Friday, 27 February 2009

Imam Shameel

Imam, general and overall leader, Shameel led the Chechen Mujahideen successfully against the Russian army for twenty-five years in the 1800s when the second war between the two sides broke out.

Shameel (1797-1871) was born in Dagestan (then under Iranian rule) and studied Arabic and grammar. Before long he had become well known as a man of knowledge. While he was still a child, Iran was forced to cede Dagestan to Russia.

When the Russians invaded Chechnya in 1830, after a gap of forty-five years, the Ameer of Dagestan Ghazi Muhammad declared a jihad and large numbers of Muslims from both countries responded almost immediately and enlisted in the army.

Shameel, then a general, also saw combat and for a time with the rise of quick and early successes against a much larger, better organised and more powerful opponent made an easy but unanticipated victory look very likely.

The tide then turned for the worse when Russian forces killed Ghazi Muhammad in 1832 and the next Ameer was assassinated two years later. Shameel was then elected Ameer without opposition and immediately declared independence for Dagestan.

With Chechen support, Shameel then invaded Russia and for four years all the Russians could do was defend themselves’. The obvious choice for leader, Chechen commanders also accepted him as their overall Ameer.  

Although the Muslims did not have a proper army, lacked weapons, money and sufficient supplies to continue the struggle and were scattered into many tribes and villages across Chechnya, Russian forces despite their best efforts could not break through the deadlock.

Unlike Christian Georgia and Armenia who surrendered without putting up any resistance whatsoever around the same time the Russians found the Muslims strongly defiant and not frightened of attaining Shahadah by any means.

In 1838, the Russians sent fresh expeditions into Chechnya and with orders to track and kill Shameel personally, like many others after it the plan did to get the desired result. Frustrated in their failures spies and local tribesmen were tried to bribe and betray Shameel and other Mujahideen and again nothing happened.

By the 1850s Shameel had become a legend in his own lifetime; songs and poems were written about him, ordinary Russians spoke about him in conversations and tales of his bravery aroused the attention of many young Christian women.

He became so well known and renowned for his military successes that it even reached the shores of Western Europe and some leaders began to privately admire and respect him for his skills as a political genius.

Sensing the embarrassment it had brought them among their European enemies the Russians, determined in their aim to make Chechnya a colonial province, decided to destroy everyone and everything in their path by adopting a ‘scorched earth policy’.

In scenes more reminiscent of ancient battles than modern warfare, whole towns and villages were burnt and razed to the ground and with it entire populations were wiped out as if no one had ever lived there.

Shameel deciding innocent people had suffered enough already, withdrew to the mountains in 1859 with the remaining Mujahideen. But Allah had decreed this was to be his final order and within a few months, the Russians captured Shameel and sent him to various prison camps.

By the time the War had ended at least 18, 000 Russian lives had been lost and even more had been seriously wounded, and what’s more it had been inflicted by a largely non-professional army of untrained volunteers and civilians with little or no support from the outside World.

The Czar of Russia, Alexander II, recognising Shameel’s Iman and bravery wished to meet the man his predecessors had been unable to contain. He was so impressed by him that unlike so many others in the Muslim leader’s position, spared him from being sent to freeze to death in Siberia where all other ‘rebels’ were normally sent.

In 1870, in an unprecedented move by the Russians, Shameel was given permission by the Czar to make Hajj (he also paid for his trip there) and the following year the great Mujahid died in the blessed City of Medina.

Even without Shameel, the Chechen Mujahideen kept up the struggle well into the 1860s although by now many had to flee to neighbouring Armenia, where they attacked Russian positions as guerillas.

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