Imam Shamil was born around 1797 in the town of Gimry which is in current-day Daghestan. His father was a free landlord, and this position allowed Shamil to study many subjects including Arabic, logic and other areas. Shamil would also join a Sufi order, and established himself as a well-respected and educated man among other Muslims of the Caucasus. He made a pilgramige or hajj to Mecca in 1828 and there he met Abdel Kadir, from whom he learned guerilla war tactics.
Shamil was born at a time when the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus were at war with the armies of Russia. Since the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian empire had begun to expand and eventually took control of the region from the Ottoman Empire. As time progressed, the Muslims of the region began to feel that their way of life was threatened, and they were continually at warfare with the Russians. Some of the earlier leaders of Muslim resistance were Shaykh Mansour, and Ghazi Mollah. Shamil was actually childhood friends with Mollah, and would become his disciple.
At the battle of Ghimri, Mollah would die, and Shamil would take his place as the premier leader of Muslim resistance in the Caucasus. He would come to be known as al-Imam al-Azam or leader of all the Caucasus. He was effective at uniting the peoples of the mountains to fight the Russians, and won many victories against the Russians during the Caucasian War that lasted from 1817 until 1864. Indeed, Shamil made effective use of guerilla warfare tactics and the resistance was only ended when the Russians deployed half a million troops and reduced the forces of Shamil down to the hundreds. After being threatened with the excecution of his family, Shamil surrendered.
After being defeated by the Russians, Shamil was sent to Moscow to meet the Csar, and then he was exiled to a small town outside of Moscow. In 1869 he was given permission to retire to the holy city of Mecca, and he travelled there through Istanbul. He would die in Medina in 1871 while visiting the city, and was buried the Jannatul Baqi which is also the site where many important personalities from Islamic history are buried.
Shamil continues to be revered in the Caucasus for his resitance to the Russians, and is held up as a role-model by those leading the current fight against Russian control of the region.