Monday, 31 December 2012
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following article is about Imam 'Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.), a renowned Khurasani scholar from Qadhi ‘Iyadh’s (r.a.) Tardzib al-Madarik as translated by Shaykha Aisha Bewley.
He was the client of the Banu Tamim, then the Banu Hanifah. His kunya was Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman. He listened to Imam ibn Abi Layla (r.a.), Imam Hisham ibn ‘Urwah (r.a.), Imam al-A’amash (r.a.), Imam Sulayman at-Tamimi (r.a.), Imam Humayd at-Ta’wil (r.a.), Imam Yahya ibn Sa’id (r.a.), Shaykh ibn ‘Awn (r.a.), Imam Musa ibn ‘Uqbah (r.a.), the two Sufyans: Imam al-Awza’i (r.a.) and Imam ibn Abi Dzib (r.a.), Imam Malik (r.a.), Imam Ma’mar (r.a.), Imam Shu’ba’ (r.a.), and Imam Haywa ibn Shurayh (r.a.), and he studied with Imam Abu ‘Amr ibn al-A’ala' (r.a.), Imam al-Layts (r.a.) and others. Imam ibn Mahdi (r.a.), Imam ‘Abd ar-Razzaq (r.a.), Imam Yahya ibn al-Qaththan (r.a.), Imam ibn Wahb (r.a.) and others related from him.
Imam ibn Wahb (r.a.) said, “ibn al-Mubarak listened to all our shuyukh except ‘Amr ibn al-Harits.”
Imam ash-Shirazi (r.a.) said, “He learned fiqh with Malik and ats-Tsawri, and he was the first of Abu Hanifah’s companions. Then, he left him and abandoned his madzhab.”
Imam ibn Waddah (r.a.) said, “In the end, he avoided mentioning Abu Hanifah in his books, and he did not read his work to people.”
Shaykh Abu Ishaq al-Fazzari (r.a.) said, “ibn al-Mubarak was the Imam of the Muslims.” Shaykh al-Fazzari Abu Ishaq al-Fazzari used to sit in front of him and ask him questions.
Imam ibn Mahdi (r.a.) said, “I met four fuqaha’: Malik, Shu’ba’, Sufyan and ibn al-Mubarak. I did not see anyone with better counsel for the community than ibn al-Mubarak. If ibn al-Mubarak did not acknowledge a hadits, we would not acknowledge it.” One of the narrations had ‘Hammad’ in place of ‘Shu’ba’. When Shaykh ibn Mahdi (r.a.) was asked which of them was better between Imam al-Mubarak (r.a.) him and Imam ats-Tsawri (r.a.), he said, “ibn al-Mubarak.”
He was asked, “And if the people disagree with you?”
He replied, “The people have not made any tests. I have not seen the like of ibn al-Mubarak.” He said, “ibn al-Mubarak related to us and he was unique.”
When Imam Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (r.a.) was told that Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) had passed away, he said, “May Allah have Mercy on him. He was a man of fiqh, knowledge, worship, asceticism, and generosity. He was courageous and a poet.” He also said, “No one has come to us like ibn al-Mubarak and ibn Abi Ziyadah.”
Imam Muhammad ibn al-Mu’tamir (r.a.) said, “When ats-Tsawri passed away, I asked my father, ‘Who is the faqih of the Arabs?’ He replied, ‘ibn al-Mubarak.’”
Imam al-Awza’i (r.a.) said to Shaykh Abu ‘Utsman al-Kalbi (r.a.) about him, “If I had seen him, I would have been delighted.”
Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.) said, “There was not known in the time of ibn al-Mubarak, anyone more glorious or excellent than him nor anyone who had more virtues than he possessed.”
Imam Salam ibn Muth’i (r.a.) said, “No one like him came in the east afterwards. I prefer ibn al-Mubarak to ats-Tsawri.”
Imam ibn Wadhdhah (r.a.) said, “I listened to a group of the people of knowledge relate, ‘Knowledge, taqwa, ahadits, recognition of the men, poetry, generosity, worship and scrupulousness were combined in ibn al-Mubarak.’”
Qadhi Abu al-Fadhl (r.a.) said that Imam as-Sadafi (r.a.) mentioned, “When ibn al-Mubarak came of age, his father sent him 50,000 to use for commerce. He sought after knowledge until he had spent the money. When it was gone, his father met him and said, ‘What have you bought?’
He brought out his books for him and said, ‘This is my trade.’
His father went into the house and gave him 30,000 darahim more and said, ‘Take this and follow your trade with them,’ and he spent them.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) said, “I studied adab for thirty years and I studied knowledge for twenty years.”
Imam ibn Hanbal (r.a.) said, “In the time of ibn al-Mubarak, there was no one who sought after knowledge more than him. He went to the Yemen, Egypt, Syria, the Hijaz, Basra and Kufa, and whoever related knowledge and was worthy of it. He wrote from young men and old men. He omitted what was rare. He gave ahadits from books.”
Imam ibn Wadhdhah (r.a.) said, “ibn al-Mubarak related about 25,000 ahadits. He was asked, ‘Up until when did you study knowledge?’
He said, ‘I hope that you will find me doing that until I die.’”
