• Imām • Shāmil, • a • Great • Mujāhid • of • Russia •

Some years ago I watched a documentary on sundance about this great mujahid, and his influence on Shamil Basayev, rahimahullah, so I was really happy when in school a few years ago I came upon this narrative about him written by sister Mariam Jamilah (in the 70s!).  I finally had time to type it up. Enjoy.

 

Imām Shāmil, a Great Mujāhid of Russia

 

Of all the great Mujāhidīn of our recent past, one of the most heroic but least known is Imām Shāmil (1799-1871) who, for three decades, without outside assistance, with no modern weapons save what could be captured from the enemy and with implicit trust in Allāh, successfully defied the might of Russian imperialism. Outside of Russia, only in Turkey have his valiant deeds become widely known and appreciated. The terrible odds he faced and the fate of his people are not unique but characteristic of all varieties of European colonialism everywhere.

Imam Shāmil was not the founder of the Jihād movement in Russia. He was, in fact, associated with a movement known as Muridism, and adhered to the Naqshbandi spiritual order. Mullā Muhammad of Yarghi may be considered the founder of Muridism. This movement united Dagestān and Chechnya in their struggle for freedom against Russian domination. However, he did not become the first Imām. This title properly belongs to Mullā Muhammad of Ghimree, better known as Qādī Mullā, who was succeeded in turn by Hamzed Beg and Imām Shāmil.

Qādī Mullā was born at Ghimree about the year 1793. He had mastered Arabic and excelled in oratory. He had great influence on his people because of his knowledge, far-sighted wisdom, and devotion to the ideals of Jihād. His comrade, Imām Shāmil, lived next door to him as a child and the two boys became close friends. At an early age, Imām Shāmil became renowned for his extraordinary physical strength and energy. He practiced sword fighting, running, fighting, jumping and various gymnastic exercises until, at twenty years of age, he had no rivals in these pursuits. It was said that he could jump with ease over a ditch 27 feet wide or over a rope held by two men of average height and above their heads. He went barefooted with naked breast in all weathers and excelled in daring and strength even among those hardy mountaineers.

The greatest difficulty in the way of the Mujāhidīn of Dagestān was not the power of Russia, but the internal weaknesses of their own people, which arose mainly from inter-tribal discord. Dagestān was divided into numerous khanates and independent communities of many different races and languages, for the most part bitterly hostile to one another. Inter-tribal feuding was chronic, not only between the various districts, but between village and village and even house to house, as it had been since earliest times. An elaborate system of blood feud and vengeance was not only sanctioned, but insisted upon by the tribal pagan ‘Aadāt [customs].

Imām Shāmil began to preach vigorously for the necessity of abandoning the pagan customs and restoring the rule of Sharī’ah, at the same time impressing upon his listeners the political equality of all true believers in Islām, who owed no allegiance to any but those persons who were worthy of the favor of Allāh and the confidence of their own people. Consequently, submission to alien Russian rule was beneath the dignity of any genuine Muslim. After gaining sufficient popular support among his own people, at the end of 1829, he openly called upon his [men] at Ghimree to prepare themselves for Jihād against the Russian government.

Before proceeding further, a brief digression concerning the geographical conditions and the way of life shared by these people is essential to understand the events of Imām Shāmil’s long struggle.

The Caucasus mountain range is like a great fortress with natural defences, [and is also] strengthened by man-made defences and extraordinary military valor. The Caucasus is the mountain range [spanning] Northwest to Southeast Russia, from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. It is difficult to conquer the peaks of these snow-clad mountains and it was equally difficult to conquer the brave people who inhabited them. An anonymous Russian poet had this to say about them:

O you mountain tribes!
Freedom [is] thy god and struggle thy law of life!
You have great friendship and still greater vengeance
For you vice is paid by vice and virtue by virtue
Your hatred like your love knows no bounds!

