'Islamic relic' presented to Chechnya

Ramzan Kadyrov unveils bowl allegedly used by the prophet Muhammad at grand mosque in Grozny

Ramzan Kadyrov, the eccentric leader of Chechnya, is famous for his collections of wild animals and luxury cars. Now he claims to be the new owner of a bowl once used by the prophet Muhammad, allegedly presented to him by descendants in London.

A publicity video shows Kadyrov, who has been accused of widespread human rights abuses in the republic, collecting the purported relic from a private jet at Grozny airport on Wednesday before getting into a convertible Rolls-Royce covered in black and gold rugs, also said to have been brought from London.

The Rolls-Royce leads a motorcade of dozens of luxury cars to the city's grand mosque, opened by the Chechen leader in 2008 as part of his drive to increase the official role of Islam in the republic. Thousands of residents lined the streets as Kadyrov waved and wiped away tears.

Wearing a bright purple suit and black skullcap, Kadyrov pushes through a massive crowd at the mosque, allegedly the largest in Europe. As he opens the box to reveal the bowl, Kadyrov erupts into loud sobs, shoulders shaking. He covers his reddened face after he kisses the allegedly holy bowl for the first time. Kadyrov then thrusts the relic above his head, leading the crowd in chants of "Allahu Akbar".

Kadyrov has built an all-encompassing cult of personality in the republic and often goes to great lengths to put his faith on show. He is still battling the remnants of an Islamist insurgency – last month the road Kadyrov travelled down on Wednesday was hit by a suicide bomb attack that killed nine people and injured 22.

Kadyrov told the crowd that the sacred bowl "was brought from London to Grozny by British Muslims" and dated back 1,400 years. His press service said the bowl had been kept in London by descendants of Muhammad's cousin, Ali. "We put a lot of effort into getting the Great Prophet's bowl to our republic," Kadyrov said at the unveiling.

The bowl will be kept at the mosque and brought out every year on Muhammad's birthday, when any believer will be allowed to drink from it, the press service said. "Many expressed keen interest in the bowl, but the descendants decided that Ramzan Kadyrov deserves to keep it, and so it has been passed to him."

The statement failed to mention whether Kadyrov paid for the purported relic. The leader has claimed that international footballers who have flocked to the republic for exhibition games in recent months were not paid and came "out of respect for the Chechen people".

Kadyrov has ruled Chechnya since 2007 and is accused by human rights groups of targeting enemies inside Chechnya and abroad in his ruthless attempt to consolidate power. Among those who accompanied Kadyrov to the airport on Wednesday was Adam Delimkhanov, suspected by police in Dubai of involvement in the murder of a Kadyrov rival there.


Miriam Elder in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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