Gunmen on Tuesday killed the rector of a Muslim university in southern Russia who had been leading a government-sponsored effort to counter violence in the region by reviving the local traditions of Sufi Islam that he said were less likely to inspire suicide bombers. The rector, Maksud I. Sadikov, of the Islamic University of the North Caucasus, was shot to death in a car in Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, Russian prosecutors said. Mr. Sadikov’s bodyguard was also killed, they said. The prosecutors had not arrested or identified any potential suspects by late Tuesday, and no group immediately stepped forward to take responsibility for the attack. Mr. Sadikov was a proponent of the idea that state support for Sufism could diminish the threat of terrorism in Russia. Sufism was once widespread in the North Caucasus but faded after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the arrival of proselytizers from Middle East who sought to spread Sunni Islam. In an interview about his work in February, Mr. Sadikov said that no Sufi had committed a suicide bombing in Russia. “One of the best methods to resist the ideology of extremism is a good religious education,” Mr. Sadikov said. He said a moderate Islamic education was an “anti-venom” against terrorism.
The effort, and the government financing it received, had put him at odds with militants in the Islamic insurgency in Russia that began in Chechnya in the 1990s and has spread to other regions, including Dagestan. His university, a sprawling complex beside a mosque in Makhachkala, was involved in one of the few nonmilitary approaches that the Russian government has attempted to resolve the long-running rebellion. President Dmitri A. Medvedev has also tried to use economic aid to ease unemployment in the area. Militants have sent dozens of suicide bombers into central Russian cities, including Moscow, over the past decade. In the past 18 months, 76 people have died in attacks on the Moscow subway system and at its main airport. Those attacks led the police to put additional metal detectors in public spaces. Mr. Sadikov said his strategy was to prevent radical Islamic ideas from taking root in young men. In southern Russia, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, most suicide bombers are adherents of fundamentalist Sunni sects, including the Salafi tradition that is the state religion in Saudi Arabia. The Russian government latched onto Mr. Sadikov’s observations and threw official support behind other forms of Islam.
The United States tried a similar tactic in Iraq by introducing moderate imams at the prisons where insurgents were being held. Mr. Sadikov’s university was intended to educate elementary school teachers for a pilot project to teach Sufi Islam in public schools. This year, 1,300 students were enrolled, making it the largest effort of its kind in the North Caucasus. His university taught what he characterized as pacifist Sufi practices, like performing a ritual whirling dance or taking pilgrimages to holy sites. Critics countered that the Sufi monopoly of formal religious education in the North Caucasus only served to further alienate fundamentalist Sunni believers by compelling them to worship at home. The state’s support also made the university a target. In the February interview, Mr. Sadikov said that he was keenly aware of the dangers inherent in his project. “The radicals are saying, ‘You need to punish the impure Muslims,’ ” Mr. Sadikov said.
International Herald Tribune