The people of Dagestān chose the sites of their towns and villages primarily with a view to defense. They were nearly always built up or against the face of a mountain ridge of rock, isolated or supported by inaccessible cliffs to guard against surprise attack. The houses were of stone, two stories high, well-built, and frequently white-washed. The streets were very narrow and torturous, and barely wide enough for two horsemen to ride abreast. At intervals [they were] blocked by a house furnished with a wooden barrier, making passage impossible until the defenders posted there had been ousted or killed. The villages could only be taken by aggressive attack and that was a formidable task when every individual house had its garrison of desperate men and often still more desperate women.

In the mountain valleys, the villages were often hidden from view in the deep chasms and there the vine flourished and fruit trees, maize and other cereals responded luxuriantly to the meticulous care bestowed upon them. The irrigation and terrace work that in places made veritable gardens of land by nature so barren could not fail to arouse the admiration of visitors from more favored regions. On many rocky hillsides, the scraps of cultivated land could be reached only by difficult climbing, to which every particle of fertile soil had to be carried by land.

Chechnya was the name given by the Russians to the region adjoining Dagestān in the Caucasus Mountains. The whole country was covered with dense forests intersected by numerous streams having their source in the nearby mountains. On the banks of these streams dwelt the Chechans, their isolated farms and villages numbering sometimes into hundreds of houses. The houses were one-storied, flat-roofed, built of sun-baked brick and not lacking comfort in the way of carpets, mats, pillows and quilts, copper pots and pans, and other domestic utensils. Each house usually had its own garden or orchard, and round them in the forest clearing stretched the cultivated fields sown with maize, oats, barley, rye, or millet according to the locality. As these villages were otherwise unfortified, care was taken to keep one side facing the forest and at the first threat of danger, the women and children fled with all their portable possessions. The forest abounded with giant beech trees which was their never-failing refuge and their chief defense against the advancing Russians. As long as the forest stood, the Chechans were invisible. The Russians could not subdue them until they cut the beech trees down so that they were finally vanquished not by the sword, but by the axe. Imām Shāmil had realized the vital importance of the forests and gave strict orders for their preservation. He imposed severe penalties, not only for wanton destruction of trees, but even when they were cut down without his permission for legitimate use. A cow or a bull was the customary fine imposed for every tree cut down without his prior permission, and in the case of wanton destruction of a tree, the culprit was hanged as a warning to others.

Physically, the Chechans were tall, well (though slenderly) built, handsome, quick-witted, and brave. Like the mountain tribes of Dagestān, they were patient, capable of enduring the most terrible hardships and privations, and hospitality was a sacred duty, true to the tradition of Islām. Strictly upright and honorable by character, fighting against the Russians was the only pursuit deemed worthy of an adult man, and the girls wanted to marry only those who had performed heroic deeds. In eating and drinking, they were noted for austerity and they took but little sleep. Domestic and agricultural work was left to the women or to slaves, the latter being mostly prisoners of war.

Although these peoples were al Muslims and there were mosques in all the important towns and villages where the Mullās expounded on the Qur’ān, Arabic being the sacred language and the only written tongue, until the advent of Imām Shāmil, civil and criminal affairs were decided according to the tribal customary laws, and not by the Sharī’ah.

In their restless expansion eastward, the Russians behaved towards the native population of central Asia and Siberia no differently than the British, French, or Dutch, their racist sentiments as virulent as white men elsewhere. The atrocities of the Russians against the natives of Central Asia and Siberia bear striking resemblance of that of the white settlers in America during the pioneer days against the aboriginal Indians. Russian imperialism was [and still is] as arrogant as any other variety of white colonialism and just as oppressive, if not even more so. Typical of European imperialism throughout the world during those days, the Russian variety was characterized by unrestrained lust for expansion, domination, exploitation and ruthless genocide of resisting native groups who got in their way.

When the pacification offensive against the Caucasus began in 1830, the Russians were convinced that, despite their superior arms and numbers, they could attain domination over the area only by destroying the villages, cutting down the forests, and laying waste to the cultivated fields to deprive the survivors of food. Typical of European imperialism elsewhere, this was carried out with fiendish efficiency and the most extreme cruelty.

