Derived from the name of the 18th-century Arab Islamic reformer Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, Wahhabism (vakhabizm) is used as a generic term by the Russian government to describe radical Islamists. In the wake of the Soviet-Afghan War, some returning veterans of Muslim descent brought back the radical ideals of the Afghan mujahideen. In the early 1990s, Saudi and Egyptian missionaries further spread an austere interpretation of Islam that promotes the use of sharia (Islamic law) and is antithetical to Christianity and syncretic practices common among Muslims of the North Caucasus and the Volga-Ural region.
   In the wake of the first Chechen War, radical Islamism gained ground among impoverished Chechens, Ingush, and Dagestanis, prompting fears of wider conflict between Russia’s Orthodox populations and Caucasian Muslims (the doctrine had only limited appeal in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan). By the late 1990s, Shamil Basayev’s increasingly deadly attacks on civilians and his support for the establishment of a caliphate in the North Caucasus made Wahhabism one of the greatest threats to the security and territorial integrity of Russia. In an effort to defuse this threat, Moscow and regional authorities began a crackdown on Muslim organizations that espoused Wahhabism or that were supported from abroad. Within the Russian ummah or Muslim community, Wahhabism is controversial, with some clerics decrying the influence of Saudi, Pakistani, and other foreign religious authorities, while Moscow’s chief mufti, Ravil Gaynutdin, has expressed more openness toward such interpretations of Islam. In April 2009, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov declared that both terrorism and Wahhabism had been “defeated” in his republic.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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