By Said Khamzat Nunuev, Set in Chechnya

Asya Umarova, age 16 pencil
Oznieva Aset, age 17
Alieva Zulikhan, age 18 watercolor
Asya Umarova, age 16 pencil

“Do you desire to love Allah the Almighty? Then you must love righteousness.” “Tie a turban round your heart, before you tie it on your head.” ~ Kunta-hadji

The most distinguished Chechen saint, Sheikh Kunta-hadji, was born about 1830 in the village of Isti Su. A Sufi and founder of the Murid Brotherhood, he is recognized and revered throughout the Islamic world.

As a child, Kuta-hadji migrated with his parents to the village of Isklan Urt, in the mountains at the heart of Chechen territory. While a young man, he began preaching and teaching.

In those days Chechens were worn down, driven to desperation, by war with Russia. Then they heard Kunta-hadji’s message of peace, tranquillity, concord, and unity, through faith and goodwill. Kunta-hadji’s teachings saved the Chechens’ soul from unimaginable miseries, in his day and in the days to follow.

Even as a child, Kunta-hadji questioned his elders: Why do people make war? Why kill each other? Why is there evil? Why doesn’t God wipe out all vices? As he grew up, Kunta-hadji sought answers to his questions in the religious books of the Zhains and in Arabia from enlightened Sheikhs taught in Islam’s best schools. He returned to Chechnya in the mid-1800s as a Sufi, a peace-loving form of Islam. 

The War of the Caucasus raged in Chechnya and Dagestan. The Imam Shamil led the mountain peoples to resist Russia by armed force. But Kunta-hadji sought a peaceful resolution. He knew all-out resistance could lead to Chechens’ annihilation. He sought to turn the highlanders towards peace.

The outcome of the controversy between Shamil and Kunta-hadji is clear. The Russians’ overwhelming strength and cruelty broke the mountain people’s long resistance. Shamil became an honoured guest of the Russian Tsar and ended his days in the holy city of Mecca.  Kunta-hadji, a lifelong preacher of reconciliation, peace, generosity, and justice, was arrested by order of Tsar Alexander II in winter 1864. He was imprisoned, and suffered the fate of a common criminal: loneliness, cold, and hunger. A few of his letters reached his family bearing witness to his trials, which he underwent with dignity and patience.

People of many faiths have called for humans to strive for goodness, compassion, and generosity, including the Russian Christian Leo Tolstoy, the Indian Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, and the Chechen Sufi Kunta-hadji.

To this day Chechens remember his words: 

Overcome evil with kindness and love.
Overcome greed through generosity.
Overcome falsehood by truth-telling.
Overcome unbelief through faith.

“Tie a turban round your heart
Before you tie it on your head.”

“Do you desire to love Allah the Almighty?
Then you must love righteousness.”