Islam is one of the largest divine religions in the world. Although Azerbaijan is a secular country, the majority of the population is Muslim. Traditions of Islam are widespread in the country. Over the centuries, Azerbaijan has been one of the leading centers of Islamic civilizations. Azerbaijanis achieved great success in forming Islamic culture and playing a unique role in spreading Islam and establishing the Muslim Renaissance. All of these processes contributed to the evolution of the tangible and intangible heritage of Islam in the territory of Azerbaijan from the earliest times.
Today, the number of mosques is over 2,000, compared to only 17 mosques functioning in our country during the Soviet period. More than 300 of these mosques are protected as historical and cultural monuments. The policy of caring for Islamic values and Islam’s historical and religious monuments was founded by National Leader Heydar Aliyev and is successfully continued by President Ilham Aliyev today. As a result of this care, the Bibiheybat, Tazapir, Ajdarbay, Shamakhi Juma mosques, and the Imamzade complex in Ganja underwent an overhaul, the Heydar Mosque, the most spectacular temple in the South Caucasus, was built in our capital city.
However, the sad truth is that when our territories were under occupation, hundreds of our religious monuments became the victims of Armenian vandalism and were humiliated over the 30 years. After the liberation of our occupied territories, it became clear that when these territories were under the occupation of Armenia, more than 60 mosques and 44 temples were destroyed in the territories where cultural cleansing and numerous war crimes were committed. Currently, the restoration of our religious and historical monuments in the liberated territories continues.
After the fall of the Soviet Empire, hundreds of new Muslim religious communities began functioning in our country, and the Caucasian Muslims’ Board was established on the basis of the Transcaucasian Muslim Spiritual Administration. The Muslim religious communities functioning in the Republic of Azerbaijan are united under the umbrella of this historical religious center and are subordinate to it in organizational matters.
During the period of independence, a favorable environment was created in Azerbaijan for the scientific study of Islam and the establishment of appropriate educational institutions. In 1992, the Faculty of Theology was established at Baku State University (BSU).
The state-religion relations are regulated by the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan, established by the decree of National Leader Heydar Aliyev in 2001.
On February 9, 2018, the Azerbaijan Institute of Theology was founded under the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan with the order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The theology faculty of BSU was incorporated into the structure of the new institute. Also, secondary religious education institutions and courses within religious communities were opened in different regions of our country to teach the doctrines of Islam.
The above-mentioned facts are an indication that, in modern Azerbaijan, the state provides ample opportunities for the preservation of traditional Islamic values.
Establishing and developing relations with the Islamic world is a priority area of the foreign policy of our state. It is not a coincidence that the first international institution that Azerbaijan joined after independence was the Organization of the Islamic Conference (ed.: renamed as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2011).
After the restoration of independence, Azerbaijan was the first post-Soviet country to apply for membership of the OIC. Consequently, Azerbaijan was admitted as a full member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference during the Sixth Islamic Conference held in Senegal’s capital Dakar on December 8, 1991. Azerbaijan was also elected as a member of the Islamic World Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) in 1991. It should be noted here that the Organization of the Islamic Conference was the first international organization openly condemned the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan.
Within a short period, the state of Azerbaijan became an active member of the influential international Muslim organizations, OIC and ICESCO. For instance, at the initiative of our country, new entities such as the OIC Youth Forum, the OIC Labor Center, and the Journalists Association of OIC Member States have been established.
Azerbaijan’s relations with ICESCO developed more in 2006, and Mehriban Aliyeva, the first vice-president of the Republic of Azerbaijan, was granted the title of Goodwill Ambassador of ICESCO.
During the years, Azerbaijan cooperated with ICESCO over numerous international projects. Baku and Nakhchivan cities selected the capital cities of Islamic culture in 2009 and 2018. In 2009, meeting of Islamic countries’ ministers of culture, 12th session of ICESCO general conference in 2015, and Executive Department’s 36th meetings held in Baku. ICESCO is one of the leading partners of the “Baku Process”, initiated by President Ilham Aliyev and adopted by the United Nations.
Today Azerbaijan makes great contributions to the enhancement of solidarity in the Islamic world. The Muslim world highly appreciates our state’s efforts in this area. An excellent example of this appreciation was Baku’s announcement as the capital of Islamic culture in 2009 with the support of ICESCO, followed by the bestowment of this honorable title to Nakhchivan, another ancient city of Azerbaijan in 2018.
Among the important initiatives and measures implemented by the Azerbaijani state to establish peace and unity in the Muslim world, we can mention President Ilham Aliyev’s announcement of 2017 as the “Year of Islamic Solidarity” or holding the “Baku 2017” Fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in our capital city on May 12-22, 2017.
The announcement of 2016 as the “Year of Multiculturalism” by order of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev also contributed to the enhancement of Islamic solidarity. On January 15, 2016, all Muslims, regardless of their sectarian background, came together at the Heydar Mosque in Baku to perform the Friday salat (prayer) in one place. The observance of this religious ceremony called the “Salat of Unity” has great historical importance. Performance of the salat of unity in Azerbaijan, which is considered one of the main centers of tolerance and multiculturalism in the modern world, and its evolution into a traditional prayer observed also in other mosques of our country is, in fact, peace and solidarity message sent out by our people to the world. The salat of unity was first performed at the Heydar Mosque named after National Leader Heydar Aliyev, who raised tolerance and multiculturalism to the level of state policy in Azerbaijan, has a symbolic meaning. Currently, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev successfully continues this policy of Heydar Aliyev.
As we can see, Azerbaijan, which has been one of the main centers of the Islamic civilization for centuries, continues to hold an important position in the Islamic world today. It is not a coincidence that the green color, one of the three colors on our state flag – an important symbol of our national sovereignty – signifies the Azerbaijani people’s belonging to the Islamic civilization.
It is difficult to imagine the morality and lifestyle of the Azerbaijani people without Islamic values. The exclusive, unifying, and progressive role of Islam in the destiny of our country and the fate of our people is an undeniable historical fact. Deeply etched in the genetic memory of our people, Islam has strongly influenced Azerbaijanis’ transformation into a unified people and the formation of their national identity, statehood tradition, and culture.
Belonging to the Islamic civilization, the Azerbaijani people also uphold universal, civil, secular, tolerant, and multicultural values. In this sense, having opted for democratic, rule-of-law, and secular state building and moving confidently towards establishing civil society, Azerbaijan stands out in the Islamic world for its uniqueness. Because serving as a bridge between the Eastern and Western cultures, our country makes essential contributions to the development of interfaith and inter-civilization dialogue and the establishment of peace and harmony in the world and offers a unique co‑existence and exemplary multiculturalism model. Azerbaijan demonstrates a commitment to both universal and national moral values, including the high moral principles of Islam, which have played a progressive role in its history.