Imam Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laytsi (r.a.) said, “A man with good deportment came one day to Malik. I used to see Malik say to him, ‘Come here.’ Then he made room for him in his assembly, and I did not see Malik make room for anyone else. He sat ibn al-Mubarak near him. Sometimes Malik was asked about a question and he answered it. Then he would lean over to the man and say to him, ‘What do your companions say about it?’ The man would reply softly so we could not hear or understand. I saw him do that for some days, and I admired the adab of the man. I did not see him ask about anything until he departed. He was content with what he heard and Malik told us, ‘This is ibn al-Mubarak, the faqih of Khurasan.’”
One day, Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) prayed at the side of Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.). Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) began to lift his hands in each takbir. Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) asked him, ‘Do you want to fly?’
He replied, ‘If I had wanted to, I would have flown in the first one.’”
He said, “The ascetic is the one who is not happy when he gets this world and is not sad if he lacks it.”
Shaykh ibn Shahin (r.a.) said, “ibn al-Mubarak was with Hammad ibn Zayd and greeted him. The people of ahadits went to Hammad to ask ibn al-Mubarak to give them ahadits. ibn al-Mubarak said, ‘Glory be to Allah! Shall I give ahadits while you are present?’
He said, ‘Abu Isma’il Hammad ibn Zayd related to us,’ and did not give any ahadits except from him.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) used to say, “The beginning of knowledge is the intention, then listening, then understanding, then action, then preservation, and then spreading it.”
It was said, “He went on hajj one year and raiding the next year. Whenever he came to Madina, he said to its shuyukh among the people of knowledge and decrease, ‘Whoever wants to go on hajj, come out with me. Their provision is enough for them.’ He did the same when he went on raids.”
al-Fasawi, the worshipper said, “I was with ibn al-Mubarak raiding on a cold, rainy night. He wept and I asked, ‘Are you weeping for the like of this?’
He replied, ‘I am weeping for the previous nights which did not have the like of this hardship so that we could be rewarded for them.’”
Imam ibn al-Musayyab (r.a.) said, “ibn al-Mubarak sent 70,000 darahim to Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash and said, ‘Use it to stop the lack of censure of you.’”
Imam Nu’aym ibn Hammad (r.a.) said, “ibn al-Mubarak used to stay in his house a lot. He was asked, ‘Are you isolating yourself?’
He replied, ‘How can I isolate myself when I am with the Prophet (s.a.w.) and his companions?’”
He related that Iblis came to Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) when he was doing wudhu’ and said, “You did not wipe.”
He replied, “I did wipe.”
Iblis insisted, “You did not wipe.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) said, “You are a claimant, so present your proof.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) said to one of his companions, “Do not neglect a day which Allah has Mentioned in 63 places in His Book.”
A man said to Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.), “Yesterday, I read the entire Qur’an in a single rak'ah.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) replied, “But I know a man who did not cease to recite at-Takatsur yesterday until the swubh prayer. He could not get past it.”
He and another man mentioned that Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) was asked about the beginning of his quest for knowledge. He said, “I was a young man who drank wine, loved wealth and rejoiced in those foul things. I invited some brothers of mine to a garden when the apples and other fruits were ripe, and we ate and drank until we were overcome by drunkenness and sleep. I woke up at the end of the period before dawn. I took up the lute which I played and composed:
“Is it not time that you had mercy on us
And defied the critics and censors?”
Then I could not make it rhyme as I wished. When I repeated it to it, the lute spoke to me as a man speaks:
Has not the time arrived for the believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah ... (Surah al-Hadid:16)
I said, ‘Yes, Lord.’ I broke the lute and spilled out the wine, and repentance came by Allah’s Favour with its realities, and I turned to knowledge and worship.”
Imam Nu’aym ibn Hammad (r.a.) also related that Imam ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) entered Kufa when he was intending to go on the hajj. There was a woman sitting on a rubbish-heap plucking a duck. It occurred to him that it was carrion. He stopped on his mule and said to her, “Woman! Is this duck carrion or sacrificed?”
She replied, “Carrion.”
He said, “Then why are you plucking it?”
She said, “So that my family and I can eat it.”
He said, “Woman! Allah Almighty has Forbidden you carrion while you are in a land like this!”
She said, “Man, go away.”
They continued to exchange words until he asked to her, “Where in Kufa do you live?”
She replied, “In the quarter of the Banu so-and-so.”
He asked, “By what is your house known?”
She replied, “Banu so-and-so.”
He left her and went to the inn. Then he asked about the tribe and they directed him to it. He said to a man, “You have a dirham if you come with me to the place.”
He went until he came to the tribe which the woman had mentioned. He said to the man, “Go.” Then he went to the door and knocked on the door with a stick that he had. The old woman asked, “Who is it?”
He ordered her, “Open the door.” She opened it part way. He said, “Open it all the way.” Then he got off his mule and hit it with the stick and the mule went into the house. Then he said to the woman, “This mule and the provision, money and clothes on it is yours, and you will have what is halal from it in this world and the Next.”
Then Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) remained hidden until the people returned from hajj. Some of the people of his land came to him to greet him and congratulate him on the hajj. He turned to say to them, “I had an illness and did not go on hajj this year.”
One of them said, “Glory be to Allah! Did I not leave you my goods with you while we were at Mina and we were going to ‘Arafat?”
Another said, “Did you not buy for me in the same way?”
He turned to say, “I do not know what you are saying. As for myself, I did not go on hajj this year.”
He dreamt of someone saying in the night to him, ''’Abdullah, rejoice! Allah Accepted your swadaqah and He Sent an angel in your form who performed the hajj for you.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) said, “Fight your tongue. The tongue is quick to kill a man. The tongue is the posting of the heart. It shows man his intellect.”
