Wahhabis have appeared in Georgia?

By Kama Rzayeva

Near Tbilisi, in the village of Ponichala-Soganlugi densely populated by Azerbaijanis, the construction of a new mosque has started. It has become a bone of contention between local Azerbaijanis, dividing the population into good and bad, into the Shia, Sunni or Salafi. Many believe that Wahhabis are constructing it. Why some residents are convinced that the new mosque is the abode of evil, and what is Wahhabism in their opinion?


Construction of a new mosque in the village of Soganlugi started about a month ago. It's being erected under the guise of an apartment building. The fact that it would be a place for prayers of the Salafis became known later, when the locals paid attention to the fact that the construction involves the people of the characteristic appearance, mostly bearded. This has become an irritant to the population of the village and even the cause of the protests. They believe this mosque is the abode of evil not for religious needs but for political goals of radical Islam.


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Soganlugi mosque is functioning in the center of the village for many years. It very well could meet the religious needs of the local Azerbaijanis if not one circumstance. According to residents, for Akhund of this mosque Rakhid Kerimov there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. Explanation is that the latter are followers of Wahhabism, and their customs and ways of a prayer contradict the basic tenets of Islam. So why has the radical branch of Islam appeared in the village Ponichala near Tbilisi, and what is Wahhabism in the opinion of locals?


"Our village does not need a second mosque, people recognize and accept only this one," the Akhund of the mosque in Ponichala Rakhid Kerimov said in an interview to GTimes. "Some small radical group broke away and decided to build a mosque using means of unknown origin," said Akhund. We questioned him in detail about the new mosque.

- Why do you think this is a Wahhabi mosque, while they do not consider themselves Wahhabis, and argue that is just a private house?


- It is quite clear. They're not aliens. They are also residents of this village. Wahhabis pray separately, their customs and beliefs conflict with ours. In their belief pilgrimage to the tombs of the saints which they regard as worship the dead must is forbidden, they do not celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. They are bribing the locals attracting to their side. In the first place the residents of Ponichala are unhappy with this, and I support them.

- Were the recent protests your initiative?


- No, they were organized by the society "Azerbaijanis of Georgia," the chairman of the Centre for Civil Development, Director of the Azerbaijani school in Ponichala Abai Bashaev. Dissatisfaction is also caused by the fact that the Wahhabi mosque is being built next to the school. They are a bad example for our children.


- They say that you get funding from Iran. Is that right?


- It is not funding. I am lecturing at one spiritual Iranian school and receive salary.


- What are you going to do? How are you going to resist the construction?


- We have appealed to the mayor's office with a request to stop the construction of the mosque, which is unacceptable for the local population. We are continuing collection of signatures. The mosque should not exist here.


It should be noted that the local population has both supporters and opponents of the construction of the new mosque. 200 people support the view of the Akhund Rakhid Kerimov. They say they see no need in the new mosque and consider the Salafis unpleasing to God. Even among the children we noticed a kind of aggression towards "bearded" residents. After all, the protest with the slogan "Ponichala-Soganlugi - not a place for the Wahhabis," "Wahhabis is a radical group. They have no place in Georgia," "Tbilisi City Hall shall immediately suspend the construction of the nest of radicals under the guise of mosques!" was held right in front of the school, and one of the initiators was the director of the school.


To listen to the opinions of the opposite side we went in search of the Salafis. As it turned out, due to the lack of a place of worship they rent one of the old houses. By the time we got there was no one. However, looking through the open window we got  convinced that was a meeting-house. Neighbors say that about 15 Wahhabis come here every day for namaz. And sometimes even the Chechens and Dagestanis come here.


We met so-called Wahhabis near the building of the mosque under construction. As it turned out, these people do not consider themselves Wahhabis and do not understand why the locals call them this way.


"We don't know why they call us Wahhabis. We are Sunnis, different from the representatives of Shiism. But it's a long story. This division has always existed. But here in the village the situation is aggravated. We are not allowed to pray in the local mosque. Akhund of the mosque is displeased with our rituals of namaz. Till now we gathered in a house of one of us. However, the number of adherents is growing. We do not have enough space, even in a large private house. So we are building a house at our own expense. Despite they say it will be a mosque, we argue it will be a house. Tbilisi City Hall will confirm this. However, we do not deny that Muslim brothers will gather here to pray," say representatives of the other party.


According to information obtained from the Tbilisi City Hall, in the village of Ponichala the Wahhabi mosque is not being built. And a certain Vasif Mammadov is engaged in its construction. He has got permission to build a private house. According to the head of the architecture service Malkhaz Kinelauri, the current legislation does not specify exactly how the permit holder will use the living space.


"In Ponichala we issued a permission not for a mosque, but for an individual houses. Vasif Mammadov appealed to us for permission for the construction of individual house and we have allowed it," said Malkhaz Kunelauri. He says the mayor's office does not care how a person uses the dwelling.


One local resident, whose house is located close to the mosque, expressed, perhaps, the wisest idea. "Wrong are both those and others. They are not allowed to the Mosque, so the question arises where should they pray? At the same time, they are leading not quite fair play. If you build a mosque, why are you hiding this fact, besides emphasizing that you differ from us? We confess one religion. We all are Muslims. Even if we fail to agree with each other, then what about other religions? "


Georgia Times