ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN AZERBAIJAN
Republic of Azerbaijan
33,436 sq mi (86,600 sq km); total area: 33,436 sq mi (86,600 sq km)
Population (2008 est.):
Capital and largest city
(2003 est.): Baku, 2,118,600 (metro area), 1,235,400
(city proper), a port on the Caspian Sea
Other large cities
(2004 est.): Ganja, 303,000; Sumgait, 280,500
Azerbaijani Turkic 89%, Russian 3%, Armenian 2%, other 6% (1995 est.)
Azeri 90.6%, Dagestani 2.2%, Russian 1.8%, Armenian 1.5%, other 3.9% (1999).
Note: almost all Armenians live in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region
Islam 93%, Russian Orthodox 3%, Armenian Orthodox 2%, other 2% (1995 est.)
Founding of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, May 28
98.8% (1999 est.)
GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $72.2 billion; per capita $9,000. Real growth
rate: 31%. Inflation: 16%.
Azerbaijan is located on the western
shore of the Caspian Sea at the southeast extremity of the Caucasus. The region
is a mountainous country, and only about 7% of it is arable land. The Kura River
Valley is the area's major agricultural zone.
Northern Azerbaijan was known as
Caucasian Albania in ancient times. The area was the site of many conflicts
involving Arabs, Kazars, and Turks. After the 11th century, the territory became
dominated by Turks and eventually was a stronghold of the Shiite Muslim religion
and Islamic culture. The territory of Soviet Azerbaijan was acquired by Russia
from Persia through the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and the Treaty of
Turkamanchai in 1828.
After the Bolshevik Revolution,
Azerbaijan declared its independence from Russia in May 1918. The republic was
reconquered by the Red Army in 1920 and was annexed into the Transcaucasian
Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922. It was later reestablished as a separate
Soviet Republic on Dec. 5, 1936. Azerbaijan declared independence from the
collapsing Soviet Union on Aug. 30, 1991.
Islamic History and Muslims
Approximately 93.4 to 96 percent of the population of Azerbaijan
is nominally Muslim. The rest of the population adheres to other faiths or are
non-religious, although they are not officially represented. Among the Muslim
majority, religious observance is relatively low and Muslim identity tends to be
based more on culture and ethnicity rather than religion; however, imams
reported increased attendance at mosques during 2003. The Muslim population is
approximately 85% Shi'a and 15% Sunni; differences traditionally have not been
defined sharply. Most Shias are adherents of orthodox Ithna Ashari school of
Shi'a Islam. Other traditional religions or beliefs that are followed by many in
the country are the orthodox Sunni Islam, the Armenian Apostolic Church (in
Karabakh), the Russian Orthodox Church, and various other Christian sects.
Traditionally villages around Baku and Lenkoran region are considered stronghold
of Shi'ism, and in some northern regions, populated by Sunni Dagestani people,
Salafi sect gained great following. Folk Islam is widely practiced, but
organized Sufi movement is absent. There are fairly sizable expatriate Christian
and Muslim communities in the capital city of Baku; authorities generally permit
these groups to worship freely.
Islam arrived in Azerbaijan with Arabs in the seventh century, gradually
supplanting Zoroastrianism and Azerbaijani pagan cults. In the seventh and
eighth centuries, many Zoroastrians fled Muslim persecution and moved to India,
where they became known as Parsis. Until Soviet Bolsheviks ended the practice,
Zoroastrian pilgrims from India and Iran traveled to Azerbaijan to worship at
sacred sites, including the Ateshgah Temple in Surakhany on the Apsheron
In the sixteenth century, the first shah of the Safavid Dynasty, Ismail I (r.
1486-1524), established Shi'a Islam as the state religion, although large
numbers of Azerbaijanis remained Sunni. The Safavid court was subject to both
Turkic (Sunni) and Iranian (Shi'a) influences, however, which reinforced the
dual nature of Azerbaijani religion and culture in that period. As elsewhere in
the Muslim world, the two branches of Islam came into conflict in Azerbaijan.