A Russian general, Tornam, who was appointed by the Czar Nicholas to accomplish this mission, relates the following eye-witness tale:

“Hearing that the Chechans, who had shut themselves up in their houses and refused quarter, were firing hard and had already killed a lieutenant-colonel and wounded several of our soldiers, Volkhovsky, the Chief of Staff, set out with Colonel Brummer, commanding the artillery to settle the affair in person. I was to guide them by the road I had already found through the village. The houses were surrounded by a triple chain of sharpshooters, lying down behind the fences and trees. Orders were given to cease firing and set fire to the houses. More easily said than done! A layer of clay a foot thick protected the inner wattled walls and the walls themselves were loopholed all over and bristling with deadly rifles. However, two sappers were found willing to undertake the job. Pushing in front of them an oxen board by way of a shield and carrying bundles of straw and brushwood, they crawled to the narrow side of the house, broke though the clay foundation with great difficulty, and fired the wall which began to smolder under its fireproof covering. The Chechans continued to fire even from this side until the heat drove them from the burning wall. The sappers were now joined by several artillery men, also volunteers, who climbed onto the flat roof by the burnt wall, took the hand grenades from the sappers, lighted the tubes, and threw them down through the wide chimney into the interior of the building, crowded thickly with defenders. We heard the first two grenades burst but not the rest, and later learned that the Chechans had sat upon them before the powder could catch fire and explode. But little by little, the fire extended to the remaining two streets and there was nothing left for the enemy to do but surrender or burn. Volkhovsky felt sorry for the poor fellows and ordered an interpreter to propose that they should lay down their arms, promising not only to spare their lives but the right of exchange with Russian prisoners, thus giving them some hope of returning to their families. The firing ceased when the interpreter went forward and called out in Chechan that he wanted to parley. The defenders listened to the proposal, conferred together for some minutes and then an almost naked Chechan, black with smoke, came out and made a short speech followed by a volley of rifle fire from all the loopholes. What he said was to this effect: ‘We want no quarter. The only thing we ask of the Russians is to let our families know that we died as we lived, refusing to surrender to foreign yoke!’

“Orders were now given to fire the houses from all sides. The sun had set and the picture of destruction and ruin was lighted only by the red glow of the flames. The Chechans, firmly resolved to die, now began to sing their death-song in numbers diminished under the fire and smoke. However, death by fire is such horrible agony, as not all had the strength to bear. Suddenly the door of a burning house flew open. On the threshold stood a Chechan, brandishing his sword. He dashed straight at us, only to be shot in his naked breast. The Chechan sprang high into the air, fell, rose again to his feet, stretched himself to his full height and bending slowly forward, fell dead on his native soil. Five minutes later, the scene was repeated, another sprang out, fired his gun and brandishing his sword, broke through two lines of our sharpshooters, to fall bayoneted by a third. Not one Chechan prisoner was taken alive; 72 of them ended their lives in the flames.

“The last of the bloody drama was played out; night covered the gruesome scene and there must have been more than one among us Russians who asked himself in the depths of his conscience, ‘Why must such things be? Is there no room for all of us human beings on this earth without distinction of race or creed? We Russians turned green gardens, flourishing orchards and the happy homes of Chechans into debris and ashes and the seeds of hatred against us will for long afterwards find their expression in the folklore of the area.’

“The results of the Czar’s expedition were the ‘submission’ of 80 villages, the total destruction of 61; the Russian losses were one officer and 16 men killed and 18 officers and 333 men wounded.”

Qādī Mullā now retreated to Dagestān, and with Imām Shāmil’s aid, set to work for the defense of his native Ghimree, for he knew that the end was at hand, and eager for Shahādah, he was determined to fight to the end.

Of the whole number of his men, only two escaped, but one of these was Imām Shāmil, whose amazing strength, agility and swordsmanship saved his life. With a tiger-like leap, he landed behind the line of Russian soldiers about to fire a volley through the raised doorway where he stood, then turning and whirling his sword, he cut down three of them but was bayoneted by the fourth clean through the breast. Even then, he grasped the weapon in one hand, cut down its owner, pulled it out of his own body and escaped into the forest, though in addition to the bayonet wound, he had also suffered from a broken rib and dislocated shoulder. After hiding for three days, he managed to reach his native village and there lay for 25 days between life and death, for the Russian bayonet had passed right through one lung. At last, his father-in-law, Abdul-Azīz, a surgeon, who had also been in hiding, returned and applied to the wound a mixture of wax, tar and butter in equal parts, after which it healed. The people of Dagestān were experienced in surgery, perhaps because of the frequency their men became wounded in combat. They used to operate successfully on all kinds of wounds with the help of the Kinjal, their national weapon. Then they would apply ointment like the one prepared for Imām Shāmil by Abdul-Azīz. The Russians used to call for them when their own surgeons were helpless. It is even said that they used antiseptic measures though they knew nothing about germs.

