Ravaged by two devastating wars in the 1990s, Grozny, the capital city of the Republic of Chechnya, became known as ‘the most destroyed city on earth’.
For the past two hundred years, the Chechens, a largely Muslim ethnic group that has lived for centuries in the mountainous North Caucasus region, have resisted Russian rule and enjoyed varying degrees of de facto autonomy.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechen separatists in the newly formed Russian Federation Republic of Chechnya launched a coordinated campaign for independence from the Russian Federation.
The Second Chechen War in 1999 ended the de facto independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, won after the First Chechen War, and restored Russian federal control over the region.
Grozny was the epicenter of fighting. By 2003, no building in the city was left undamaged. Since then, Grozny has undergone a massive facelift with a mega reconstruction program funded by Moscow.
Today, lavish high-rise buildings and skyscrapers define the skyline of the once war-torn metropolis, as do the soaring minarets of one of the largest mosques in the Russian Federation; ‘The Heart of Chechnya’.After four years of construction, the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque—officially known as the ‘The Heart of Chechnya’—was formally opened to the public in a ceremony in October 2008 attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, who was once a member of the Chechen independence movement before switching sides and declaring allegiance to Russia at the start of the Second Chechen War.
Like many newly built structures in the city, the mosque was named after the first president of the Republic of Chechnya and the father of its current leader.The Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque symbolises the rebirth of the city and is considered by many to be Grozny’s crown jewel. It denotes unity around a common faith and forms part of an Islamic architectural complex on the bank of the Sunzha River in the Chechen capital.
Islam was first introduced into the Caucasus region by Muslim traders in the eighth century following the Muslim conquest of Persia, but it did not spread as far and wide into the mountainous region until the nineteenth century when Caucasian tribes sought the help of the Ottoman Empire against threats of invasion posed by the Russian Empire.
Influenced by Ottoman Turks, many Caucasian tribes who resisted Russian control, including Chechens, eventually embraced Islam.
The Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque was indeed commissioned by the mayor of the Turkish city of Konya. Its classical Ottoman design boasts a large dome over the central prayer hall, surrounded by four 62-metre-tall minarets based on Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.
The mosque’s exterior walls are covered in travertine marble, while the interior walls are adorned with white marble which was mined in the Marmara island in the Sea of Marmara.
The mosque, which can hold 10,000 worshippers, has 36 chandeliers modelled after Islam’s three holiest sites; the Dome of the rock in Jerusalem, Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi in Madinah, and the Kaaba in Makkah.
Although in many ways the mosque resembles the architecture of numerous mosques found across Turkey today, witnessing the call to prayer echoing across the once war-ravaged city on any given Friday and drawing in thousands of Chechens who gather to perform congregational prayer in peace, healing the invisible scars of war which linger underneath, makes it worth the visit.