Lindsey Thomas


I wrote this paper for a religion seminar Gender and Mysticism in Islam that I took with Professor Mahdi Tourage in the fall of 2007. The assignment was fairly open-ended: a research paper in any area of our choosing as long as the topic related to women and Sufism. A Russian history class I was taking concurrently with Professor Kira Stevens inspired me to study the influence of Soviet policy on Sufi women in Chechnya. While discussing Soviet policy within the Union in Russian history, we learned about how the Soviets sought to “free” the Muslim women from the shackles of Islam by physically ripping off their veils. This practice had a substantial backlash in Uzbekistan, and I was interested to see if the similar methods were utilized and a comparable reaction realized among the Sufi populations in the Soviet Union. I decided to focus my discussion on Chechnya, as the population had the most contact with the Soviet government. After much research, I concluded that Soviet policies which advocated gender equality did have an effect on female Sufi Chechens. Unlike in Uzbekistan however, the gender dialogue was forced into the background by the North Caucasian nationalist movement. In addition to gender policy the Soviets also forcefully deported the entire Chechen nation in 1944. One observed effect of these Soviet policies was the physical inclusion of women into the Chechen Sufi brotherhoods. Thus, while evidence exists to suggest Soviet gender policies influenced the position of women within Sufi orders, there is a lack of support for a subsequent change in societal attitudes toward gender norms.