The [Muslim] army had now taken up a strong position in the village of Ashiltar, but they were driven back by heavy retreat. Major Fuchs then fought his way through the streets, where hand-to-hand fighting, personal bravery, and strength alone were decisive. Wrote Major Fuchs in his diary,

“The Mujāhidīn rushed desperately on our soldiers and died on our bayonets. Especially heart-rending was the scene of slaughter in the houses. No quarter was asked and no prisoners taken. Despite their hopeless position, they continued to do our men a great deal of harm. The most fanatic amongst them were happy if they could destroy even some of the infidels. Against our artillery, they defended themselves man to man with their swords and Kinjals until they died on our bayonets. Some even through themselves against a dozen of our soldiers at a time without any weapon whatever…”

Imām Shāmil’s position was growing desperate. There was now no safety for anyone except deep inside the caves. Water could be brought from the river far below under the fire of Russian soldiers, provisions were bad and scarce, and there was little, if any, fuel to keep warm in the bitter cold of the winter. The air was contaminated by the stench of corpses who had been killed or had died of starvation and disease. Day and night the Russian artillery pounded them from all sides and there was now no hope of relief.

General Grabbe insisted that he would not lift the siege unless Imām Shāmil unconditionally surrendered to them and allowed his 12-year-old son, Jamālud-Dīn, to be taken as hostage. Imām Shāmil had meanwhile lost some of his bravest and most devoted followers. The rocks were covered with the dead, dying and wounded, the survivors encumbered with the care of helpless starving women and children. Realizing that further resistance was suicidal, Imām Shāmil raised the white flag of surrender and sent his son, Jamālud-Dīn as a hostage to the Russians, thus sacrificing his son in order to save his followers and the remainder of his family.

A furious battle followed. Even the women defended themselves unarmed against whole rows of bayonets. 900 prisoners were taken, mostly women, children and old men, and despite their wounds, starvation and exhaustion, even these did not refrain from the most desperate struggles. Some, gathering up their last strength, snatched the bayonets from their guards and attacked them, preferring death to a degrading captivity. The wailing of the children, the groaning of the sick, wounded and dying completed the tragic scene.

On that night, seeing all that was lost, Imām Shāmil, together with one wife and child (another wife and her infant son had perished during the siege), accompanied by a few faithful followers, took refuge in the cliffs. The following night, the little party descended to the riverbank and, constructing a small raft out of a few logs, sent it floating down the river, loaded with dummies to distract the attention of the Russians. Cautiously, they crept along the bank downstream until they came to a ravine. Here, they turned inland and stumbled across more Russians, where another fight took place. Imām Shāmil and his little son, slung across his mother’s back, were wounded, but they escaped as the Russian lieutenant in command was killed. In what sad plight could be imagined, the forlorn group went into hiding. The Russians supposed that would be the end of the power of Imām Shāmil, but within a year, he had become the leader of the entire area, and within three years, he had inflicted a bloody defeat upon his former victors and all northern Dagestān was conquered, every Russian garrison and settlement was destroyed, and the Islamic rule was triumphant.

The fame of his wisdom and piety spread rapidly, and village after village in the area asked him to rule over them, and he accepted, on condition of absolute unquestioning obedience to his commands and he rode from village to village, preaching the Sharī’ah.

Avoiding whenever possible pitched battles with the trained troops of the Czar, Imām Shāmil moved about with great speed. He was to be seen at a particular place only to be found at a great distance the following day. He moved like lightening, destroying the enemy and then disappearing into the forests or mountain heights moments afterwards, speeding some 70 to 80 miles away within hours, while his lieutenants carried out the same tactics to the borders of Dagestān in the East, keeping the enemy on the alert, and wearing them out by the most harassing of all types of guerilla warfare. For decades, Imām Shāmil continued these guerilla tactics, defeating general after general, enjoying the finest professional standing in the Czar’s armies sent against him.

