Come with us into the heart of Chechnya . . .
Discover why Islam has such a strong foothold in the Caucasus.
On any given Friday in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, a Russian Republic in the troubled Caucasus region, the call to prayer that resounds throughout the city draws thousands of men through the doors of the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque, which they call, “The heart of Chechnya.”
Islam hasn’t always held the hearts of Chechens. Although introduced into the Caucasus region as early as the eighth century by Muslim traders working in port cities along the Caspian Sea, the faith didn’t spread into the mountainous region until centuries later.
In the nineteenth century, when the Russian Empire threatened to invade the Caucasus, the tribes living in the region united to defend their homeland. They turned to the Ottoman Empire for help fighting Russian armies. Alliance with the Ottoman Turks encouraged them to embrace Islam. In the decades following the war, Islam became the unifying bond among Caucasian tribes like the Chechen, Circassian, Karachai, Balkar, and Dagestani, who resisted Russian control.
Chechens, in particular, rallied around Islam in order to build a united front against Russia. In 1944, Stalin attempted to shatter their tight tribal bonds by deporting thousands of Chechens to other Soviet republics. Nearly a quarter of those deported died during the harrowing journey.
Many Chechens have suffered under Russian control. Over the years some have been involved in violent insurrections against Russia by lashing out in acts of terror. The total destruction of Grozny in 1999 was a public display of Russian power that crushed Caucasian hopes of freedom and embittered many Chechens. In 2003, the United Nations called Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth.”
In 2003, the United Nations called Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth.”
The reconstruction and restoration of Grozny, which began in 2006, was crowned by the opening of the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque in 2008. The mosque may appear to be a symbol of unity around a common faith, yet across the Caucasus, Islamic factions ranging from progressive to ultraconservative are often in conflict with one another.
Peoples of the Caucasus are at a crossroads in which ancient tradition, varied forms of Islam, and modern ideas all clamor for their attention. Struggles between Islamic extremists and Russian authorities create tension and uncertainty. Most Chechens desire peace, freedom, and a normal life for their families.
The Caucasus are an extreme environment for gospel proclamation. Most of the peoples of the Caucasus have little or no access to the gospel. The only churches in the area are Russian. Most residents don’t know any Christian believers from their own people group, and the Scriptures have yet to be translated into many Caucasian languages. It’s extremely difficult for Christians from the West to live in the region and share the gospel. Ask the Lord to draw believers from around the world together in unity to reach the unreached peoples of the Caucasus.
The peoples of the Caucasus have little or no access to the gospel.
The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “The Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (1 Cor. 3:17). The answer to the longing for peace and freedom in the Caucasus lies in the work of the Spirit turning hearts to the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Commit to Pray for the Caucasus
- Pray that the Spirit of the Lord will move in the Caucasus.
- Pray that God will raise up men and women who will testify to the surpassing greatness of God and the freedom found in knowing and following Jesus Christ.
To join the chorus of prayers for the people of the Caucasus, download the prayer guide, “Let the Mountains Sing.”
Eliza Thomas is a writer for IMB. She lives with her family in Central Asia.
Johnny Alexander captured the photos for this gallery. He also produces media for IMB and lives with his family in Central Asia.