ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN GEORGIA
26,911 sq mi (69,700 sq km)
Population (2008 est.):
Capital and largest city
(2003 est.): Tbilisi, 1,440,000 (metro. area),
1,240,200 (city proper)
Other large cities:
Kutaisi, 268,800; Batoumi, 145,400; and Sokhumi, 110,300
Georgian 71% (official), Russian 9%, Armenian 7%, Azerbaijani 6%, other 7%
(Abkhaz is the official language in Abkhazia)
Georgian 83.8%, Azeri 6.5%, Armenian 5.7%, Russian 1.5%, other 2.5% (2002)
Orthodox 84%, Islam 10%, Armenian-Gregorian 4%, Catholic 1% (2002)
100% (2004 est.)
GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $20.5 billion; per capita $4,700. Real growth
rate: 12.4%. Inflation: 9.2%.
Georgia is bordered by the Black Sea
in the west, by Turkey and Armenia in the south, by Azerbaijan in the east, and
Russia in the north. The republic also includes the Abkhazia and Ajara
autonomous republics and South Ossetia.
Georgia became a kingdom about 4
B.C. and Christianity was introduced in
A.D. 337. During the reign of Queen Tamara
(1184–1213), its territory included the whole of Transcaucasia. During the 13th
century, Tamerlane and the Mongols decimated its population. From the 16th
century on, the country was the scene of a struggle between Persia and Turkey.
In the 18th century, it became a vassal to Russia in exchange for protection
from the Turks and Persians.
Georgia joined Azerbaijan and Armenia
in 1917 to establish the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation and on its
dissolution in 1918 proclaimed its independence. In 1922, Georgia, Armenia, and
Azerbaijan were annexed by the USSR and formed the Transcaucasian Soviet
Socialist Republic. In 1936, Georgia became a separate Soviet republic. Under
Soviet rule it was transformed from an agrarian country to a largely industrial
urban society. Georgia proclaimed its independence from the USSR on April 6,
Islamic History and Muslims
Islam in Georgia was introduced in 645 A.D. when an army sent by
the Second Caliph of Islam, Umar, conquered Eastern Georgia and established
Muslim rule in Tbilisi. Muslims constitute 9.9%, or 463,062, of the Georgian
There are two major Muslim groups in Georgia. The Georgian ethnic Muslims are
Sunni Hanafi and are concentrated in Autonomous Republic of Adjara of Georgia
bordering Turkey. The ethnic Azerbaijani Muslims are Shia Ithna 'ashariyah and
are concentrated along the border with Armenia.
Islam came to what is now known as Georgia at the start of the Arab Conquest.
From the 8th century the country became an Arab Emirate. However, in 1122 things
changed when King David IV seized Tbilisi to make the capital into a Christian
The development of Islam in the country is the work of two regional Muslim
powers, the Safavid empire of Iran and the Ottoman empire of Turkey, which
established themselves somewhat successively, somewhat simultaneously, on the
current territory of Georgia. The Safavid domination caused the migration of
Turkish tribes in the region, leading to an in-depth Islamisation of certain
areas, in particular Kvemo Kartli and its surrounding villages. The
implementation of Islam in Ajaria was carried out differently - it started later
and was more superficial.
From the 19th century the obliteration of the two Muslim powers, Safavid and
Ottoman, in the face of Christian Russia of the Tsars weakened Islam throughout
Georgia without totally eradicating it. Imperial Russian Politics in the
Caucasus, as in other regions populated with Muslims, oscillated between
tolerance and orthodox proselytism.
In the Soviet era, the ideological atheism of the national power worked to crush
all the religions present in the USSR, Islam in particular. However, from 1944
onwards this anti-religious policy was relaxed.
One of the four Departments for Spiritual Affairs for the Soviet Union was
founded at Baku. All of the Muslims of Georgia, both Sunni and Shia, depend on
it. The perestroika allows greater religious freedom which benefits not only the
Church, but also all other elements of Georgian Islam. Since the break-up of the
Soviet Union, links have developed between Islam at a local level and foreign
Islamic organizations, particularly those of Iran and Turkey.
