Imam Shamil

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Imam Shamil
Shamil in 1859
Imam of Chechnya and Dagestan
SuccessorOverthrown by the Russian Empire
Born26 June 1797
Gimry, Dagestan
Died4 February 1871(1871-02-04) (aged 73)
Medina, in Habesh Eyalet, Ottoman Empire
ReligionSunni Islam

Imam Shamil (Arabic: الشيخ شامل, romanizedal-Šaykh Šāmil; Avar: Шейх Шамил, romanized: Sheykh Shamil; Kumyk: Шамил, romanized: Shamil; Russian: Имам Шамиль; 26 June 1797 – 4 February 1871) was the political, military, and spiritual leader of North Caucasian resistance to Imperial Russia in the 1800s,[1] the third Imam of the Caucasian Imamate (1840–1859), and a Sunni Muslim shaykh of the Naqshbandi Sufis.[2]

Family and early life[edit]

Imam Shamil was born in 1797 into an Avar Muslim family.[3][4][5][6][7] He was born in the small village (aul) of Gimry, (in present-day Dagestan, Russia). There are also sources stating that he had a paternal Kumyk lineage.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14] He was originally named Ali, but following local tradition, his name was changed to Shamuyil (Arabic: شمویل, equivalent to Samuel) when he became ill. This name is pronounced Shamil in the Caucasus, and contemporary sources called him by this name (either شامل Shāmil or شمیل Shamīl in Arabic), although in his writings he always used the form Shamuyil.[15] His father, Dengau, was a landlord, and this position allowed Shamil and his close friend Ghazi Muhammad to study many subjects, including Arabic and logic.

Shamil grew up at a time when the Russian Empire was expanding into the territories of the Ottoman Empire and Qajar Iran (see Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812)). Many Caucasian peoples united in resistance to Russian imperial aspirations in what became known as the Caucasian War (1817-1864). Earlier leaders of Caucasian resistance included Hadji-Dawud, Sheikh Mansur and Ghazi Mollah. Shamil, a childhood friend of the Mollah, would become his disciple and counsellor.

Shamil had multiple wives, including one of Armenian ethnicity born in Russia named Anna Ivanovna Ulukhanova or Ulykhanova (1828-1877).[16][17] Captured in a raid in 1840, she married Shamil six years later. She converted to Islam as a teenager and adopted the name Shuanet. Shuanet remained loyal to Shamil even after his capture and exile to Russia.[16] After the death of Shamil (1871) she moved to the Ottoman Empire, where the sultan assigned her a pension.[16]

War against Russia[edit]

Capture of Shamil, by Theodor Horschelt
Karte des Kaukasischen Isthmus. Entworfen und gezeichnet von J. Grassl, 1856.
Imam Shamil, Lithography by Vasily Timm
"Shamil's family". Left to right: Ghazi Muhammad's confident, murid Hajio; Shamil's son Muhammad-Shafi; Shamil's sons-in-law: Abdurrahim and Abdurrahman" photo, Kaluga, 1860

In 1832, Ghazi Mollah died at the battle of Gimry, and Shamil was one of only two Murids to escape, but he sustained severe wounds. During this fight he was stabbed with a bayonet. After jumping from an elevated stoop "clean over the heads of the very line of soldiers about to fire on him. Landing behind them, whirling his sword in his left hand he cut down three of them, but was bayoneted by the fourth, the steel plunging deep in his chest. He seized the bayonet, pulled it out of his own flesh, cut down the man, and with another superhuman leap, cleared the wall and vanished in the darkness".[18] He went into hiding and both Russia and Murids assumed him dead. Once recovered, he emerged from hiding and rejoined the Murids, led by the second Imam, Gamzat-bek. He would wage unremitting warfare on the Russians for the next quarter century and become one of the legendary guerrilla commanders of the century. When Gamzat-bek was murdered in 1834, Shamil took his place as the prime leader of the Caucasian resistance and the third Imam of the Caucasian Imamate.[19][20]

