CAIRO - With mosques packed with worshippers and younger generations see Islam as a cornerstone of their identity, Chechnya is witnessing an Islamic revival after two decades of wars with Russia.
"This generation lost its childhood to war," Imam Yasrayel Ayubov of Serzhen-Yurt village, near the Chechen capital Grozny, told the USA Today on Thursday, March 22.
"Their education was interrupted, and they grew up overnight.
Yet when it comes to Islam, young people are far more educated and observant than the previous generation."
After two devastating wars with Russia, which killed thousands of people, Chechnya is now seeing an Islamic revival.
Mosques across the province are now packed with worshippers every day.
Serzhen-Yurt village, for instance, has nine mosques to serve its 5,000 residents.
Hijab is also becoming popular among Chechen women, especially the younger generations.
This revival is backed by a campaign launched by the government of President Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally to the Kremlin, to promote Islam in the province.
Mosques and Islamic center are now being built at a quicker pace.
Local TV stations are also increasing the volume of programming devoted to Chechnya's Islamic identity.
Islam teaching is now a mandatory subject in Chechen schools, which now have prayer rooms.
"Chechnya is now actively positioning itself not only as a relatively autonomous part of Russia but also as a Muslim center," Russian analyst Nikolai Petrov of Carnegie Moscow Center said.
After witnessing the horrors of war in their childhood, young Chechens now see Islam as a cornerstone of their identity.
For example, 15-year-old Seda Makhagieva struggled with her family to convince them to take on hijab.
"My family didn't allow me to wear it at first," the petite Chechen girl, wearing a pastel-colored hijab, told the USA Today.
"They said I was too young. My mom beat my sister and me every day, but I didn't care.
I am a Muslim and it is my duty to wear it."
In past generations, married women in Chechnya covered their hair with a small, triangle-shaped scarf as a sign of respect and modesty.
But now, many young Chechens wear the Muslim outfit.
Now, half of the girls in Seda's ninth-grade class in Serzhen-Yurt village wear the hijab, an obligatory code of dress in Islam.
"I didn't want them to wear the hijab, Seda's mother, Rosa Makhagieva, 45, said, referring to her three daughters.
I argued, yelled and even beat them.
"My husband was against me. He said, 'If you don't allow them to wear it, I am going to make you put it on.' "
But some Chechen are unhappy with the trend, criticizing the authorities for ordering a strict code of dress at schools.
"I don't understand the point of it. Nothing changes if you just cover your head at school," said Khadizhad Barshigova, 14.
Critics say authorities now force all schoolgirls, regardless of their religion, to wear a head covering, long sleeves, and skirts below the knee in public schools and government buildings. Those who refuse become targets.
Last year, Human Right Watch released a report documenting attacks on women without head coverings.
"Not everyone reacted well," said teacher Malika Taramova, 20."There are now rumors that all teachers will have to wear a hijab. My parents told me they'd make me quit work if that happened."