He also said, “I see that some people are content with the least of the diyn, but I do not see them pleased with meagerness in this life. Be rich with Allah, independent of the world of the kings as the kings are free of the diyn with their worldly things.”
He said, “People’s enjoyment of worship and taqwa is the sweetest bliss, not the pleasure of the wine. Their sources enjoy it for all their lives, and they, by Allah, have Provision until they reach the graves. In a moment they obtain might and taqwa. Does not the enjoyment of life lie in piety and steadfastness?”
He said, “I see every life as unhappy and miserable except for planting the spear in the shade of the horse. And standing in the dark nights, vigilant, guarding the people in the furthest outpost.”
A man came to Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) and said to him, “May Allah be Pleased with you! Describe for me those who are wild and distracted by love of Allah.”
He replied, “They are as I will tell you:
“Alert, on mounts as if they were a caravan desiring to pass, that is how they are moved.
Their limbs are restrained from every foul action.
Truthfulness is their school, as well as zuhd and fear.”
Another person asked him to describe the fearful. He said:
“When the night is darkest, they endure it,
And it travels from them while they are still bowing.
Fear dispelled their sleep, so they stood alert while the people of security
In this world were sleeping peacefully.
While they are prostrating under the cloak the darkness,
Their groan pierces their ribs.
They are mute in the day by the length of their silence.
They have tranquility from their humility.”
He also composed:
“Seize the two raka’at of nearness if you are free and at rest.
When you desire to speak about the false, put glorification in its place.
Seizing silence is better than plunging,
Even if you are eloquent in speech.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) had a lot of poetry in more than one subject. He had a short poem in rajaz metre on the companions and the followers and long qaswaid on constancy and jihad which are famous. He wrote Kitab ar-Raqa’iq which is famous, and “The Book of the Objectives of Jihad”.
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) was asked, “Who are the people?”
“The scholars,” he replied.
He was asked, “Who are the kings?”
He replied, “The men of zuhd.”
He was asked, “Who are the rabble?”
“Hartsima and Khuzaymah ibn Hazim,” he answered.
“Who are the fools?”
He said, “The one who sells the Next World for the worldly portion of someone else.”
He used to say, “The trace of ink on the garment of the master of ahadits is better than the perfume on the bride’s garment.”
He was asked, “Which person has the best state?”
He replied, “The one who devotes himself to his Lord.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) said, “I passed by a weaver when I had broken the throng of my sandal and he gave me a new one to me with a strap. I asked, ‘Did you do it for pay?’
He said, ‘Yes.’ When I passed by him, I leaned towards him and greeted him.
Then I missed him and found that he had closed his shop. I asked one of the neighbours about him. I said, ‘If he is sick, I will visit him. If he is busy, I will help him. If he is poor, I will share with him.’
They said, ‘We have no knowledge of him.’
I asked permission to enter his house and he came out to me. I asked him, ‘What has kept you from your shop?’
He said to me, ‘You, ibn al-Mubarak. People see you inclining to me, so they have put a shirt on me which I do not deserve.’
I took his sleeve and went with him to the graves. I said, ‘This is the grave of so-and-so. His business was such-and-such. This is the grave of so-and-so. His business was such-and-such.’
He said to me, ‘ibn al-Mubarak, I do not know what you are saying.’
I replied, ‘The man is not all the man whom the tongues describe and the man is not all the man whom the eyes see. The man is the one whom Allah Veils in his life and makes him enter the grave Veiled and then He Brings him out on the Day of Rising when there is no abasement or rebellion on him. That is the man.’”
Imam Abu Bakr al-Khathib (r.a.) related that Imam al-Hasan ibn ‘Isa ibn Masrajis (r.a.) used to pass by Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.), while he was a Christian. Shaykh al-Hasan (r.a.) had a very beautiful face. Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) asked about him and was told, “He is a Christian.”
He said, “O Allah, Provide him with Islam.” Allah (s.w.t.) Answered his supplication and Imam al-Hasan (r.a.) became an excellent Muslim. He was one of the scholars of the community and one of those who travelled in quest of knowledge and the sunnah in all regions and people studied with him. He possessed scrupulousness, intellect and reliability.
One of the men who kept the company of Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) inclined to this world and kept the Sultan’s company. He met him one day and greeted him. He said to him, “My brother!”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) replied:
“All is from rice, wheat and barley bread,
And it crushes. O person! Allah has Guided you from the amir's abode,
So do not visit it! Avoid it! They are false sparks.
It takes away the diyn and brings you near to great wrong action.”
The man was ashamed and left the Sultan's company and returned to his company.
One of the Sufis who had heard him say that one of the transmitters of ahadits was weak, said to him, “Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman, do you slander?”
He replied, “Be quiet. If we do not clarify, who will know the true from the false?”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) passed away in Hit, returning from a naval expedition and was buried in Hit in Ramadhan in 181 AH. Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) said that he was born in 118 AH. When he was near death, he told Naswr, his client, “Put my head on the earth.” Naswr wept. He asked, “Why do you weep?”
Naswr said, “I remember what you had in it of blessing and now you are dying a stranger and a pauper.”
Imam ibn al-Mubarak (q.s.) told him, “Be quiet. I asked Allah to Let me live the life of the rich and to Make me die the death of the poor.” Then he said, “Put me down and do not address me again unless I speak again. Put me down so that it is my last words.”
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is taken from The Jihad of Imam Shamyl (q.s.) by Ustadz Kerim Fenari.
