In Chechnya, baby names can win cash prizes.
On Monday, every newly-born child who was named after the Prophet Muhammad, his family, or ten companions, took home a $1,000 gift.
It was Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov himself who posted the cash offer on his infamously-odd Instagram account to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which was celebrated last Monday in the Sunni tradition.
In all, 126 babies (78 boys and 48 girls) were awarded the money, according to a statement by the Chechen health ministry. Most of the newborns were named after the Prophet or his wife Fatima, according to the government.
Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia, is not a rich country. According to the United Nations, 50 percent of the population lives on less than 33 rubles ($1.1) a day.
But Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Russia loyalist, lives the good life. He invites Hollywood celebrities to his birthday, showers dancers in $100 bills, and even imports camels, to make camel stew. He is also accused of perpetuating horrific human rights abuses.
Where does all the money come from? Kadyrov said the $1,000 cash for names idea came from his mother, Aimani Kadyrova. The government said she distributed the payments through the supposedly private charity she oversees, named after Kadyrov’s father.
But not everyone is convinced. The charity “collects donations from dubious "bisnesmeni" and is said to have extorted "donations" from blue-collar workers,” according to German newspaper Der Spiegel.
Before she was killed in unresolved circumstances, highly-respected Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya called the Ahmed Kadyrov Foundation “an organization for the laundering and uninhibited exploitation of resources amounting to many millions of dollars.”
In one diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, then U.S. Ambassador William J. Burns accused Kadyrov of taking one-third of international assistance to Chechnya for himself, quoting a Russian presidential aide.
“He is a warlord pure and simple,” Burns wrote.