The guerilla fighter must not only be able to endure the most extreme hardships and deprivation of food, water, clothing and shelter, but sickness and wounds must also be borne without much help from doctors or surgeons.

The forces under Imām Shāmil led such a life. They had to face these hardships and privations at all times, and thus developed great stamina.

But gradually, little by little, such lengthy drawn-out conflict wearied those who were weaker in faith. They tried to persuade Imām Shāmil’s mother, an aged woman highly respected for her piety and goodness of heart, and she, being much affected by horrible tales of Russian oppression, decided to intercede for them to beg her son to surrender. That very evening she visited him and returned home, her eyes red with weeping.

Imām Shāmil shut himself up in the village mosque, round which at his command, the Muslims and villagers collected so that they might join him in prayers. Three days and nights the door remained closed and the Mujāhidīn prayed and fasted alongside their Imām. At last, Imām Shāmil appeared before his people, pale, exhausted, with blood-shot eyes as from much weeping. Accompanied by two men, he silently ascended the flat roof of the mosque and at his command, his mother was brought there, wrapped in a white shawl. Led by two Mullās, with slow, uncertain steps she approached her son who for some minutes gazed upon her without speaking, then raising his eyes to heaven, he exclaimed, “O Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon you! Sacred and unchangeable are you commands! Let the just sentence be fulfilled as an example for all believers! It is the Will of Allāh that whoever first agreed to the shameful plea to beg my people to surrender should receive one hundred severe blows, and that person is my own mother!”

Then, at the Imām’s command, the [men] were commanded to execute the punishment. At the fifth blow, the victim fainted and Imām Shāmil, moved beyond endurance, threw himself at his mother’s feet and restrained the hands of the executioners. After a few moments, without a trace of his former emotion, once more he raised his eyes to heaven and in a solemn voice exclaimed, “Lā Ilāha Ilā Allāh, Muhammad Rasūl Allāh! O Dwellers of Paradise, hear my heartfelt prayer and allow me to take upon myself the remaining strokes that were allotted to my poor mother! These blows I accept with joy as a priceless gift.” And with a smile on his lips he took off his red robe, armed two [men] with thick whips, and assuring them that he would kill with his own hand he who dared trifle with the will of Allāh, silently and without betraying the least sign of suffering, he received the remaining 95 blows. Then, resuming his outer garments and coming down from the roof of the house, Imām Shāmil strode into the midst of the awe-struck crowd and asked, “Where are those villains responsible for my mother suffering so shameful a punishment?” The trembling cowards instantly were dragged forth and hurled at his feet, no one doubting their fate. But to their amazement, and that of the silent, breathless crowd, instead of the severest fatal blows all had expected, the Imām told them, “Go back to your people and in reply to their shameful demands to surrender, tell the all you have seen and heard here!”

Imām Shāmil had not forgotten his son, Jamālud-Dīn, who had been treacherously taken from him by the Russians. In order to secure the release of his son, he had tried for years but in vain. Now it so happened that a small party of [men] under Qādī Muhammad raided the country residence of Prince Orbeliani and carried off the whole royal family into captivity. The capture of these distinguished aristocrats aroused grave concern, and negotiations were at once begun for their release. The Emperor Nicholas agreed to return Jamālud-Dīn in exchange. Jamālud-Dīn, now a lieutenant in a Russian regiment, was accompanied by two Russian officers. He crossed the river where he was made to take off his Russian uniform and put on the Dagestānī native striped robes and turban and then met his father, who embraced him warmly.