Enforcement of Shi'a Islam as the state religion brought contention between the
Safavid rulers of Azerbaijan and the ruling Sunnis of the neighboring Ottoman
In the nineteenth century, many Sunni Muslims emigrated from Russian-controlled
Azerbaijan because of Russia's series of wars with their coreligionists in the
Ottoman Empire. Thus, by the late nineteenth century, the Shi'a population was
in the majority in Russian Azerbaijan. Antagonism between the Sunnis and the
Shi'a diminished in the late nineteenth century as Azerbaijani nationalism began
to emphasize a common Turkic heritage and opposition to Iranian religious
There is also a small Jewish community in Azerbaijan. There are three sinagogues
in Baku and a few in the provinces. Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade (head
of Azeri Shi'a) has donated USD 40,000 for construction of Jewish House in Baku
in 2000. In 1806, Azerbaijan was conquered by the Russians. In 1918, Azerbaijan
declared independence from Russia, but was incorporated into the Soviet Union in
Before Soviet power was established, about 2,000 mosques were active in
Azerbaijan. Most mosques were closed in the 1930s, then some were allowed to
reopen during World War II. The Soviet rule promoted an Azerbaijani national
consciousness as a substitute for identification with the world Islamic
In the 1980s only two large and five smaller mosques held services in Baku, and
only eleven others were operating in the rest of the country. Supplementing the
officially sanctioned mosques were thousands of private houses of prayer and
many secret Islamic sects.
Azerbaijanis believed they suffered greater repression than their South
Caucasian neighbors, Armenia and Georgia, because of their identification with
the world of Islam.
Gradually, during the Soviet imperial twilight, signs of religious reawakening
not only multiplied but surfaced into the open. According to Soviet sources,
during the late 1970s around 1,000 clandestine houses of prayer were in use, and
some 300 places of pilgrimage were identifiable. This growth proved the prelude
to the public openings of hundreds of mosques in the following decade.
During World War II, Soviet authorities established the Muslim Spiritual Board
of Transcaucasia in Baku as the governing body of Islam in the Caucasus, in
effect reviving the nineteenth century tsarist Muslim Ecclesiastical Board.
During the tenures of Leonid I. Brezhnev and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Moscow
encouraged Muslim religious leaders in Azerbaijan to visit and host foreign
Muslim leaders, with the goal of advertising the freedom of religion and
superior living conditions reportedly enjoyed by Muslims under Soviet communism.
Beginning in the late Gorbachev period, and especially after independence, the
number of mosques rose dramatically. Many were built with the support of other
Islamic countries, such as Iran, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, which also contributed
Qur'ans and religious instructors to the new Muslim states. A Muslim seminary
has also been established since 1991. After independence, the laws regarding
religion are quite clear. In Article 6 of the constitution, Azerbaijan is
declared a secular state. This point is driven home in Article 19 with the
statement of the separation of religion and state and the equality of all
religions before the law as well as the secular character of the state
Secular politicians in Azerbaijan have raised concerns about the rise of
political Islam, but others argue that Islam in Azerbaijan is a multifaceted
phenomenon. Islam plays only a very limited role in the political sphere and
only a small part of the population supports the idea of establishing an Islamic
order. This is due to the long tradition of secularism in Azerbaijan and to the
fact that the nationalistic opposition movement is secular in character. Yet,
according to some analysts, on the longer run, if the politicians do not manage
to improve the conditions of life of the vast majority of the people, the
population may express its discontent through political Islam. A current center
of conservative Shia Islam, is the settlement of Nardaran, near Baku renowned
for its 13-century shrine.
Juma mosque in Ganja, built in 1606.
A Mosque in Baku.
The new mosque, Maraza. It's called the Heydar mosque
Islamic Centers and Organizations
Jami Mosque, Baku, aze
(Icheri Sheher), Baku, aze
URL: www.azerislam.com Phone: 0503195150
masjid, Damirchi, Baku
INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC RELIEF ORG., Baku, Yasamal
Qatar Found, Kakhi, Azerbaijan
Muslims Committee, Baku
Bibiheybet Mosque, Baku
Masjid (Bico mascidi), Bico
Sultan Mosque, Baku
Mosque (Icheri Sheher), Baku
Mosque of Sheki, Shekili
Dadash Mesjid, Baku
Qatar Found, Kakhi
Ashraf Masjidi, Horadiz Stansiyasi
Abbas Masjid, Ganca
Juma Mosque, Sheki
Asia Muslims Committee, Baku
AzeriMuslims Media, Baku
INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC RELIEF ORG., Baku
Islamic University, Baku
Muslim Owned Business
Islam in Azerbaijan (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Azerbaijan , September, 2008).
Info please (
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107305.html , September, 2008).
Islam Finder (
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in Azerbaijan
, September 2008.