I’m working on something related to Muslim Shishani so as part of my preparation I typed out his interview with the Nohchicho website in English as I read it, & thought I’d post it here for non-Russian speakers. [I actually thought I had posted this about 10 days ago or more but then realized I forgot to hit Publish. It’s been an insanely busy month and I didn’t notice. Sorry!]
On February 5, the independent Chechen site Nohchicho published an interview with Muslim Shishani:
Muslim society is looking on with alarm at the situation in Syria, and wants to know what’s really going on there. You are known outside of Syria not only as a military commander but as an impartial observer, who takes an impartial view on what is happening. How would you comment on the current situation in Syria?
First I want to thank you for the confidence/trust you have placed in me. In answer to your question, I will say that the situation in Syria is not the best right now, and it is not pleasant to comment from this position. But it would not be right to conceal our shortcomings from the Muslims of the world and to only comment on what is good. Let it at least be an example for those who like to reflect, and they will not allow the same to happen. After all because of these mistakes we have not yet been able to raise the ummah out of degradation.
The situation in Syria, after the fall of Aleppo, has reached a critical level. Because of disunity and a lack of organization, we were not able to help the people of Aleppo. This revealed a weakness of the mujahideen at all levels and that ordinary people should not rely on us until we change this position. Moreover, these days it is very easy for the infidels to make fitna between the groups, by inviting some of them to Astana “for talks” and for this reason there have already been skirmishes between groups. But thank God everything has quieted down now.
In your various annoucements you said that the basic problem of the rebels is a lack of unity and a single nizam. Have the rebels been able to resolve this issue and if so to what extent?
Alhamdullilah, today we have already moved on from this dead end and the groups have started to unite, although they are split into two fronts, but we hope that these two fronts will find a shared language. The main thing is that the local ANsars unite, and we the mujahirs are always with them.
How much has Russia’s interference complicated the situation on the fronts of the war?
Russia’s interference has once again shown us that we can’t use the paths we have previously taken to stand against a serious enemy. That we need to stand and think about our position. And to create a correct strategy and tactics.
Why have the rebel groups not managed to hold east Aleppo?
Again the reason is our disunity and a lack of a united strategy and tactics. When the enemy is serious and strong one needs to split up and attack from various sides against his weak spots. That’s what even predators do when they meet a strong victim. When they split up they first drive the prey into a trap and then finish it. But with us it is the opposite, the enemy first sets out his traps for us and then lures us there.
We rush to this bait in droves, each trying to get ahead of the other, and the result, as we see, is obvious. And if we are preparing military operations, we announce this in advance to the whole world as if we are going to fight against Indians, who have only tomahawks and arrows. The enemy, who has everything it wants, can easily arrange to meet us.
When everyone rushed to liberate Aleppo, we gathered all our forces and decided to ease the situation by starting operations in Latakia. For this we had everything prepared, but we needed ammunition, and no assistance came to us. But we could not find anyone to help us, even though we turned to everyone who could have supported us in this. Later, we came to the aid of those who were working in the direction of Hama and alhamdulillah, with the help of Allah we managed to capture a vast territory, and we moved on, but then a fitna started. Ahrar al Sham and Jund al-Aksa, as you probably already know, started to fight among themselves, and the enemy took advantage of this moment and took back all the territories that it had previously lost.
What is the current situation with the civilians in Aleppo? With those who were evacuated from the town and those who stayed behind.
Thank God, everyone was evacuated from Aleppo and they are slowing coming to and building their lives. Help is also coming, from Turkey and other places.
How would you comment on operation Euphrates Shield, and in general about the role of Turkey in recent events?
I think that Turkey has gotten disappointed with those jamaats in Syria that it previously assisted and which it counted on, and having understood that they can’t change the situation there, they’ve decided that they’re going to defend their interests themselves. And that was good for anyone apart from the residents of Aleppo, since as a result many groups left Aleppo and went to help the Turks.
How would you assess the truce between the Assadis and the rebels, which was concluded via Russia and Turkey?
During the assault on Aleppo the enemy suffered heavy losses and used up most of its forces and resources. For that reason, it needs time to recover. Otherwise, they would never have made any concessions.