The Chechen people’s desperate struggle for freedom has taken many Muslims by surprise. As with Bosnia three years ago, the very existence of this Muslim country was unknown to many in our community. But now, as the savage hordes of Tsar Boris the First pour down from the barbarian lands of the north to bring fire and the sword to the Chechens, it is worth remembering that the Caucasus has always been the graveyard of Christian invaders and the birthplace of Muslim heroes whose names still resound in the forests and valleys of that most romantic of all mountain lands.
The Caucasus, a sheer rampart which divides Europe from Asia, is like no other mountain range on earth. The highest peaks in Europe are here, compared to which the Alps seem like the merest pimples. Stretching for 650 miles from the Caspian to the Black Sea, their average height is over 10,000 feet. This spectacular prospect is made still more forbidding by the vertiginous steepness of the slopes. The Caucasus is a man its body is without curves, says a Georgian proverb, and cliffs, dropping in places more than five thousand feet into icy torrents, seem to dissect the landscape into sheer blocks of stone.
The very impenetrability of the Caucasus and the difficulty of internal communications have allowed countless different peoples and tribes to dwell here. The historian Pliny tells us that the Romans employed a hundred and thirty-four interpreters in their dealings with the warlike Caucasian clans; while the Arab historian, al-‘Azizi dubbed the region the “Mountain of Languages”, recording that three hundred mutually-incomprehensible tongues were spoken in Daghestan alone.
Some of the Caucasian peoples, such as the fair-skinned Chechens, are descendants of ancient migrants from Europe. Others, including the Daghestanis, are believed to be of Asian origin. But the harsh climate and impossible terrain have imposed a similar ascetic lifestyle on them all. Little agriculture is possible on the dizzying slopes, and only on the highest plateaus can sheep be husbanded with any success. Traditionally, the people lived in aouls, rugged Caucasian villages, fortified with stone blockhouses and sheer walls to keep out pumas, wolves, and enemy tribes. Built in the most inaccessible positions atop needle-thin peaks, the only route to these stubborn hamlets lay along footpaths which clung to the cliff-face, providing no place for rest, but only dizzying views of surrounding peaks, and of the eagles circling far below.
In such an extreme landscape, only strong children survived. Spending their days in endless toil up and down the slopes, by the time they reached maturity the Chechen and Daghestani men were wiry and immensely strong. It is recorded that in the mid-nineteenth century no Chechen girl would consent to marry a man unless he had killed at least one Russian, could jump over a stream twenty-three feet wide, and over a rope held at shoulder-height between two men.
The yawning gulfs which divided the aouls led easily to rivalry and war. Caucasian life was dominated by the blood-vendetta, the kanli, which ensured that no wrong, however slight, could go unavenged by the relatives of a victim. Tales abound in the Chechen epic literature of centuries-long conflicts which began with the simple theft of a chicken, and ended with the death of an entire clan. Warfare was constant, as was the training for it; and young men prided themselves in their horsemanship, wrestling, and sharpshooting.
Muslims have never conquered the Caucasus: even the swahabah, who swept before them the legions of Byzantium and Persia, stopped short at these forbidding cliffs. For centuries, its people continued in their pagan or Christian beliefs; while the Muslims of neighbouring Iran regarded it with terror, believing that the Shah of all the jinn had his capital amid its snowy peaks.
But where Muslim armies could not penetrate, peaceful Muslim missionaries slowly ventured. Many achieved martyrdom at the hands of the wild, angry tribesmen; but slowly the remote valleys and even the high aouls accepted the faith. The Chechens, Avars, Circassians and Daghestanis entered Islam; and by the eighteenth century, only the Georgians and the Armenians were still unconverted.
But despite this victory, a new threat was gathering on the horizon. In 1552, Ivan the Terrible had captured and destroyed Kazan, the great Muslim city on the upper Volga. Four years later, the Russian hordes reached the Caspian. At their van rode the wild Cossacks, brutal horsemen who reproduced themselves by capturing and marrying by force the Muslim women who fell into their hands. As pious as they were turbulent, they never established a new settlement without first building a spectacular church, whose tolling bells rang out over the Tsars ever-expanding empire in the steppes.
By the late eighteenth century, the Christian threat to the Caucasus had not gone unnoticed by the mountain tribes. Their lack of unity, however, made effective action impossible, and soon the fertile lowlands of North Chechnya and further west, the Nogay Tatar country were wrested from Muslim hands. The Muslims who remained were forced to become the serfs, agricultural slaves of Russian lords. Those who refused or ran away were hunted down in an aristocratic Russian version of fox-hunting. Some were skinned, and their skins were used to make military drums. The enserfed women often had to endure the confiscation of their babies, so that the pedigree Russian greyhounds and hunting dogs could be nourished on human milk.
Overseeing this policy was the empress Catherine the Great, who sent the youngest of her lovers, Count Platon Zubov; he was twenty-five, she seventy; to realise the first stage of her Pan-Orthodox dream by which all Muslim lands would be conquered for Christianity. Zubov’s army broke up along the Caspian shores, but the warning had been sounded. The Caucasus looked up from its internal strife, and knew it had an enemy.
