News from Azerbaijan: Azeri Muslims Decry Suppressive Gov't
- Azeri Muslims Decry Suppressive Gov't
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
Tue. Oct. 14, 2008
NARDARAN — Muslims in Azerbaijan, the largest and most populous country in the South Caucasus, are complaining of the Soviet-like suppressive policies of their government, warning of possible explosive repercussions.
"You can ban a political party but it's impossible to shut down a mosque," political analyst Rasim Musabayov told Reuters on Tuesday, October 14.
The secular government of President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father after a controversial elections in 2003, has noticeably restricted religious freedoms in the Muslim-majority country.
It banned the main Islamic party, shut down mosques that do not toe the official line and recently even prohibited praying in mosques courtyards.
Musabayov linked the measures to the government's growing concern of a difficult- to-control Islamic revival.
"The authorities feel in danger."
Azerbaijan, where Muslims make up nearly 93.4 percent of the population, has seen an Islamic revival since independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, an imam whose mosque has been closed down by the authorities, believes the government is adopting the wrong strategy.
"The authorities want to resolve the problem in the Soviet way, by banning things," he said.
Under the Soviet rule, mosques were closed down and Muslims were banned from performing prayers in public places.
Muslims were even prohibited from traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam.
Many caution that the government's ban-everything-policy would backfire.
"There are no religious education programs...and extremist groups are trying to fill the vacuum," said Ibrahimoglu.
He noted that fundamentalist groups have taken root in villages in the north of the country.
The growing popularity of such groups is being linked to recent violent incidents including an August grenade attack on a mosque in the capital Baku that killed two people.
Natik Karimov, a local Muslim elder in the town of Nardaran near Baku, said people are yearning to religious freedom after decades of Soviet oppression.
"Religion is our national heritage," he said wearing a traditional Muslim skullcap and holding prayer beads.
"This was rubbed out over 80 years."
Karimov warned that this tensed atmosphere could lead to major problems.
"If these policies continue, the local community could explode."
In 2002, one local resident was killed and scores injured in anti-government rallies in Nardaran, a town of 8,500 where women cover their heads, the sale of alcohol is forbidden and Qur'an verses are put up in the streets.
"There is a rebellion in the offing," said Karimov.