As a Chechen commander, how do you view the current state of the Chechen people?
As elsewhere, because of mistakes by the Mujahideen, our people are experiencing the greatest humiliation in their history. Chechnya today is a stage set for a play in which people have to play a role that humiliates their pride and dignity. In this way, by undermining the foundations of our culture, the enemy wants to turn us into a kind of Mankurt*. But I have no doubt that the enemies of Allah will not achieve this! How many times in our history have they done the same to us, tried to destroy us, our faith, our traditions. But we rose from the dead, revived our traditions and opposed them even more strongly with the help of Allah. And today there are those who will preserve and give to the future generation everything that our ancestors handed down to us. We will never accept this slavery, and as soon as Allah gives us the slightest chance to escape this situation, we will rush at them like lions and fight until the last until we are liberated from them by the will of Allah.
How much do you keep track of Chechen political life, and do you consider a more active participation in it?
A worthy son of his people, especially a Muslim, cannot but care about his people. I’m aware of what’s happening there. And I hope that Allah will give us the opportunity to take part in strengthening Islam in our land, by which not only our people, but all Kavkazty (North Caucasians) will be free. For this we will do everything possible, and we will not spare our lives.
Not so long ago, we marked the 22 anniversary of the start of the First War in Chechnya, in connection with which there were memorial events in European countries. Do you support such political methods of struggle?
Shari’a hukm [rulings] in this matter should be made by scholars, but insofar as I can judge for myself, I see a great khair [good] in this. We can’t forget what our enemies have done to us, and we must remind our children of it. And let the whole world know that we will not put up with the current state of affairs.
What would your advice be to today’s Chechen youth?
Our enemies know that we will never accept this humiliation, we will not become slaves, and they want to weaken us, by killing as many of our youth as possible so that we won’t be able to regain our strength for a long time. For that reason, they have created all the conditions in order that those young people who won’t put up with it would reveal themselves. And today we hear how our heroes are throwing themselves at the enemy, with bare hands, so to speak, preferring death to humiliation and dying as martyrs, inshallah.
I understand how difficult it is to put up with everything that is going on there. Inshallah, the time will come when we can throw off this shameful scum, which is completing the program started by the infidels to destroy our people, and we will establish order there inshallah. But before that, I would ask our brothers to show a little patience. After all, we won’t change anything with such little skirmishes. You must be ready for big deeds. Today, everything changes so quickly in this world that you will not have to wait too long to set your forces in the right direction. And do not listen to those Jahilis who emerge from jihad and scream that you need to throw yourself at the infidels with knives and bare hands.**
Recently, there have been more and more calls for various Chechen groups to abandon their disagreements and unite. This, in particular, is what the late general Isa Munaev called for. To what extent do you think this is possible?
This is a good question, and it is not only our problem – it is the problem of the entire Muslim ummah. And the causes of disunity are the same everywhere. And if we can understand these reasons, we can understand the way to solve this problem. Although this is a very important issue that needs a detailed explanation, I will try to be as brief as possible.
The basics are:
1. If you want to conquer, break or use your enemy, then first you have to know it well, study it and then plan your actions.
2. A good policy and a good strategy is when you get the upper hand over your enemy with minimal effort.
The infidels have studied us so well that they know us better than ourselves. Therefore, by using our weak points, they were easily able to divide us and they have sown such enmity between us that we, forgetting the warnings of Allah, forgetting the numerous hadiths of the Prophet, went to war with each other, calling each other apostates and other names. So, after numerous victims we are weakened, and the infidels have easily gained the upper hand.
I want to talk about one of the infidels’ main tricks:
The infidels divide us into three categories:
The first category is our scholars who bring us true Islam, and, according to Allah’s words, this will continue until the day of judgment.
The second category are people with experience who have lived their lives and learned the tricks of the infidels, how they divide the Muslims, how they weaken us and then break us up. These are the people who have learned the tactics and strategy of the infidels against us.
And thirdly, “strength” — that is our youth, who bear all the hardships of jihad.