The first coherent response to the danger came from an individual whose obscure but romantic history is very typical of the Caucasus. He is known only as Elisha Mansour (r.a.), an Italian Jesuit priest sent to convert the Greeks in Anatolia to Catholicism. To the anger of the Pope, he soon converted enthusiastically to Islam, and was sent by the Ottoman sultan to organise Caucasian resistance against the Russians. But at the battle of Tatar-Toub in 1791, his resistance came to an untimely end; and, captured by the enemy, he spent the rest of his life a prisoner at a frozen monastery in the White Sea, where monks laboured unsuccessfully to bring him back to the Christian fold.
Mansour had failed, but the Caucasians had fought like lions. The flame of resistance which he lit soon spread, nursed and fanned by one man of genius: Mullah Muhammad Yaraghli (q.s.). Mullah Yaraghli (q.s.) was a scholar and a Sufi, deeply learned in the Arabic texts, who preached the Naqshbandi way to the harsh mountaineers. Although he converted many thousands, his leading pupil was Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.), a religious student of the Avar people of Daghestan, who began his own preaching in 1827, selecting the large aoul of Ghimri to be the centre of his activities.
For the next two years Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.) proclaimed his message. The Caucasians had not accepted Islam fully, he told them. Their old customary laws, the adat, which differed from tribe to tribe, must be replaced by the shari’ah. In particular, the kanli vendettas must be suppressed, and all injustices dealt with fairly by a proper Islamic court. Finally, the Caucasians must restrain their wild, turbulent egos, and tread the hard path of self-purification. Only by following this prescription, he told them, could they overcome their ancient divisions, and stand united against the Christian menace.
In 1829, Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.) judged that his followers had absorbed enough of this message for them to begin the final stage: of political action. He travelled throughout Daghestan, openly preaching against vice, and overturning with his own hand the great jars of wine traditionally stored in the centre of the aouls. In a series of fiery sermons, he urged the people to take up arms for the ghazwah, the armed resistance. “A Muslim may obey the shari’ah, but all his giving of zakat, all his swalah and ablutions, all his pilgrimages to Makkah, are as nothing if a Russian eye looks upon them. Your marriages are unlawful, your children bastards, while there is one Russian left in your lands!”
“It was the time of jihad”, he proclaimed. The great Islamic scholars of Daghestan gathered at the mosque of Ghimri, and, acclaiming him imam and pledged their support. The muridun at Ghimri, standing out from the other mountaineers by their black banners, and the absence of any trace of gold or silver on their clothes and weapons, marched out behind Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.), chanting the battle-cry: La ilaha illa Allah. Their first target was the aoul of Andee, which was submissive towards the Russians; but so impressive were the muridun that at the very sight of their silent ranks the formerly treacherous village submitted without a fight. Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.) then turned his attention to the Russians themselves.
At this time, the Russians had moved few colonists into the region. Large military outposts had been established in the plains to the north, at Grozny, Khasav-Yurt and Mozdok, but elsewhere, the process of clearing the Muslims from the land had only just begun. Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.) could therefore count on local support when he attacked the Russian fort of Vnezapnaya. Without cannon, he proved unable to capture it; but its defenders, commanded by Baron Rosen, were forced to send for help. This came in the form of a large relief column, which, thinking it feared nothing from the Muslims, pursued them into the great forest which then stood south of Grozny.
In the dark woods, the muridun were fighting on their own ground. Shooting from the branches of the giant beech trees, constructing traps and pitfalls for the stoical but disoriented Russians, they methodically picked off the enemy officers, and captured many of the bewildered foot-soldiers. In this twilight world of vast beech trees and tangled undergrowth, the lumbering Russian column, led by priests bearing icons and huge crosses, and burdened with oxcarts carrying five-foot samovars and cases of champagne for the officers, found itself slowly eroded and scattered. Only remnants emerged from the woods: and the first mujahidin victory had been won.
Baying for revenge, the Russians attacked the Muslim town of Tschoumkeskent, which they captured and razed to the ground. But they paid heavily for this conquest: four hundred Russians had been killed in the operation, and only a hundred and fifty muridun. Even greater was their humiliation at Tsori, a mountain pass where four thousand Russian troops were held up for three days by a barricade, which, they later found to their chagrin, was manned by only two Chechen snipers.
Raging, the Russians rampaged through Lower Chechnya, burning crops, and destroying sixty-one villages. Slowly, the Chechen and Daghestani muridun retreated to the mountains behind them. Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.) and his leading disciple, Imam Shamyl (q.s.) decided to make a stand at Ghimri. After a bitter siege, with many casualties on both sides, the aoul was stormed by the Russians troops, who found Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.) among the dead. Still seated on his prayer-carpet, the imam, uncannily, kept one hand on his beard, and the other pointing to the sky. But in the meantime, his deputy, fighting with sixty muridun in defence of two stone towers, seemed invincible, picking off with unerring aim any Russian who came near. At last, when only two muridun remained alive, Imam Shamyl (q.s.) emerged, to inaugurate a reputation for heroism in combat which would resound throughout the Muslim Caucasus.
As a Russian officer described the incident: “It was dark: by the light of the burning thatch we saw a man standing in the doorway of the house, which stood on raised ground, rather above us. This man, who was very tall and powerfully built, stood quite still, as if giving us time to take aim. Then, suddenly, with the spring of a wild beast, he leapt clean over the heads of the very line of soldiers about to fire on him, and landing behind them, whirling his sword in his left hand, he cut down three of them, but was bayoneted by the fourth, the steel plunging deep into his chest. His face still extraordinary in its immobility, he seized the bayonet, pulled it out of his own flesh, cut down the man and, with another superhuman leap, cleared the wall and vanished into the darkness. We were left absolutely dumbfounded.”
