used anti-war rhetoric, as armed conflict didn’t serve his goals at the time.

“He can't believe what he says,” says Abubakar Yangulbayev. “When it came to the war for Chechnya's independence, when it came to the war in Syria, he claimed that his mullahs and vigilantes were saying: war is bad, you shouldn't fight, you should sit at home and take care of your family, multiply the Chechen population, GDP, be useful to your homeland. Don’t go somewhere to die, they said – the people who send you there are sitting quietly at home and doing well for themselves. There's a slight schizophrenia in Kadyrov's mind here, because now he's directly contradicting himself. Both then and now, he used religion as a reference point, and that's pure manipulation. Now it benefits him to be the Kremlin's mouthpiece for the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”

According to the Chechen official, Kadyrov is well aware of everything, but he has no choice – he has to help Putin stay in power by any means necessary:

“I think it's a big mistake to think that Kadyrov has any ideas, values, or faith. You have to understand that he's made himself a hostage. Right now he's in a golden cage that he's built for himself, but its position is very precarious. He is hated by the people, he has hundreds, if not thousands, of blood enemies. The FSB despises him, and is ready to tear him apart at any opportunity. Kadyrov is hanging on by Putin's bootstraps. Without [Putin], there’s no Kadyrov. So Ramzan Akhmatovich does all he can to help his boss, and he uses any means to do so – even contradictory ones. Otherwise he'll face the inevitable end, and it'll be a very sad one indeed.”

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