Long before Khabib.
Dagestan was home to a fighter far greater and powerful in rank.
His name was Imam Shamil. And he was one of the greatest warriors to emerge from Dagestan in the 1800’s.
He was born in 1797 to an Avar family in the village of Gimri, Dagestan, at a time Russia was expanding into the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Originally named Ali, he was often sick as a child, and was thus renamed “Shamil” in hopes a new found name would grant him health.
As a young boy, he would spend his days gaining Islamic knowledge under the town’s Sheikh. And by the age of 20, he had travelled to Syria and mastered several Islamic sciences.
Upon returning home to Dagestan, he joined the resistance against Russian forces that sought to expand into his country.
However after being injured in the battle of Gimri in 1832, he retreated to the mountains in order to recover.
After recovering in 1834, and also after two of the subsequent Imams were killed in battle, Shamil was appointed as the new Imam and leader of the Dagestani army.
Due to his towering height, strong build and immense Islamic knowledge, he swiftly attained the trust of his people.
He was also able to strategically reorganise and unify the Muslim ranks throughout the Caucasus. The townspeople honoured him greatly and would always rush to accommodate his fighters. He signified a beam of light for Caucasian autonomy and provided hope of long awaited peace.
He was also able to rectify many of the social vices of the time and bring his people closer to Islam.
From 1834 to 1859 he continued to fight defiantly against the Russian forces, despite their advanced military equipment. News of his ability to forestall the gigantic Russian empire’s expansion soon spread across the world.
He was known as a man of bravery, courage and virtue. A man who would never surrender.
In 1859, his resistance however slowly lost grounding due to internal tribal conflicts and he was eventually captured by the Russian army.
He was taken prisoner by Russian forces and placed in a ten year exile under strict supervision in a small city near Moscow.
Ten years later, he was granted permission to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, for the second time in his life. Following his pilgrimage, he visited the city of Madinah and subsequently died there in 1871. He was buried in Al-Baqi cemetery with many of the family and companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
May Allah have mercy on Imam Shamil and may his story serve as a legacy for Muslims around the world.