Got camels?

Silhouette of two camels, two tribesmen and lady holding water jug under full moon

I'm a big fan of the Reuters religion team and love that reporters there are given time and freedom to really explore stories. But I have to admit that this story about a Muslim revival in Chechnya didn't exactly delight me from the get go. Here's how it begins:

Adam, 52, keeps his three wives in different towns to stop them squabbling, but the white-bearded Chechen adds he might soon take a fourth.

Now, it's not just that almost the only thing we learn about these women is that they squabble. And it's not just that there are no women quoted in the story. And it's not even that we don't learn why they don't relish their own polygamous relationship. Actually, I don't know what it is -- it just sort of made me groan in that way that stories about women disagreeing get played up as "catfights" -- rowr! -- whereas men in similar situations have "disagreements."

The story itself is interesting. We learn that the Kremlin and insurgents are fighting for authority. Both claim Islamic authority and Moscow isn't entirely certain how to handle the situation. But either way, central power is yielding to Islamic law. For instance, Russia bans polygamy. But in the Muslim regions of Chechnya, it's downright encouraged. This is one of my personal areas of interest -- hidden law and overlapping legal systems.

The reader who sent this story in noted something interesting:

By Russian law, Adam is only married to his first wife of 28 years, Zoya, the plump, blue-eyed mother of his three children, with whom he shares a home on the outskirts of the regional capital Grozny.

His "marriages" to the other two -- squirreled away in villages nearby -- were carried out in elaborate celebrations and are recognized by Chechen authorities.

Putting "marriages" in quotes might be Reuters style. And obviously the reporter is explaining the difference between the Russian approved first marriage and the Chechen approved subsequent marriages. But this story was published in the New York Times. And the reader who sent in the story notes that he doesn't recall that paper putting same-sex marriages in scare quotes even when they're in similar jurisdictional legal limbo. I'm no fan of polygamy but it all reads a bit dismissively. This is not helped by the headline, which is "Muslim Revival Brings Polygamy, Camels to Chechnya."

As the submitting reader wrote:

The title alone is something of a howler. I'm amazed that such a stereotypical view of a religion that isn't a traditional form of Christianity was allowed in the Grey Lady. Islam=camels? Please. How many camels do you think they have in Indonesia and Malaysia?

Now having said that, the story does a nice job of explaining how Muslim authorities are defending the practice and includes some relevant religious quotes.

So you want to know about the camels, don't you? Here you go:


Dirt roads lead the way to Chechnya's first camel farm, about 55 km (34 miles) northwest of Grozny, where 46 of the two-humped creatures munch on salt and grass while they are groomed to be gifts for dowries and religious holidays.

Considered holy animals in Islam, they sell for 58,000 roubles ($1,886) each, said Umar Guchigov, the director of the farm, which opened just over a year ago under Kadyrov's command, and plans are in place to build three more in Chechnya.

"So many people, simple people, congratulated us for bringing back this ancient tradition," Guchigov said.

Islam considers camels holy? This is news. To me, at least. Although I also checked the interwebs and that didn't do much to explain why they're considered holy. I basically got a bunch of links to the story in question. This is a truly interesting bit of news and I would have loved to have had it explained more.

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