In various periods of history, with the help of Allah, Islam always took the upper hand and the Muslims were victorious when these three categories were united. The infidels understood this by using their centuries-old experience, and they were able to divide us, sowing fitna among our scholars, experienced people and youth via the munafiks and apostates, and thereby separated Strength from Knowledge and Experience. When Strength was left on its own, without Experience and Knowledge, they could easily break us and use us against each other. That’s why today we see a lot of jamaats that are divided and which work in different directions. Some take too soft a position, others are too rigid, and they cannot unite. But it is impossible to find the golden mean without Knowledge and Experience. Without having the right strategy and tactics, without a competent policy, we all try to solve things with brute force. And so we have so many victims without success. It’s time for us to think again. After all, because of our mistakes, because of the mistakes of the youth, the whole Ummah is suffering!
When we tell the youth that they need to unite with scholars, we immediately get the response: with which scholars? When we give a name, they begin to list all of his shortcomings, and in the main these accusations are without any basis. There are questions that are used against them for good reason, but if we consider these, we understand that they are issues outside their competence. If we start asking a doctor for advice on military matters, or a locksmith about medical matters, then of course they will make mistakes. And the mistakes of our scholars are usually around politics.
Alhamdulillah, in Syria there are a lot of great scholars who have a sea of knowledge, and when you ask them a question of any difficulty, they explain it so beautifully and distinctly, giving ayats, hadith and the history of the Companions, that there is no doubt. But I also noticed that these scholars are very far removed from what is actually happening here. They don’t participate in the activities of the jamaats, even when they are part of them. They are not aware of the subtleties of the jamaats’ programs, they mainly deal with questions of nikah [marriage], divorce and such matters. The main issues of the jamaat get solved by the students of these scholars. [The scholars] get remembered only when a jamaat needs a fatwa to legitimize its questionable actions.
The situation gets presented like this: Sheikh, I’m in the desert, I didn’t eat a thing for many days. There are pigs not far from here, and if I don’t eat their meat, then I’m going to die. What should I do? And of course the Sheikh gives an affirmative answer. And then they ask that he announce it publicly so that others don’t reproach them, and then they start using this fatwa even when they just get hungry. And the whole problem is that the Sheikh isn’t up to speed with what is really going on.
Having gotten to know the scholars and the situation, I realized one thing: if you want to know the truth, then ask the scholars the scope of the Sharia in the particular case, where Allah’s pleasure is, and stick to it as far as possible within your situation. And a scholar’s fatwa basically depends on how you present your situation to him. It depends on your conscience.
When we ask Sharia questions to a fighter, military questions to politicians, and political questions to Sharia experts, we will always run into mistakes. But if we learn to ask questions to specialists in their relevant fields, and if these experts don’t get into issues outside their competence, then it’s going to be easier for us to reach the truth.
We need to learn how to respect our scholars and elders, who have accumulated considerable experience, and listen to their opinions. After all, the scholars are the heirs of the Prophet and there is a lot said about respect for elders in the hadith. Why do we say that we are afraid of Allah, but consciously reject what pleases Him? Why do we say that we love the Prophet and at the same time we don’t accept his instructions? Think about it, brothers! If we correct our religion, we can correct our situation; and if not, the devil will continue to feed us hopes, so in the end we will get humiliated in this life and in the future. May Allah protect us from this!
And in conclusion, may Allah forgive us our sins, have mercy on us, give us knowledge that will help us correct our religion and lives, and also help to protect ourselves from the machinations of the devil. And may Allah grant us leaders from among the most worthy of us, and unite us all under them, and may Allah grant us the victory of his religion!
*This is a reference to a Kyrgyz legend, popularized by its use in a 1980 Soviet novel by Chingiz Aitmatov( The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years) and then again in a 1990 Soviet film. The mankurts were prisoners of war who were turned into slaves by having their heads wrapped in camel skin, which tightened when it dried, erasing their memories. The term entered into popular use in the former USSR to refer to a people that had become estranged from its own national roots by Russification.
** This is a reference to Abu Jihad (who is referred to by the non-IS North Caucasian groups as “Abu Jahili”), who has made a number of fiery audio addresses calling on North Caucasians to attack “infidels” in their home countries. These have caused even more annoyance among the non-IS groups. (Actually they even pissed off some IS supporters as well, judging from responses in pro-IS Telegram chats!)