The Russians paid little attention to Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) escape, confident that with the destruction of the muridun’s capital they had achieved a final victory. They could not guess that thirty years of war, at a price of half a million Russian lives, awaited them at his hands.
After his dramatic escape from Ghimri, the wounded Imam Shamyl (q.s.) painfully made his way to a saklia, a cottage in the glacier-riven heights of Daghestan. A shepherd sent word to his wife, Fathimah, who came secretly to him, and nursed him through a long fever, binding up eighteen bayonet and sword wounds. Months later, Imam Shamyl (q.s.) was able once more to travel, and hearing of the death of Imam Ghazi Mullah’s (q.s.) successor, was acclaimed by the Muslims as al-Imam al-A’azham, Leader of all the Caucasus.
Imam Shamyl (q.s.) had been born in 1796 to a noble family from the Avar people of southern Daghestan. Growing up with his friend, Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.), he divided his austere childhood between the mosque and the narrow terraces around Ghimri, where he grazed his family’s sheep. Often he would look over the edges, down into the five thousand-foot abyss beneath the village, and watch the lightning flash in the thunderclouds below. In the further distance, on the slopes, could be seen the ghostly glow of naphtha fires, where natural oil came bubbling up through the stones, burning for years.
This harsh landscape, and the rigorous Caucasian upbringing which went with it, accustomed the future Imam to a life with few worldly pleasures. When only a child, he persuaded his father to abandon alcohol by threatening to fall on his own dagger if he did not stop. The difficult spiritual discipline required of him as a young scholar seemed to come naturally, and by his early twenties he was renowned for all the virtues which the Caucasus respected: courage in battle, a mastery of the Arabic language, tafsir and fiqh, and a spiritual nobility which left a profound impression on all who met him.
Together with Imam Ghazi Mullah (q.s.), he became the disciple of Mullah Muhammad Yaraghli (q.s.), the strict mystically-minded scholar who taught the young men that their own spiritual purity was not enough: they must fight to make Allah's (s.w.t.) Law supreme. The shari’ah must replace the pagan laws of the Caucasian tribes. Only then would Allah (s.w.t.) Give them victory over the Russian hosts.
Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) first exploits as imam were purely defensive. The Russians, under General Fese, had launched a new attack on Central Daghestan. Here, in the aoul of Ashilta, as the Russians approached, two thousand muridun took an oath on the Qur’an to defend it to the death. After a bitter hand-to-hand fight through the streets, the Russians captured and destroyed the town, taking no prisoners. The stage was set for a long and bitter war.
Imam Shamyl (q.s.) was no stranger to war with Europeans. While performing the hajj in 1828, he had met ‘Amir ‘Abd al-Qadir (q.s.), the heroic leader of Algerian resistance against the French, who shared with him his views on guerilla warfare. The two men, although fighting three thousand miles from each other, were very similar both in their scholarly interests and in their methods of war. Both realised the impossibility of winning pitched battles against the large and well-equipped European armies, and the need for sophisticated techniques for dividing the enemy and luring him into remote mountains and forests, there to be dispatched by quick, elusive guerilla attacks.
The weakness of Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) position in the Caucasus was his need to defend the aouls. His men, moving with lightning speed, could always dodge an enemy, or deal him a surprise blow from behind. But the villages, despite their fortifications, were vulnerable to Russian siege methods backed up with modern artillery. Imam Shamyl (q.s.) learnt this lesson in 1839, at the aoul of Akhulgo. This mountain fastness, protected by gorges on three sides, was itself divided into two by a terrifying chasm spanned by a seventy-foot bridge of wooden planks. Akhulgo had already filled with refugees fleeing from the Russian advance, and the presence of so many women and children to feed made the prospect of a long siege an ugly one. But he would retreat no further: here he made his stand.
By this time, the Naqshbandi army numbered some six thousand, divided into units of five hundred men, each under the command of a nayyib, deputy. These nawab, tough and scholarly, were a mystery to the Russians. In the thirty years of the Caucasian war, not one was ever captured alive. At Akhulgo, these men fortified the settlement as best they could, and then, in the evening after sunset prayers, went upon the roofs to sing Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) Zabur, the religious chant he had composed to replace the trivial drinking-songs they had known before. There were many other chants, too; the most familiar to the Russians being the Death Song, heard when a Russian victory seemed imminent and the Chechens tied themselves to each other, and prepared to fight to the end.
The Russian attack began on June 29th. The Russians attempted to scale the cliffs, and lost three hundred and fifty men to the mujahidin, who threw rocks and burning logs upon them. Chastened, the Russians withdrew for four days, until they could place their artillery so as to bombard the walls from a safe distance. But although the walls were pounded to rubble, each time the Russians attacked, the muridun appeared from the ruins of the aoul and threw them back with heavy casualties.
Conditions in the village, however, were becoming desperate. Many had died, and their bodies were rotting under the summer sun, spreading a pestilential stench. Food supplies were almost exhausted. Hearing this news from a spy, the Russian general, Count Glasse, decided on an all-out assault. Three columns he directed to attack simultaneously, thereby dividing the defenders fire.
The first column, carrying scaling ladders, climbed a cliff on one side of a ravine. But from the apparently bare rocks on the opposing cliff, gunfire directed by Chechen sharpshooters decimated their ranks within minutes. The officers were soon all killed, and the six hundred men, their backs against the cliff, were left trapped by the muridun in the knowledge that exhaustion and exposure would finish them off before dawn.
