A video by a member of Sayfullah Shishani’s jamaat in Aleppo has been posted on social media, addressing Chechens in Europe and asking them to send money to the faction. Continue reading
Every so often, a website linked with one of the Chechen jamaats in Syria writes a detailed history of a member who was killed. Recently, Khilafa, the media outlet of the Chechen jamaat in the Syrian Ansar a-Sham brigade in Latakia, has published a story about a fighter named Zayd, explaining how he came to Syria from Chechnya.
The piece is interesting in the way it is framed and in its narratives. It includes a source text, a “letter from Zayd”, a podcast in Chechen made by a young Chechen jihadi who serves as an example to Chechen youth who had previously been confused about Islam, brainwashed — the author implies — by Sufism in Chechnya.
It is framed as a story-within-a story, a la 1001 Nights, with our storyteller describing how he came across Zayd’s podcast, then including a translation of the podcast with Zayd’s story, and finally the storyteller talks about Zayd’s life in Syria.
The piece offers some insights into how Chechen jihadis construct their rationale for fighting, and about their preoccupations and concepts of Islam in Chechnya and beyond, as well as constructions of community within Syria, and the role played by storytelling and mythologizing.
What is particularly of note is how the writer is contemptuous of Chechen tradition, the adat (local customs not derived from Islam), and Sufism, the historically dominant form of Islam in Chechyna. Sufism was driven underground during Soviet times, but in recent years the Kadyrov government has pushed for a Sufi revival, in part a push to set moderate Islam against more radical “Wahhabi” forms adopted by the insurgents.
Ironically, Chechen rebels in the early 1990s drew on Sufi traditions such as the zikr ritual, to gain strength in their fight against Russian troops. Eventually, not least because of the involvement of foreign fighters in the Chechen conflict, Sufism was pushed out in favor of radical Islam.
Parts of the essay are translated below.
Disclaimer: The first part was originally in Russian, the second part was translated into Russian from Chechen and appears to have enjoyed some happy adventures on the way, or the original writer was semi-literate — or this is a stylistic device deliberately used to give Zayd a unique voice in the middle part of the story. I’ve preserved that in the translation.
Many Muslims come to the Jihad in Sham, from all over the Islamic lands, from different tribes, races and ages, but mostly, of course, [it is] dominated by youth. In our opinion, the stories of some of the Mujahideen are amazing and can serve as an example and teaching to others. If it pleases Allah.
I learned the story of Zayd from a young Mujahid, as we sat and talked over tea. My young companion began jihad in Latakia, then moved here to Aleppo, and managed to take part in the main battles of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar.
I wondered how he was able to go to the jihad. After all, everywhere in Chechnya and in school and at home, and in the mosques, there is rabid anti-Islamic propaganda. Religion is presented as a mishmash of Sufi tales and local adats [local customs not derived from Islam]. And the young men at every turn especially warned against leaving the mountains.
He does not deny until a certain time his head was confused about religion. But in high school, he began listening to audio lectures by Muhammad Argunskiy [Magomed Guluev, http://vk.com/club6422898] Said Buryatskiy [https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Саид_Бурятский] and others. Said’s lectures he could listen to over and over. Through these lectures, there appeared a clear idea of religion, the meaning of life, about the path on which we must tread.
“But,” adds my young companion, “the immediate cause of my Hijra [immigration to Syria], was Zayd’s letter. After listening to this letter, I felt an almost physical push at my back, “Go, go wage jihad, how long can you sit and wait?”.
“Zayd’s letter? Which letter?”
“Yes, it’s an audio recording popular among the youth. Zayd’s letter in Chechen was addressed to the brethren who were in jail. It was addressed only to them, as aman, but somehow leaked to the Internet.”
I’m a little embarrassed that I do not know about such a popular letter. I ask where I can get the recording. I didn’t have to go far, my young friend had it on his phone.
I listened to it and I can say it did not leave me indifferent. The author narratives in simple, unsophisticated language, avoids naming not only names, but also the names of the villages and towns in which he was. He does not even mention the trucks, which he moved around in. It’s the custom of a Mujahid working on the plain.
I considered it my duty to translate the letter into Russian.
During the translation, I tried to keep the spirit and meaning of the record. Allah forgive me if I’ve misunderstood something and not conveyed it.
The story of Zayd
To my brothers in captivity. I want to tell you that I love you for the sake of Allah. I miss you and worry about you. I want to relate a story that happened to me.
I tell it to you, maybe it will benefit you if Allah so wishes.