In the absence of reliable statistics, it is difficult to give accurate figures
regarding the number of Muslims present in Georgia today. However, a relatively
impartial study suggests 640,000 were present in 1989, equivalent to 12% of the
total population. It would seem that the trend is in decline due to a
considerable migratory phenomenon taking place among certain Muslim populations,
above all amongst the Azeris, candidates for expatriation to Russia for
financial reasons or to Azerbaijan for family reasons.
Minbar of a mosque in Batumi
Islam appeared in Ajaria between 1510 and the beginning of the seventeenth
century when the Ottoman Empire started to expand in the Caucasus. As soon as
Ajaria in its current form was integrated into the Ottoman Empire, Islam
flourished, especially among local elites, who used it as a way of consolidating
their power. For the Ottoman rulers, converting the elites to Islam represented
the first step towards converting the populations subject to those feudal
Ottoman domination, which was not very constraining, was fairly well accepted,
although sporadic resistance with varying degrees of intensity broke out to
protest the power of Istanbul. Loyalty to the Ottoman Empire was so strong that
during the wars between Turkey and Russia, the Ajarians fought Russian expansion
in the region.
The advent of the Soviet regime on the ruins of the Russian Empire had different
– paradoxical - meanings for Ajaria. Indeed, its unique religious Muslim
specificity within the Union, was a criterion used by the Moscow to confer real
autonomy on the Ajarian region within Georgia. However, this autonomy obtained
due to the Islamic characteristics of Ajarians did not prevent the Soviets from
leading an eradication policy against Islam in the region, as throughout all the
Soviet Union. Almost all the mosques and madrasas were closed, public displays
of Islam were forbidden and Islam could only exist in the conscience and private
As soon as the Soviet Union split up, all the republics experienced a religious
revival and redefined the links between national identity and religious
feelings. In Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the new strong man of the independent
Georgia decided to rely on the Church to create a new State and a new
citizenship. The intellectuals expressed their fear of the development of an
activist Islam, originating from the recently-reopened Turkish border. The
return of businessmen and Turkish missionaries was seen as a return to the
Ottomans and to the Ottoman era. Alerted by intellectuals and the media in
Batumi, the Georgian authorities decided to implement a policy to reconvert
Ajaria to Christianity, with the help of the Georgian Church. There are many
conversions among the Ajarian youth who believe that it is a return to
normality: a renewal with the Christian traditions of Ajaria, which, according
to Georgian tradition, remains the region were Christianity came in the country
thanks to Saint Andrew’s missionary work. Although the process of return to
Christianity had support from the Church and the authorities in Tbilisi, under
Ghamsakurdia and Shevardnadze, it did not prevent the development of Ajarian
Islam after the accession to power of Saakashvili. This is almost exclusively
due to the initiatives of the Turkish missionaries.
Kvemo Kartli for many centuries was part of the Iranian Safavid empire, was
under the direct influence of Shia Imamism, the official religion of the empire
since the reign of Shah Ismail I. The expansion of Safavid territory in the
Caucasian region, under Shah Abbas in the 17th century, led to the spread of
Islam in the region. Under the Safavid Empire, Islam had a strict hierarchy and
the clergy was closely linked to the government.
However, from 1828 onwards, when Russia took over the entire Caucasian region
and defined its border with Iran on the border of the Araks River, this resulted
in Shia Islam in modern day Azerbaijan and Georgia being cut off from the
important Shia theological centres in Iran and Iraq. Soviet domination
accentuated this rupture between the Shia Islam in the Caucasian region and that
in Iran, especially by making the borders with the Soviet Union totally
impermeable, thus making pilgrimages to the Shia towns of Karbala, Mashad, Najaf
and Qom impossible.
Georgian cultural policy in general suffers from the host/guest dialectic. In
reality, the government considers the Azeri minority as guests being received by
their Georgian hosts, and because of this they are expected to conform to the
way of living followed by the Georgian majority. This has the result that
Georgian Azeris feel strongly marginalized when in fact they aren’t, especially
with regard to the privatization of land, a process about which Azeris feel
Yet, because these Azeris live in the border zones, the land they inhabit has
not been privatized as Tbilisi authorities fear that its occupation by a
‘foreign minority’ encourages this minority to undertake separatist actions that
pose a threat to the entire country.
