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Shia Islam in Azerbaijan: Historical approach and modernity

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Abstract

Azerbaijan, as a country geographically located between eastern and western civilizations, has been subjected tremendous change linguistically and ethnically, as well as in religious aspects. One of the significant features of this country can be expressed as a predominantly Muslim country with a secular society, which tries to keep its status quo. The aim of this paper is to consider historical background of the development of Shia Islam in Azerbaijan, and to compare the status of Shia Islam and its characteristics in the Republic of Azerbaijan in the contemporary period. Islam in Azerbaijan differs from the Middle Eastern countries and Iranian Shia Islam. Introduction Historical Azerbaijan includes the Northern part of present day Iran and the South-East of Caucasus, where the Republic of Azerbaijan is located. My research is dedicated to the Northern part of Azerbaijan, but not Southern, Iranian Azerbaijan, which is more likely to be involved in the same religious process as other provinces of Iran. Given ethnic differences between Arab conquerors and the population of Azerbaijan, the emergence of the sectarian form of Islam was due to ethnic and cultural distinctions. In the aftermath of the Caliphate's collapse and a number of Turkic tribes settling in Azerbaijan this process deepened. Shia Islam found 'good conditions' for its rise in Azerbaijan from the early beginning of its formation. Then research shows how the 13 th and 14 th
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While scholarship on Islam in the Caucasus has focused on the late Soviet religious revival – the rise of Salafi jihadism and religious radicalisation in the northern part of these strategic crossroads – no study to date has addressed the discursive struggle over the social functions of regional Islam. This article deconstructs these discourses in order to examine the very varying, and often conflicting, representations of Islam advocated by various actors across the region and within particular republics. The article highlights the contested functions of regional Islam against the background of a religious revival that is still a work in progress.
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The aim of this paper is to consider the transformation of Islam during the whole process of its development in Azerbaijan from the early beginning up to the present. Research of this issue proves that local Islamic tradition, or vernacular Islam, was established as a result of a mutual influence of religious and ethnic processes. Historical realities of Azerbaijan under the Arab Caliphate show us the contradictory attitude of Arab conquerors to non-Arab Muslim population. Amid the spreading Shia Islam and sharp ethnic differences, the ramifications of these processes increased detaching of Azerbaijani population and vernacular Islam emerged here. The Soviet period had a great impact on national and religious self-awareness, with both negative and positive sides. Given that the USSR was a closed country, Azerbaijani Muslims could not contact the rest of the Muslim world and because of that position, traditional folk Islam strengthened in mostly rural districts. This study suggests that vernacular Islam formed in Azerbaijan has non-political and nonradical features, and it is a genuine and devout faith of the population. After the collapse of the Soviet Union newly emerged successor Islamic countries faced aggressive political Islamic movements that tried to impose their ‘true faith’. Unlike radical Islam, local vernacular Islam, which formed over centuries, does not have an aggressive nature and it has the ability to adapt to secular society. As a result of various factors, vernacular Islam is going through the process of being crushed. This paper is based on published materials, including a number of primary and secondary written sources concerning the issue; it is also based on the ethnographic observation method.
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A previous analysis of mtDNA variation in the Caucasus found that Indo-European-speaking Armenians and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanians were more closely related genetically to other Caucasus populations (who speak Caucasian languages) than to other Indo-European or Turkic groups, respectively. Armenian and Azerbaijanian therefore represent language replacements, possibly via elite dominance involving primarily male migrants, in which case genetic relationships of Armenians and Azerbaijanians based on the Y-chromosome should more closely reflect their linguistic relationships. We therefore analyzed 11 bi-allelic Y-chromosome markers in 389 males from eight populations, representing all major linguistic groups in the Caucasus. As with the mtDNA study, based on the Y-chromosome Armenians and Azerbaijanians are more closely-related genetically to their geographic neighbors in the Caucasus than to their linguistic neighbors elsewhere. However, whereas the mtDNA results show that Caucasian groups are more closely related genetically to European than to Near Eastern groups, by contrast the Y-chromosome shows a closer genetic relationship with the Near East than with Europe.
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