In 1839 (June–August), Shamil and his followers, numbering about 4000 men, women and children, found themselves under siege in their mountain stronghold of Akhoulgo, nestled in the bend of the Andi Koysu, about ten miles east of Gimry. Under the command of General Pavel Grabbe, the Russian army trekked through lands devoid of supplies because of Shamil's scorched-earth strategy. The geography of the stronghold protected it from three sides, adding to the difficulty of conducting the siege. Eventually the two sides agreed to negotiate. Complying with Grabbe's demands, Shamil gave his son, Jamaldin in a sign of good faith, as a hostage. Shamil rejected Grabbe's proposal that Shamil command his forces to surrender and for him to accept exile from the region. The Russian army attacked the stronghold, after 2 days of fighting, the Russian troops had secured it. Shamil escaped the siege during the first night of the attack. Shamil's forces had been broken and many Dagestani and Chechen chieftains proclaimed loyalty to the Tsar. Shamil fled Dagestan for Chechnya. There he made quick work of extending his influence over the clans.[21]

Shamil was effective at uniting the many, quarrelsome Caucasian tribes to fight against the Russians, by the force of his charisma, piety and fairness in applying Sharia law. One Russian source commented on him as "a man of great tact and a subtle politician." He believed the Russian introduction of alcohol in the area corrupted traditional values. Against the large regular Russian military, Shamil made effective use of irregular and guerrilla tactics. In 1845 an 8-10,000 strong column under the command of Count Michael Vorontsov followed the Imamate's forces into the forests of Chechnya. The Imamate's forces surround the Russian column, destroying it.[22] This destroyed Vorontsov's attempt to cut away Chechnya from the Imamate which was his plan.

Count Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov detailing the plan to cut away Chechnya from the Imamate:[23]

Shamil is showing great activity this year and he is forced to do this, since we ... are taking measures that must sooner or later ... destroy his influence and tear away the Chechens from him, without which he will be nothing.

— Count Mikhail Vorontsov

His fortunes as a military leader rose after he was joined by Hadji Murad, who defected from the Russians in 1841 and tripled by his fighting the area under Shamil's control within a short time. Hadji Murad, who was to become the subject of a famous novella by Leo Tolstoy (1904), turned against Shamil a decade later, apparently disappointed by his failure to be anointed Shamil's successor as imam. Shamil's elder son was given that nomination, and in a secret council, Shamil had his lieutenant accused of treason and sentenced to death, on which Hadji Murad, on learning of the judgement, redefected to the Russians.[19][20] Though Shamil hoped that Britain, France, or the Ottoman Empire would come to his aid to drive Russia from the Caucasus, these plans never came to fruition. After the Crimean War, Russia redoubled its efforts against the Imamate. Now successful, Russian forces severely reduced the Imamate's territory, and by September 1859 Shamil surrendered. Though the main theater closed, conflict in the eastern Caucasus would continue for several more years.[24]

Last years[edit]

Shamil (front page). Illustrated London News of December 24, 1859.

After his capture, Shamil was sent to Saint Petersburg to meet the Tsar Alexander II. Afterwards, he was exiled to Kaluga, then a small town near Moscow. After several years in Kaluga he complained to the authorities about the climate and in December of 1868 Shamil received permission to move to Kyiv a commercial center of the Empire's southwest. In Kyiv he was afforded a mansion in Aleksandrovskaya Street. The Imperial authorities ordered the Kyiv superintendent to keep Shamil under "strict but not overly burdensome surveillance" and allotted the city a significant sum for the needs of the exile. Shamil seemed to have liked his luxurious detainment, as well as the city; this is confirmed by the letters he sent from Kyiv.[25]

In 1859 Shamil wrote to one of his sons: "By the will of the Almighty, the Absolute Governor, I have fallen into the hands of unbelievers ... the Great Emperor ... has settled me here ... in a tall spacious house with carpets and all the necessities".[26]

