With the Kremlin's approval, Islam is flourishing in Chechnya--a means to maintain at least a veneer of tranquility while keeping even more radical forces at bay.
About a decade ago Russia's leadership acknowledged that bullying wasn't working in this remote and most violent corner of the nation. Two ferocious military campaigns in the 1990s to put down an Islamic separatist insurgency left up to 370,000 dead and many survivors furious at Russian domination. So in 2000, Moscow threw its weight behind a former rebel leader, Akhmad Kadyrov, and left him largely alone to run affairs in the restive North Caucasus republic. Untold millions of Russian rubles poured in to bankroll his regime and rebuild the shattered infrastructure, with the thinking that men with work are less likely to rise up. Yet while cafes and boutiques have appeared in the Chechen capital of Grozny, the jobs have not. Chechnya still has one of the highest unemployment rates in Russia, which fuels radical fundamentalist discontent.
Kadyrov, like most Chechens, was Muslim, indeed so devout that he served as the local Mufti, or spiritual leader, for some time. In May 2004 he was assassinated. Three years later, having reached the minimum age of 30, his son assumed the same role as Chechnya's president and has continued to foster many aspects of Sharia law. Ramzan Kadyrov has overseen the building of one of Europe's largest mosques and ordered women to be veiled in public buildings and schools. Authorities discourage the drinking of alcohol.
The current Mufti, Sultan Mirzayev, one of the republic's most powerful men, justifies religious edicts as a stabilizing force. "Islam came here 400 years ago and we need it to preserve our society," he said in a recent interview. "Islam is everything for Chechens. After all those years we can finally celebrate our ways."
Some Chechens, however, object to state interference in their lives, particularly liberally minded women who endure insults for going around with uncovered heads. They point out that the dress code runs counter to Russian federal law, which at least in theory still reigns across Russia. "It's not right," said Raisa Borschigova, 31, an interpreter who had been hit by a paintball a couple years ago for crossing a...