The fate of Jamālud-Dīn was indeed very sad. Brought up from boyhood in St. Petersburg and recruited into the Russian army, he was now a stranger to his own father and felt like an alien in the land of his birth, totally unable to resume his place among his own people. He had little sympathy for them or his native land and so began to be looked upon with suspicion and dislike. Even Imām Shāmil felt estranged from his son when he found that he had become virtually an [apostate] from Islām and [was] imbued with Russian ideas and [was] so convinced of Russia’s might to [an] extent that led him to council his father to surrender. After a short time, Jamālud-Dīn was sent to live in Karata, the chief village of the community of that name, at the residence of his younger brother, Qādī Muhammad, and a place of great scenic beauty. But neither his beautiful surroundings nor his brother’s loving care could reconcile him to the change in his environment. He grew more and more mentally depressed, fell into a decline, and within three years, he died.

Imām Shāmil’s domestic servants were all prisoners of war, both Muslim and Christian, continuing to serve him voluntarily even after they had been given their liberty. He was very kind to the poor people, servants, slaves, beggars, and prisoners of war. He was convinced that the prayers of the poor and unfortunate were [accepted by Allāh], and whenever setting forth on a campaign, he would call them together, distribute among them food and clothing and beg them to pray for the success of his mission.

Imām Shāmil had six wives in all. One had died and another was killed by Russian bullets, together with an infant son. But he was most attached to Shouanet, an Armenian girl who had been taken captive on a raid in 1840. For him she renounced Christianity and embraced Islām and became very zealous and pious. When her brother, a rich merchant, offered 10,000 roubles ransom for her, Imām Shāmil replied that he would not take a million, and Shouanet would not have left him for as much or more.

The one guest who never failed to be welcomed at the Imām’s table was a very plain black and white cat, the gift of a Russian deserter. For this animal, Imām Shāmil had much affection and he never dined without this devoted friend, nor did he ever begin his own meal until he had prepared hers. The table was small and very low and the cat and her master squatted on the matted floor on opposite sides. During the siege, while Imām Shāmil was out fighting, the cat died. When Imām Shāmil heard that his little favorite was dead, he took it much to heart, saying, “Now things will go bad for me.”

A long period of stagnancy proved demoralizing for the Imām’s followers who, now that the Russians gave them no chance to fight, became disheartened and began to desert his ranks on a large scale and urge surrender. Exactly as the British in India, the Russians promised the people not to interfere with their traditional customs nor persecute them for their religion. …If one considers the heavy odds against which Imām Shāmil led his movement, it seems truly miraculous that it flourished as long as it did. Not only external factors hindered [him] but the internal situation also did not favor him. He not only had to combat the over-whelming numbers of the Czar’s armies and their almost unlimited resources, deprived of any outside support, but also had to deal with internal dissensions and inter-tribal rivalries. It was no easy matter to bring peace, law, and order to a land [that] had known nothing but blood feuds for so many centuries. If the Caucasus had been inhabited by a single tribe, race and language, his task might have been easier. To root out from these people pagan superstitions and customs and enforce the Sharī’ah, Imām Shāmil had to be firm, at times even harsh. Those who had adhered to the pagan customs all their lives considered it burdensome to follow the Sharī’ah. The long decades of continuous fighting had taken their toll. Whole families had perished and entire villages [were] razed to the ground. There was hardly a family where a husband, father or brother had not fallen martyr. For many years, no attention had been paid to the cultivated fields and there had been nobody to look after the orchards and greens. Now the Russians tried to bribe these people who had never known anything else but destitution, poverty and hunger, promising them to help raise their living standards. And exhausted by constant warfare [that] had burdened them beyond their capacity, they acquiesced.

On a frosty morning of August 1859, the Russians launched their final attack against Imām Shāmil and the [Muslims]. As always, the [Muslims] put up the most heroic defense. But before attacking the village itself, General Bartkatinsky tried to negotiate for peace. If the Imām had been alone, he would have preferred to die, but there were his wives and his children and the faithful village folk who had given protection to him when the whole of Dagestān and Chechnya had betrayed him and deserted him and were thirsty for his blood. The Imām had much consideration for the old men, women and children, and when it became clear to him that if the Russians attacked in full battalion strength nobody could survive, he sent two of his [men] to negotiate the terms of surrender.

After having been treated with honor and respect in captivity, Imām Shāmil was at last permitted to proceed to Arabia on Hajj, where, on February 4, 1871, he breathed his last in al-Madīnah, the city of the Prophet.