The second column attempted to make its way to the aoul along the ravine floor. This, too, ended in disaster, as the defenders rolled down boulders upon them, so that only a few dozen returned. The third column, inching along a precipice, found itself attacked by hundreds of women and children who had been hidden in caves for safety. The women cut their way through the Russian ranks, while their children, daggers in both hands, ran under the Russians and slashed at them from beneath. Here, as always in Chechenya, the women fought desperately, knowing that they had even more to lose than the men. Under this screaming and bloody onslaught, the Russian column staggered and fell back.
Baffled, Count Glasse sent a messenger to Imam Shamyl (q.s.) to arrange a parley. Conditions at the aoul were extreme, and Imam Shamyl (q.s.), with a heavy heart, struck a deal, agreeing to release his eight-year old son Jamal al-Din as a hostage, on condition that the Russian army departed and left the aoul in peace. But no sooner had the boy been put on the road to St Petersburg than the artillery barrage opened up again, and Akhulgo was once more pounded from every side. Imam Shamyl (q.s.) realised that he had been duped.
The next day, the Russians advanced again on Akhulgo, and found it populated only ravens greedily feeding on corpses. The survivors had slipped away during the night. The only Muslims to remain, those too weak to withdraw, were discovered hiding in the caverns in the nearby cliffs, which were reached with the utmost difficulty.
A Russian officer later recorded this as follows: We had to lower soldiers by means of ropes. Our troops were almost overcome by the stench of the numberless corpses. In the chasm between the two Akhulgos, the guard had to be changed every few hours. More than a thousand bodies were counted; large numbers were swept downstream, or lay bloated on the rocks. Nine hundred prisoners were taken alive, mostly women, children and old men; but, in spite of their wounds and exhaustion, even these did not surrender easily. Some gathered up their last force, and snatched the bayonets from their guards. The weeping and wailing of the few children left alive, and the sufferings of the wounded and dying, completed the tragic scene.
Imam Shamyl (q.s.) had made a desperate attempt to lead his family and disciples away during the night. His wife, Fathimah, was eight months pregnant, and his second wife, Jawharah, was carrying her two month-old baby Said. But together they managed to inch along a precipice unknown to the Russians, until they reached the torrent below. Here, the Imam (q.s.) brought a tree down to form a makeshift bridge. Fathimah crossed safely with her younger son Ghazi Muhammad (q.s.); but Jawharah was spotted by a Russian sharpshooter, who killed her with a single bullet, sending her and her child toppling over to vanish into the raging torrent. Slowly, Imam Shamyl (q.s.), his depleted family, and the surviving mujahidin, dodged the Russian patrols, who were now being aided by the Ghimrians who had gone over to the Russian side. Once they encountered a Russian platoon, and in the ensuing fight, the young Ghazi Muhammad (q.s.) received a bayonet wound. But Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) sword accounted for the Russian officer, whose men fled in terror. They were free again. As at Ghimri, the Imam (q.s.) had effected a miraculous escape.
Count Grabbes report described the capture of Akhulgo in glowing terms. The Muridun sect, he wrote, had fallen with all its followers and adherents. The Tsar was delighted; but again, the Russian celebrations were premature. While Imam Shamyl (q.s.) was free, he was undefeated. And Moscow had once again given the Caucasus reason to seek freedom.
In 1840, Imam Shamyl (q.s.) raised a new army, and again unfurled his black banners. With the Russians falling back along the Black Sea coast in the face of a Circassian uprising, conditions were right for a major campaign, and by the end of the year, the Imam (q.s.) had retaken Akhulgo, and led his forces onto the plains of Lower Chechenya, capturing fort after fort. The Russian response was chaotic: one sortie led by Grabbe resulted in the death of over two thousand Russians. A new commander, the Tsars favourite General Neidhardt, promised to exchange Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) head for its weight in gold to anyone who could capture him; but all in vain. Again and again the Imperial legions were drawn into the dark forests, divided, and annihilated.
Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) techniques, meanwhile, were improving all the time. On one occasion, he attacked a Russian position with ten thousand men, only to reappear less than twenty-four hours later fifty miles away, to attack another outpost: an astonishing feat. One military historian wrote, “The rapidity of this long march over a mountainous country, the precision of the combined operation, and above all the fact that it was prepared and carried out under the Russians very eyes, entitle Shamyl to rank as something more than a guerilla leader, even of the highest class.”
Russia’s next move was a bold attack by ten thousand men on Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) new capital of Dargo. The commander, General Vorontsov, drove through Chechenya and Central Daghestan, encountering little resistance, and finding that Imam Shamyl (q.s.) had burnt the aouls rather than allow them to fall into his hands. Confident, and contemptuous of the Asiatic rabble, he decided to lunge through the final ten miles of forest that separated him from Dargo and Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) warriors. But when the Russians arrived, again to find that Shamyl had fired the aoul, and turned to retrace their steps, disaster overtook them. Imam Shamyl (q.s.) had watched their advance through his telescope, and calmly directed his muridun to take up positions from which to ambush and harry the Russians. Fighting alongside the Muslims were six hundred Russian and Polish deserters, who dismayed the Russian troopers by singing old army songs at night, their mocking voices rising eerily from the hidden depths of the forest.
