Islam in Azerbaijan is different from many other Muslim countries, especially in neighboring Iran, with whom the majority of Azerbaijanis share belonging to the Shia strand of Islam, Udo Steinbach, professor at the German University of Marburg, told Report.
"Since Russia annexed the Southern Caucasus (including parts of historic Azerbaijan), Azerbaijani elites took part in the process of modernization in the Czarist empire, which meant, among others, secularization. Azerbaijani nation (within the Russian Empire) was one of the most modern parts of the Muslim world. This was reflected in cultural life as well in the constitution of the first Azerbaijani Republic since 1918. At the same time, the relationship between (Russian) Azerbaijani and Iranian Azerbaijani elites (and people) were strong. Later on, after Soviet occupation since 1920, secularization was further imposed even by force, and Azerbaijani society became sovietized to a high degree," he noted.
All these facts have been mentioned to explain in a nutshell why, in terms of religion, Azerbaijan is different from other Muslim societies, Steinbach added.
"Secularism and tolerance vis à vis other religions are striking features in the appearance of the country. The Azerbaijani leadership wisely should take this into consideration and underpin through far-sighted political and social measures the attractiveness of the country as a place so different from other parts of the contemporary Muslim world," the expert said.