In 1869 he was given permission to perform the Hajj to the holy city of Mecca. He traveled first from Kyiv to Odesa and then sailed to Istanbul, where he was greeted by Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz. He became a guest at the Imperial Topkapı Palace for a short while and left Istanbul on a ship reserved for him by the Sultan. In Mecca, during the pilgrimage, he met and conversed with Abdelkader El Djezairi. After completing his pilgrimage to Mecca, he died in Medina in 1871 while visiting the city, and was buried in the Jannatul Baqi, a historical graveyard in Medina where many prominent personalities from Islamic history are interred. Two elder sons, (Cemaleddin [ru] and Muhammed Şefi), whom he had to leave in Russia in order to get permission to visit Mecca, became officers in the Russian army, while two younger sons, (Muhammed Gazi [ru] and Muhammed Kamil), served in the Turkish army whilst their daughter Peet'mat Shamil went on to marry Sheikh Mansur Fedorov, an Imam who later absconded from the Russian Empire out of fear for himself and his children's life. He fathered 11 children, one being John Fedorov who changed his name to John Federoff after migrating to Childers in Queensland, Australia[27] where he established a sugar cane farming empire.

Said Shamil, a grandson of Imam Shamil, became one of the founders of the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus, which was founded in 1917 and survived until 1920, when it was conquered by Soviet Russia. Forced to leave the region, in 1924 he established the "Committee of Independence of the Caucasus" in Germany.


Russian historiography[edit]

While Russia had managed to conquer Chechnya and Dagestan in a series of bloody conquest, Russians had developed a great respect for Shamil.[28] Tsar Alexander II of Russia had openly admired his resistance, thus in the later part of his life, Shamil was permitted for Hajj by the Russian authorities.[29]

Shamil's legacy continues to remain strong not just in North Caucasus but also in general Russian history. He is regarded as one of the revered warrior figures in Russia and is frequently studied by Russian academia despite his defiance to Russian power.[30] An entomologist with reformist ideas named a large swift moth after him.[31]

Musical composition[edit]

At a gathering in 1958,[32] the Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story about a great tribal leader named Shamil, who was rebelling against the persecuting Russian forces. Lured by a false peace treaty, he was captured and exiled. During his exile, he composed a heartfelt, wordless song emoting his rise, downfall and yearn for his eventual freedom. The song was seemingly heard by a passing Hasid, the melody remained obscure until the Rebbe taught it at the above-mentioned gathering. The song uncharacteristically was adopted by the Chabad movement (who usually compose their own melodies), as they take the deeper meaning of its stanzas as an analogy for the soul, which descends to a world of mortality and physicality, trapped in a body, knowing that it will one day return to its maker.[32] (Another song uncharacteristically adapted by the Chabad movement is the tune of the La Marseillaise, which was put to the tune of the prayer Ho'aderes V'hoemunah.[33] The French government altered the tune shortly later, in 1974.[34])

