In Russia and Caucasus, any Muslim sporting a beard or a headscarf is commonly referred to as “Wahhabi”. Wahhabism is officially banned in parts of the Russian Federation. This article outlines the clampdown on “Wahhabis” in Azerbaijan.

“By far the most popular center of alternative Islam in Baku is the Abu-Bakr Mosque, the construction of which was financed by the Kuwaiti foundation, Restoration of the Islamic Heritage, in 1997-1998. Between 7,000-10,000 worshippers, including some government officials, attend Friday Prayers at the Abu-Bakr mosque every week, and during religious festivals, the number can exceed 12,000.
 
“The imam of the Abu-Bakr Mosque, Hadji Gamet Suleymanov, is in his mid-30s (the same age as Ibrahimoglu) and received his religious education in Saudi Arabia. In contrast to the Cuma congregation, that of the Abu-Bakr Mosque formally registered with the Justice Ministry (in 1998) and with the State Committee for Work with Religious Structures in 2002.

“The Abu-Bakr Mosque appeals above all to the more disadvantaged members of society, such as the unemployed, and veterans of the Karabakh war. And in his sermons, Hadji Gamet focuses on poverty, corruption, and social injustice. But he rejects allegations that his community seeks to engage in politics or even aspires to political power. In an interview with day.az on July 21, he said “we do not intend to get involved in political processes in Azerbaijan. On the whole we are against religion expanding into politics.”
 
“The fact that many members of Suleymanov’s congregation rigorously observe the requirement that believers should grow their beards long and wear above-the-ankle trousers has led critics to brand them as “Wahhabis.”

“Strictly speaking, that term refers to followers of the 17th century theologian Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab and, by extension, to the puritanical school of Islam currently practiced in Saudi Arabia. Russian media, however, use the term “Wahhabi” indiscriminately to designate any practicing Muslim who does not recognize the authority of the “official” state-supported clergy.
 
“Even the Azerbaijani authorities disagree among themselves over the purported Wahhabi threat. State Committee for Work with Religious Structures head Orudjev was quoted by day.az on February 21 as saying that Wahhabism does not pose a threat to Azerbaijan. But the National Security Ministry claims to have identified and “neutralized” several Wahhabi groups in recent years. And Sheikh ul Islam Pasha-zade was quoted by zerkalo.az on July 12 as openly branding the congregation of the Abu-Bakr mosque as “Wahhabis” and as implicitly criticizing the Azerbaijani authorities for failing to crack down on them.”

Azerbaijan: ‘Alternative Islam’ Takes Several Forms

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