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Islam Not an Issue in Azerbaijan's Presidential Campaign

Azerbaijan's active Islamic community may have grown since Soviet times, but most presidential candidates in the upcoming October 15 elections are still sidestepping Muslim believers as a target group of voters.

Ninety-six percent of Azerbaijan's population of 8.12 million is Muslim; the bulk of them Shi'a, according to US government statistics. The country's long-standing tradition of secularism, however, still stands strong. Local observers estimate that no more than roughly 10 to 15 percent of Azerbaijani Muslims are practicing believers.

To date, only two candidates out of seven contenders have addressed Islamic voters directly.

In a September 25 statement during Ramadan, incumbent President Ilham Aliyev declared that Azerbaijan "can be considered as an exemplary country" for what he described as its "religious and ethnic tolerance." Affirmed Aliyev: "No ethnic or religious confrontation existed before, should not exist, and I am sure will not exist?"

Only Fazil Gazanfaroglu, chairman of the Great Establishment Party, has advanced specific proposals for improving conditions for believers.

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Mina Muradova is a freelance writer based in Baku.

Islam Not an Issue in Azerbaijan's Presidential Campaign

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