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicholas V. Riasanovsky (1984). "Chapter 29: The Reign of Alexander II, 1855-81". A History of Russia (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 389. ISBN 978-0-19-503361-8.
  2. ^ The Great Shamil, Imam of Daghestan and Chechnya, Shaykh of Naqshbandi tariqah
  3. ^ Budak, Mustafa. "ŞEYH ŞÂMİL". Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslâm Ansiklopedisi.
  4. ^ "Şeyh Şamil". Biyografya. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  5. ^ Doğan, Şahin. "Avrasya İncelemeleri Dergisi (AVİD), IV/1 (2015), 121-145". Dergipark Çeviri.
  6. ^ Tiryakioğlu, Okay (March 2019). Şeyh Şamil - Kafkas Kartalı. Timaş Yayınları. ISBN 978-6050829860.
  7. ^ Başman, Sevgi. Şeyh Şamil (in Turkish). Zafer Basin Yayin Ve Turizm Ve Bilg.ürünleri San.tic. Ltd. şti. ISBN 978-975-261-372-0.
  8. ^ Блиев М. М. Россия и горцы Большого Кавказа: на пути к цивилизации. — М.: Мысль, 2004. — С. 279. — ISBN 5-244-01004-2.
  9. ^ Халилов А. М., Идрисов М. М. Шамиль в истории Северного Кавказа и народной памяти. — Махачкала, 1998. — 119 с.
  10. ^ Халилов А. М. Национально-освободительное движение горцев Северного Кавказа под предводительством Шамиля. — Махачкала: Дагучпедгиз, 1991. — 181 с.
  11. ^ Шамиль на Кавказе и в России, Биографический очерк / сост. М.Н. Чичагова — СПб.: Типография и литография С. Муллер и И. Богельман, 1889
  12. ^ Şeyh Şamil Çarlara Baş Eğmeyen Dağlı, Samih Tansu, 1963, p. 14-15
  13. ^ Дауев, Саламу Ахмедович. Чечня: коварные таинства истории / Саламу Дауев. - М. : Русь, 1999, стр. 133-136
  15. ^ Gammer, Moshe (1994). Muslim Resistance to the Tsar: Shamil and the Conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan. London: Frank Cass. pp. 69, 329.
  16. ^ a b c Thomas M. Barrett, At the Edge of Empire: The Terek Cossacks and the North Caucasus Frontier, 1700–1860 (Westview Press, 1999), 193.
  17. ^ Daniel R. Brower and Edward J. Lazzerinini, eds., Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700–1917 (Indiana University Press, 1997), 92.
  18. ^ Invisible armies: Blanch, sabres("bare":70; "wild beast"; al-Qarakhi, shining (pulled out sword: 22);
  19. ^ a b Gary Hamburg, Thomas Sanders, Ernest Tucker (eds,),Russian-Muslim Confrontation in the Caucasus: Alternative Visions of the conflict between Imam Shamil and the Russians, 1830-1859, RoutledgeCurzon 2004 pèassim
  20. ^ a b Malise Ruthven,'Terror:The Hidden Source, in New York Review of Books October 24, 2013 pp.20-24, p.20.
  21. ^ King, Charles (2008). The Ghost of Freedom. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 79–80.
  22. ^ Gammer, Moshe (September 2013). "Empire and Mountains: The Case of Russia and the Caucasus". Social Evolution & History: 124–125.
  23. ^ "Полтора века назад Чечню удалось победить «системой просек". April 2009.
  24. ^ Gammer, Moshe (September 2013). "Empire and Mountains: The Case of Russia and the Caucasus". Social Evolution & History: 126.
  25. ^ Андрей Манчук, Шамиль на печерских холмах Archived 2007-11-15 at the Wayback Machine, "Газета по-киевски", 06.09.2007
  26. ^ Pismo Shamilia Mukhammadanu, November 24, 1859, in Omarov, ed. 100 pisem Shamilia.
  27. ^ "Re: John Federoff born Russia -". Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  28. ^ "Теперь Кавказ в Калуге»: как жил имам Шамиль в русском плену". 14 November 2018.
  29. ^ "Imam Shamil: A pioneer of the Caucuses's struggle for freedom". Daily Sabah. 28 August 2015.
  30. ^ "Русские в государстве Шамиля". История, Археология И Этнография Кавказа (28): 7–15. 2011.
  31. ^ H. Christoph: Diagnosen zu einigen neuen Lepidoptera des palaearctischen Faunengebietes. Hor. Soc. Ent Ross. (Sankt Peterburg), vol 22. pp308 - 314 (1888). See Zenophassus
  32. ^ a b "A Song - A story of bondage and freedom portrays the mystery of life". Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  33. ^ "The Spiritual French Revolution: A Miracle in Our Times, 5752(1992)". Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  34. ^ "La Marseillaise - background". Retrieved 1 January 2018.

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