Islamic healers treat wounds in Russia’s Chechnya

August 15, 2011

Islamic healer Timur Chamaev places his hands on a patient and recites from the Koran during treatment in the Islamic Medical Centre in the Chechen capital Grozny July 20, 2011/Stringer

Lying on a couch with her eyes closed, 26-year-old Milena sips water blessed by an Islamic healer who sits nearby reciting verses from the Koran to cure her depression. Outside, a long line of patients wait at Chechnya’s state-run Islamic Medical Center, hoping its staff can heal deep psychological wounds left by years of war in the volatile region in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Nearly fifteen years after her brother was killed in the first separatist war, and more than a decade after the second conflict drove her family from their home, Milena is one of thousands of Chechens who have turned to traditional “Islamic” medicine for relief.

The center in the mountainous territory has flourished alongside a resurgence of Islam encouraged by firebrand leader Ramzan Kadyrov after years of repression by secular Communist authorities. In a three-storey building in the Chechen capital Grozny, 11 healers prescribe treatments for anyone knocking on the door.

“We take in about 150 people a day, and we work around the clock,” said Daud Selmurzayev, the head of the center. He said about 150,000 people had passed through the center’s doors since its opened two years ago to receive the treatments, popular among some branches of Islam but frowned upon by others.

Healing recitations of the Koran typically take about 30 minutes, he said. “People understand that the Koran represents the mercy of Allah and in it is the savior from many illnesses,” he said. Most patients are treated for depression or demonic possession, a commonly accepted affliction in Chechnya.

Demand is so high the center is planning to open a new hospital in the region at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The center is the latest in a series of religious initiatives from Kadyrov that have flown in the face of Russia’s secular constitution, and outraged rights workers and many Chechens.

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