Reviews

Altay Göyüshov was one of the first scientists in Azerbaijan who focused on Islam after 1991. The present study provides an in-depth insight into the Islamic revival in today’s Azerbaijan. As an historian, A. Güyüshov examines the historical relationships between Islam, the state and intellectuals as far back as the Russian colonial period, a major turning point in the country’s social, political, and religious history. His study highlights the specificity of Azerbaijani society: as opposed to other Muslim communities living under the Tsarist rule, the Azerbaijani Muslim intellectuals were the first to develop secular ideas. The active involvement of Azerbaijani intellectuals and thinkers in separating religion from politics inscribed the secularisation process in the national social history, and is not perceived as a foreign component or product of colonisation. Consequently, Soviet repression against religions did not shed much blood in Azerbaijan, as the mentality had been already transformed and prepared for a strict separation of religion from politics. At the same time, although Soviet secularism prevailed for decades, Islam did not completely disappear. Some Islamic trends among the most radical survived and thrived in the shade of the Soviet regime. When Azerbaijan became independent in 1991 and opened to the rest of the world, various religious trends began to protest against the new regime and charged it with unshaken continuity from the Soviet management. Several Shiite movements, originating from Iran, tried to implement in independent Azerbaijan. Indeed, half of the population, in the south of the country and in Baku’s surroundings mainly defines oneself as Shiite Muslim, while only the northern parts of the country are predominantly Sunni. However few people in the Republic of Azerbaijan know yet what the notions of marja‘-i taqlid and wilayat-i faqih refer to. Introduced in the debate in the early 1990s, these concepts did not meet great success in spite of the support of the Iranian diplomatic representation in Baku. Local marja‘s like Fazil Lenkerani and Jevad Tabrizi are locally more popular than Khamenei. This did not prevent central authorities in Baku to put a brake on Iranian Shiite influence, which paved the way for the two other major religious trends in the country, the Salafiyya and Sunni Islam Turkish way, to spread and thrive. A newcomer on the Azerbaijani religious arena, the Salafi current has met the greatest success so far, which it owes to political protest. In that respect, the Azerbaijani Salafi trend is closer to its Shiite rival, the fundamentalist movement led by the young and charismatic Hajji Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, than to other Sunni movements. Contrasting with the radical Salafi and Shiite movements hostile to the regime, moderate Sunni trends have developed rapidly and massively, especially in the northern parts of the country. They have largely benefited from the unofficial state support and from Turkey-based movements successfully implementing all around the country and even in traditionally Shiite regions. Making an unofficial pact with moderate Islam, the Azerbaijani state responds to state building purposes, which are more compatible with moderate than with radical Shiite or Salafi religious ideologies. In the long run the alliance could however turn out to prejudice the political and social stability, if it contributes to increase the already important and historical gap between the country’s Sunni minority and Shiite majority.

Bayram Balci, Centre for International Research and Studies, Paris
CER: II-4.2.B-343