On that day after morning prayers in the mosque, I went home, did not go to sleep and wake up. I hear a noise …. I go out on the street, it turned out to be the enemies of Allah had jumped into the neighbor’s house. I asked what had happened, … they said, someone phoned.
At that time I didn’t connect that with myself. I think, they came for someone, they’re not come after me. I went into the house, began calling my guys from the black phone. But I can’t get through to no one, through, they’re all disconnected. One call got through, but then broke off.
I don’t get what’s up, I’m seized by worry. Until now, these phones were not disconnected. Finally I got through to a friend, I ask about names, he said that one’s been taken away that’s for sure. Only then I realized that we’ve been burned.
Then I wasted no time, I go out of the house, and with that this journey started.
On the street …. they were standing. I passed between them and Allah made it so that they did not pay attention to me. As soon as I walked away from this place, they already broke into our house.
That day I was waiting it out in a vacant building. Then I sent a friend to learn about the fate of the others, he said that all had been captured. Now there was no longer any doubt that we had been burned. I think it was Saturday 17 November.
That day I spent in that building, praying. It was a difficult position, whatever you say. Especially depressing was that I had no weapon. It was hidden in a place, but it made no sense to go there, the place where the cache was is certainly guarded.
So, I still stay put in the same place, and news reaches me that my guys have been taken away, that if I don’t show up, then they’ll be killed, the house burned.
But this was expected, because when choosing this path, one assumes such an outcome.
Iblis tried to tempt me over to the other side. Here they’re all caught, you’re the only one left out in the wild, what do the comrades think about you? And I started thinking that you are upset that I am still out here. Here you are left alone, Satan tempts me, and what will you do?
Time passed, and then after dark, a friend showed up, and we had begun to discuss the situation. He reiterated the old news that all the household was arrested and they threatened to kill them if I did not give myself up. My friend considers this way and that and in the end concluded that I’ve no choice but to surrender ….
(Zayd prays a bit, decides to give himself up, meets a friend who advises against it, and holes up in the village.)
And in this way, I spent a month on the street. But I had to change something. It was not safe to stay like this… I had to get out of Chechnya.
And how to get out, how to find the way? I have no papers. But no, there is one document, not in my name and that I, frankly, do not want to show anyone.
How to go? Train, bus, I immediately rejected these, too many brothers had been arrested on these modes of transport. And I walked along the road. Climbing one hill, I looked back, beneath me lay my territory, laid out like the palm of my hand.
No one wants to leave their homeland. Sadness engulfed my heart. Here I was born and here I was raised, here were my brothers, my comrades in the struggle, and I did not know whether I was destined to return. But the grief recedes, when I think what turned out, that was a kind of good that I was doing by emigrating in the way of Allah.
(As he leaves Chechnya, Zayd recalls how Mohammad left Mecca. He sets out, and talks again about how he has no papers so he can’t stay in a hotel, and how it is winter, and snow is falling. Someone rescues him and takes him home. He decides there is no other way other than jihad, so he flies to Syria, after Allah helps him get a false passport.)
And there are no obstacles to anything. I need documents. Documents are made for me and sent.
Once I received the documents, I fly to another country by plane. I sat on a plane for the first time in my life. As I fly, I thought, how is it that those infidels, who are constantly flying these aircraft do not believe in Allah?
I flew on a plane for about two hours. We took off at dusk and during the flight, we were constantly catching up with this sunset. Two hours of sunset ….
Upon arrival, I was greeted by the brothers. And after a while, after a visit with them, by the grace of Allah, they helped me get to the place of jihad.
Here I have been for two months. Many brothers have become martyrs here, a lot I have seen here by the will of Allah.
(But that’s not all. The translator of the statement asks his young friend what happened to Zayd in Syria:)
My young friend says:
“When I got to Syria, I immediately wound up in Latakia. There were many foreign fighters from the Caucasus. One day we were sitting and talking on various topics, and I told them about the letter and begin to translate it. The Mujahideen listen to me and smile, in a strange way. Then they point to a mujahid and say, “Here he is, your Zayd, sitting in front of you.”
I was seized with astonishment and joy – in front of me sat Zayd, the author of this letter, alive and well.
We became friends, I was often asked about the details of his story. Most of the trials he suffered, especially the moral ones, he did not mention. It would have filled a small book.
A month ago, I found out from the brothers that he had been killed. He went to help the brothers who were attacked and outnumbered by the Nusayris [Assad’s forces]. He got there in time, knocked out a bunch of infidels, took the hill. Two people were killed in battle. One of them was Zayd.