Letter to the editor: On the question of religious freedom in Azerbaijan
Response to the article As Islamic games open, Azerbaijan wrestles with Muslim identity
Letter to the editor from Hikmat Hajiyev, Head of Press Service, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan
The article by Joshua Kuchera, “As Islamic Games Open, Azerbaijan Wrestles with Muslim Identity,” on May 15, 2017 does not reflect the objective religious situation existing in my country.
The author in his article puts in the contradictory context the notions of secularism and Muslim identity, fight against radicalism and religious freedom in Azerbaijan.
For centuries Muslims, Christians and Jews are living side-by-side in Azerbaijan in peace and dignity. It is an inherent character of Azerbaijani society and way of living of its people.
If there were only 17 Mosques in Azerbaijan in the Soviet period, the number reached 2,166 at the beginning of 2017. The biggest synagogue in the Caucasus was also recently built in Azerbaijan. Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, during his visit to Baku in September 2016 characterized Azerbaijan as a bridge between different religions and civilizations.
There is no contradiction between secularism and Muslim identity of the majority of Azerbaijanis as argued by the author. Secularism in Azerbaijan is not only a constitutional norm, but way of living as well. In a sense, it is a complementary process, where secularism is closely accompanied with high respect for religious values. To understand the essence of secularism in Azerbaijan, one should closely read the late 19th- and early-20th century philosophers and writers of Azerbaijan.
The growing tendency of radicalism and extremism is matter of serious concern for the world, as well as for Islamic societies. The impact of radical and extreme religious ideologies is also not far away from Azerbaijan. If left unnoticed, they can provide fertile ground for terrorism. Therefore, the author incorrectly tries to depict Azerbaijan’s efforts against certain radical elements and terrorism as a violation of religious freedom. All religious freedoms are effectively provided for in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan on the basis of its successful national experience of hosting the Islamic Solidarity Games makes its contributions to the isolation of radical religious ideologies, the setting aside of sectarian divisions and the popularization of the values of fair competition among the youth in Islamic countries. It is also an effective response to the growing tendencies of Islamaphobia. In the spectacular opening ceremony, the Islamic Games demonstrated that Islam is about peace, understanding, culture, science, knowledge and more.
It is symbolic that in a short span of time, the European Games are followed by the Islamic Solidarity Games in Azerbaijan. It once again demonstrates that Azerbaijan has become the center of dialogue of civilizations and religions. As a secular Muslim attending the opening ceremony of the Islamic Solidarity Games, I felt proud of my country.