Imam Shamyl (q.s.) had positioned four cannon slightly above the devastated aoul, and the Russians charged these and took them with little difficulty. But their way back lay through cornfields that concealed dozens of muridun, who stood up to fire, hiding themselves again before the dazed Russians could shoot back. A hundred and eighty-seven men died before the remains of this column rejoined the main army. Not even the bayoneting of the Chechen prisoners could raise Russian spirits after this omen of impending disaster.
The Russians now began to retreat back through the forest. But the woods were now alive with unseen foes. Slippery barricades blocked their way, and forced them to leave the paths, slashing their way towards ambuscades and bloody confusion. Hundreds of Russians died, including two generals. Heavy rain turned the paths to mud, and made rifles useless, so that at times the two sides fought silently with stones and bare hands. To escape the invisible snipers, the terrified Vorontsov himself insisted on being carried inside an iron box on the shoulders of a colonel. Thus trapped, with over two thousand wounded, and with only sixty bullets left apiece, the desperate Russians sent messengers to General Freitag at Grozny, begging for reinforcements.
At this crucial moment, Imam Shamyl (q.s.) received news that his wife Fathimah, was dying. He immediately gave orders for the continuing of the battle, and left for the day-long journey to the aoul where she lay. After holding her in his arms as she died, he rode back, to discover, to his deep distress, that his men had disobeyed him. Melting away at the sight of Freitag’s troops, they had allowed Vorontsov’s column to limp out of the forest without further loss. Imam Shamyl (q.s.) boiled with fury, and he fiercely denounced those who had shown faintheartedness instead of clinching the victory. But Russia had paid dearly, as the forest soil of Dargo folded around the bodies of three generals, two hundred officers, and almost four thousand infantrymen. Even today, Russian soldiers remember the Dargo catastrophe in a gloomy song: “In the heat of noonday, in the vale of Daghestan, with a bullet in my heart, I lie ...”
For another ten years, Imam Shamyl's (q.s.) flags flew over Chechenya and Daghestan, proclaiming what Caucasians still refer to as the Time of Shari’ah. The Tsar, fuming in his vast palace in St Petersburg, received message after courteous message from his generals praising their own victories; yet still Imam Shamyl (q.s.) ruled. Vorontsov, Neidhardt and others were recalled, and died in gilded obscurity. But in 1851, command was given to a younger man, General Beriatinsky, the Muscovy Devil who was to change the course of the war for ever.
The new Russian commander knew his enemy, and adapted his techniques accordingly. He knew that the Chechens disliked going into battle unless they had performed their wudhu’ -ablutions, so he ensured that great dams were built to cut off the water supply to his opponents. He adopted a policy of bribing villages into accepting Russian authority, and delayed the enserfment process indefinitely. He ended the former policy of informally butchering women and children during the capture of aouls. But his most significant innovation was his long, slow campaign against the forests. Like the Americans in Vietnam and the French in Algeria, he realised that his enemy could only be defeated on open ground. He thus deputed a hundred thousand men to cut down the great beech trees of the region. Some were so vast that axes were inadequate, and explosives had to be used instead. But slowly, the forests of Chechnya and Daghestan disappeared; while Imam Shamyl (q.s.), watching from the heights, could do nothing to bring them back.
In 1858, the last great battle erupted. The Ingush people, driven from their aouls by the Russians into camps around the garrison town of Nazran, revolted, and called on Imam Shamyl (q.s.) for aid. He rode down from the mountains with his mujahidin, but sustained a crippling defeat under the cannon of a relief column sent to support the beleaguered garrison. When he returned to the mountains, he found the support of his people beginning to melt away. Whole aouls went over to the Russians rather than submit to siege and inevitable destruction. Even some of his most faithful lieutenants deserted him, and guided Russian troops to attack his few remaining redoubts.
In June 1859, Imam Shamyl (q.s.) retreated to the most inaccessible aoul of all: Gounib. Here, with three hundred devoted muridun, he determined to make a last stand. The Russians were driven back time and again; but finally, after praying at length, and moved by Beriatinsky's threat to slaughter his entire family if he was not captured alive, he agreed to lay down his arms.
Thus ended the Time of Shari’ah in the Caucasus. The Imam (q.s.) was transported north to meet the Tsar, and then banished to a small town near Moscow. Here he dwelt, with a diminishing band of family and relations, until 1869, when the Tsar allowed him to leave and live in retirement in the Holy Cities. His last voyage, through Turkey and the Middle East, was tumultuous, as vast crowds turned out to cheer the Imam (q.s.) whose name had become a legend throughout the lands of Islam.
His son Ghazi Muhammad (q.s.), released from Russian captivity in 1871, travelled to meet him at Makkah. He arrived, however, when Imam Shamyl (q.s.) was away on a visit to Madina. As he was walking around the Holy Ka’bah, a tattered, green-turbaned man came up and suddenly cried, “O believers, pray now for the great soul of the Imam Shamyl!” Some say that he was al-Khidhr (a.s.), but only Allah (s.w.t.) Knows.
It was true: on that same day, Imam Shamyl (q.s.), murmuring, “Allah! Allah!”, had passed on to eternal life in Paradise. He was buried, amid great throngs and much emotion, in the Baqi’ Cemetery. But his name lives still; and even today, in the homes of his descendants in Istanbul and Madina, in flats whose walls are still adorned with the faded banners of black, mothers sing to their children words which will be remembered for as long as Muslims live in Chechenya and Daghestan:
“O mountains of Gounib,
O soldiers of Shamyl,
Shamyl’s citadel was full of warriors,
Yet it has fallen, fallen forever ...”