By: Manel Bouazza
The North Caucasus region lies in the southwestern-most corner of the Russian
Federation and was colonized by the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century.
It is bounded by the Black and Caspian Seas. Its south borders the South Caucasian nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The dominant religion in the region is Sunni Islam. So how did Islam emerge and spread to the region?
The Religious History of the Region
The religious history of North Caucasus is very complicated, as stated by UWE HALBACH
in his work published in 200.
Its cultural and religious geography has been dynamic throughout the centuries due to the influence of various non-local powers namely, the Khazar empire, Byzantium, Armenia, Georgia, the Arabic Caliphate, the Golden Horde, the Crimean Tatar khanate, the Ottoman empire.
Lastly, the Soviet Union, bringing diverse religions that marked the history of the region such as Animism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other
Islam in the North Caucasus
The Integration of Islam in North Caucasus spanned a period of 11 centuries, starting
from the 8th century during the Arab expansion up to the 19th century.
Islam b emerged in the 18th and 19th century by Sufis, to unite the mountain people in the anti colonial resistance movement known as Muridism.
The convertion to Islam was only partial at the time, through the Sufi activities connected with the Caucasus war in the 19th century.
The local Islam became mixed with pre-Islamic religions and cultures because the region links various ethnic and cultural backgrounds along with several older religions.
Religious law “Sharia” was still not locally accepted and did not replace the tribal common law that was in place.
It began gaining partial acceptance during the “Holy War” lead against the Russian Empire rule that was seen by the locals as an external occupier and also during the Imamat of Shamil.
Sharia was only later fully obeyed and worked with in order to keep the ethno-religious identity of the region despite the continuous elimination process by the Russian colonial authorities who presented the mountain people as 'Muslim fanatics,' both in Russia and in Western Europe.
The North Caucasus Today
Religions in Russia witnessed a renaissance in the late 80’s. Russian policy was
bound to deal with a number of religious communities.
What distinguishes Islam in the region is not only its status as the largest religious community in the North Caucasus after the Russian Orthodox Church, but also its role in important foreign affairs and “geopolitical” issues.
The total number of Muslims in post-Soviet Russia is difficult to determine, since there
are no official statistics regarding religious allegiance.
Results of a survey conducted by medium orient in 2013 show that Islam plays a big role in the life of 62% of North Caucasus residents.
Today, The Muslim community in Russia continues to grow having reached 25 million, according to the grand mufti of Russia, Sheikh Rawil Gaynetdin, with a large percentage of that number centered in the North Caucasus region of Southern Russia.
Halbach, U. (2001). Islam in the North Caucasus. Archives De Sciences Sociales Des Religions, (115),
93–110. doi: 10.4000/assr.18403
Islam in Russia. (2019, September 11). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Russia.
Itekushev. (2017, February 28). Islam plays „a big role" in the life of 62 % of North Caucasus
residents. Retrieved from
Relations, C. on F. (2014, February 7). Background Briefing: Why is Russia's North Caucasus region unstable? Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/russias-north-caucasus-region.