Mosque in Tblisi
The Meskhets, a group with hazy ethnic boundaries between ‘Turkism’ and ‘Georgianism’,
constituted one of the essential elements of Islam in Georgia up until World War
II. Situated in the south-west of the country, in the province of Meskhetia (Akhaltshikhe
for the Ottomans), this Turkish minority was subject to a massive deportation by
Stalin in 1944 (approximately 100,000 people) as he feared the possibility that
they would collaborate with the Germans or with the Turks, their potential
Another minority Muslim group, the Abkhazians, live scattered throughout the
secessionist region of Abkhazia and in other Georgian towns. They were in part
converted to Islam throughout the 17th and 18th centuries during the Ottoman
Starting in the 1860s with the Ottoman regression and faced with the Russian
progression in the Caucasus, a large part of the Abkhazian Muslims (like Muslims
from other minorities in the Caucasus) emigrated south to the Ottoman towns.
During the Soviet period, Abkhazian Islam became weaker, but it would seem that
since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the establishment of links between
Abkhazians of Georgia and descendants of Abkhazian immigrants in Turkey has
somewhat favoured an Islamic revival. Abkhazia has about 80% Orthodox Christian
as there has been huge relocation and turnover in the last 180 years.
Kistin of Pankisi
Another minority is Kistin, an ethnic minority that belongs to the Vainakh group
and is therefore very close to the Chechens and the Ingushetians.
Established in the Pankisi valley, in the north—east of Georgia, for quite some
time, this community of around 12,000 people has been significantly shaped by
Muslim Sufi brotherhoods, particularly that of Qadiriyyah (introduced by the
famous Kunta Hadji in the 19th century) and that of Naqshbandia (introduced into
Kistin villages by an Azeri mystic called Isa Effendi in 1909).
The Islam of the Kistin has been suffering for dozens of years from the
disastrous effects of the war which pits the Chechen guerrillas against the
might of the Russian army. The worsening of the Chechen conflict, which has
radicalized Chechen Islam and led to an influx of refugees into Pankisi has
placed a lot of pressure on the Kistin.
Islam in Abkhazia
Sukhumi mosqueIslam spread in Abkhazia in the times of Ottoman
domination in the region in the 16th-18th centuries.Throughout the 19th century
Russo-Turkish wars, Abkhaz nobility was split along the religious lines, with
Christians being generally pro-Russian, and Muslims siding with the Ottomans
against Russia. Russia's final victory in the area in the 1860s-70s and two
Abkhaz revolts forced most of Muslim Abkhaz to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire as
Muhajirs in the 1870s.
A spiritual leader of the Abkhaz Muslims and imam of Gudauta Mosque, Hamzat (Rokki)
Gitsba, was assassinated in Gudauta on August 18, 2007. The death of Gitsba, who
had fought against Georgians in 1992-3 and was among pro-Chechen hijackers of a
Turkish passenger ship Avrasia in 1996, as well as other facts of alleged
anti-Muslim discrimination led to serious concerns by the Abkhaz Muslim
community about their security issues.
Mosque in Tblisi
Georgia - Tbilisi: Sulfur Baths, facade like a Persian mosque
Islamic Centers and Organizations
مسجد تبيليسي, Tblisi
Islamic Circle, Georgia, GA
Mediterranean Grill, Roswell, GA
URL: www.saharamediterraneangrill.com Phone: 770-594-8463
Center of Macon, Macon, Georgia
URL: MaconMosque.org Phone: 478- 718-1340
Muslim Owned Business
Trading Co., LLC, Marietta
Mediterranean Grill, Roswell
WATERS AUTO REPAIR CENTER, Savane
Islam in Georgia (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Abkhazia#Islam September, 2008).
Info please (
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107564.html , September, 2008).
Islam Finder (
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in Georgia,