Recently, imams in mosques in Baku have been appointed not by members of the community, but by persons elected by the State Committee for Work with Religious Structures (SCWRS.) This causes discontent among the parishioners of mosques, that is, members of the community. It is confirmed by the appointment  by the Committee the imam of the “Mashadi Dadash” mosque, which was headed by the late Haji Shahin Hasanli. Experts believe that the recent events are nothing more than an attempt of purposeful provocation in the religious sphere in Azerbaijan. What are the pressures on Shiites and the steps taken to destroy communities?

The journalist Kenan Rovshanoglu, who covers religious topics, answered  the questions of ASTNA.

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Question: Recently, the imams of mosques have been appointed by the State Committee for Work with Religious Institutions (SCWRS), which causes dissatisfaction with the Jamaat of the mosque. Specifically, this can be seen in connection with what happened around the “Mashadi Dadash” mosque, headed by Haji Shahin Hasanli. Is it aimed at destroying mosques?

Answer:  Imams in mosques  are appointed  by the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations in accordance with the new legislation. The law was changed two years ago, and the appointment of an imam is already within the competence of the Committee. According to previous legislation, the imam was appointed in coordination with the community by the Caucasus Muslim Board (CMB). But now this rule has changed, imams are selected after passing the exam in the SCWRS and are appointed to vacant places.

But in the mosque of “Mashadi Dadash,” the situation was different. This mosque was a place of worship, the most numerous Shiite jamaat (uniting a group of Muslims for the purpose of joint study of Islam, performing religious rites, mutual assistance, regular communication among themselves – Ed.) in Baku. However, after the death of the late Haji Shahin, the collapse of the Jamaat was predetermined. It could only be prevented by the community of this mosque itself, that is, by choosing an imam from among themselves, they tried to preserve the mosque's jamaat. At first, this was considered by the leadership of the Committee. In March, the first temporary imam was appointed, but since his education was at the first stage, he was later replaced.

It seemed that everything had already returned to normal. But in early May, the Committee unexpectedly, without coordinating with the community and the Jamaat of the mosque, appointed an outsider as imam, which caused discontent in the Jamaat. That is, people from the entourage of the late Haji Shain, who formed the core of the jamaat of the Mashadi Dadash mosque, left the mosque. So, the old Jamaat collapsed and for the first time in 20 years a negligible number of people came to Friday prayer.

In my opinion, an agreement could be reached here, as far as the laws allowed, between the community and the state institution, which would guarantee the preservation of the mosque's jamaat. But the authorities did not go for it, or rather, they went at first, but then retreated.

Question: Who besides SCWRS can be involved in these issues?

Answer: It seems that this problem is artificially inflated. That is, the chairman of the SCWRS first met with representatives of the Jamaat mosque, there was an agreement, and everything was fine. However, a month later, the Committee suddenly changed its mind. Rumors that the persons represented in the leadership of the Committee were interested in this appeared in the  social network. Specifically, the deputy chairman. It is possible that along with the Committee, other structures also played a role in this issue.

Question: For what purpose were the actions taken that caused people's discontent?

Answer: Of course, this step could not have been taken with good intentions. Because, as a result, an exemplary jamaat, committed to national values, collapsed in Baku. It will be difficult to bring these people together again.

Although the consequences of such steps are invisible at this stage, in the long term they serve the process of forming "underground" jamaats in Azerbaijan. In Turkey, this practice has already taken place - as a result of severe pressure from the state, along with official Islam, informal jamaats have secretly formed in informal homes. The rejection of believers from mosques will eventually lead to this. Perhaps those who have undertaken this are pursuing the goal of preventing at this stage the emergence of large, multi-thousand communities in mosques. But, as I said, in the long run it is harmful, especially in Muslim countries.

Question: Recently, because of the well-known relations with Iran, believers have been subjected to repression. Believers are being arrested, calling them "Iranian agents." Although the official charges are quite different. Does this have anything to do with the events taking place?

Answer: Such arrests are carried out in Azerbaijan from time to time. Although the official charge is drug trafficking, in most cases the authorities and media close to the authorities note the connection of these arrests with Iran. But not all arrests occur on charges of espionage activities. It seems that the arrests of believers under the influence of religious centers of Iran are being carried out in Azerbaijan. Rather, the authorities are trying to neutralize possible risk groups.

From rtome to time, the law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan carry out such "preventive" measures to neutralize the religious influence of foreign countries and the risks that this may cause. As a result, naturally, a large number of innocent people fall under the distribution, end up in prison, suffer and eventually finally resent, considering themselves offended. Of course, it is no secret that there are people in Azerbaijan who are under the influence of Iran or, so to speak, the religious center in Iran. But I don't think there are so many such people.

In general, this is an extremely difficult topic. As you know, the veneration of religious centers knows no boundaries, and it is very difficult to draw a line here. A Catholic cannot be required to renounce his spiritual connection with the Vatican. Similarly, Muslims have religious and spiritual ties with well-known religious centers, and they cannot be severed by any administrative measures.

In the case of Iran, this is even more problematic. Since Iran is officially an Islamic state and conducts religious propaganda as part of state policy. This is even more sensitive for us as a country whose majority of the population is Shiites, and the neighboring country is Iran. Moreover, during the deterioration of relations between the authorities of the two countries, this cooling manifests itself as pressure on believers.

I believe that Azerbaijan, being a Muslim country, should take into account religious sensitivity, carry out comprehensive work with the involvement of specialists in this field so that the external impact on the religious environment is minimized. That is, problems in the sphere of religion should be solved not through law enforcement agencies, but by appropriate structures.

Question: Is the outrage of believers, their repression a way out? Will the current situation be used by external forces for their own purposes?

Answer: Of course, as already mentioned, bringing the problem to such a state, the tactics of "solving" the issue through law enforcement agencies is wrong. This may be useful in the short term, but, conversely, risky in the long term.

I do not think that such arrests of believers in Azerbaijan, the tension in the religious sphere that has arisen, can bother some religious center abroad, on the contrary, the growth of discontent on religious grounds in the country is favorable for attracting more followers. We have already experienced this with the example of other religious groups.

Question: What steps are needed to normalize the situation?

Answer: As already mentioned, more comprehensive, thoughtful steps should be taken in the religious sphere to protect the national and moral values and traditions of the country, progressive laws should be adopted. A model corresponding to the traditions, national and spiritual values and ethno-religious structure of Azerbaijan should be built. It will take time. But it is necessary for the country.

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