The “pacification” of the Caucasus was not completed until 1864. This was quickly followed by a mass deportation of nearly a million of the native peoples to Turkey. But due to hunger, disease and the hardships of overcrowded vessels, less than half of them ever reached their destination. The deportation had “cleared” large areas of land in the Northern Caucasus of the natives. These were swiftly taken over and colonized by the Russians, who enjoyed a highly privileged position under Russian law while the indigenous people were persecuted and oppressed by the colonizers. Continual clashes between the Russian settlers and the local peoples continued right down to the Communist Revolution of 1917.

On May 11, 1918 these peoples proclaimed their independence and set up an independent Islamic Republic of the Caucasus, but on March 30, 1920, Lenin ordered the Red Army to crush them and after bitter fighting, the capital Caucasian city was captured, followed by a severe wave of Communist repression [that] only led to renewed resistance lasting 11 months. Lenin ordered the Caucasian Republic to be cut up into many bewildering administrative divisions [that] only served to separate and alienate the various North Caucasian tribes from each other. Also by order of Lenin, the Arabic alphabet was replaced by the Russian Cyrillic, and the Communist Party called for the, “creation of one great Soviet Fatherland bound together by the Russian language and a single Russian culture.”

The terrible Purges of 1936-1937 against “bourgeois nationalism” brought wholesale arrests and religious persecution became unendurable. Mosques and churches alike were closed down and then turned into clubs and storehouses. 25,000 important religious personalities were arrested and then deported to slave-labor camps in Siberia. During the forced collectivation of agriculture, the North Caucasus suffered the same tragedy as the Ukraine and famine, mass arrests and executions became the order of the day. Much of the population failed to survive these disasters.

The survivors hated Stalin and the entire Soviet regime so bitterly that they were ready to welcome anybody who promised to liberate them. Though Hitler’s tyranny was as terrible as Stalin’s, they did not know this, and the mass anti-communist uprisings that seized the Northern Caucasus during World War II greatly helped the Nazi invasion of Russia.

As soon as Russia triumphed over Germany in 1945, a veritable reign of terror gripped the land. Stalin ordered the arrest of every man, woman and child among the Chechans, Ingus, Balkars and Karachai- a total of more than a half-million. Those who were not executed on the spot were driven into freight cars and deported to slave-labor camps in Siberia. For all practical purposes, these four peoples had ceased to exist.

In 1957, Khrushchev, as part of his denouncement of Stalin, accused the dictator of being, “the sole mad instigator of this monstrous genocide” and dedicated himself to the “rehabilitation” of those four North Caucasian peoples. However, only a few returned from exile. Those who had witnessed the deportations confessed that, “they had died like flies in Siberia.” Those few who survived to return after Khrushchev’s “rehabilitation,” could not return to their native villages since all of these had long been destroyed and colonized by Russians. Thus, they shared the same fate as did the Palestinian Arabs at the hands of the Israelis. Typical of the degradation of indigenous peoples under white colonialism everywhere, only a few survivors are left today, now living in utter destitution in shanty-towns as a never-failing source of cheap, menial, unskilled labor for Russian-owned factories and collective farms.

Thus did Imām Shāmil and his Mujhiādīn defy this imperial might for many decades, the longest, costliest, bloodiest struggle in Russian history prior to World War II.

A famous Russian general, Valeenov, has said,

“The armies we lost and our best men who perished in those battles could have gained for us all the lands between Turkey and Japan…”

This policy of expansionism, imperialism and colonialism continued unchanged under Soviet Communist regimes.

The most conspicuous aspect of Soviet foreign policy today is that of wooing the Arabs (especially of the Palestinians) and other Muslim peoples, loudly proclaiming Socialist support for all freedom struggles in the so-called “Third World” against imperialism, while at the same time persecuting without mercy Muslims within the boundaries of the U.S.S.R. and practicing against them the most aggressive form of white colonial domination. A careful study of the life of Imām Shāmil will enable us to transcend misleading propaganda and reveal this hypocrisy to everyone in all its naked ugliness.

Written by Mariam Jamīlah, 1976

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