Azeri Muslims Feel State Far From Friendly

March 5, 2009

Author: Seymur Kazimov

Source: Institute for War & Peace Reporting

“In Azerbaijan, non-Muslim, Christian communities are allowed to operate freely, whereas the Muslim community for some reason is not.”

So said Haji Gamet Suleimanov, imam of the Abu-Bekr mosque in centre of the capital, Baku. “It’s because the Council of Europe and the Americans are behind the Christians,” he added.

The imam goes on to complain that when believers try to spread Islam, they get arrested as suspect Wahhabi Islamic militants and forced to shave off their beards.

Suleimanov’s mosque has been closed by the authorities since August 2008, when an explosive device was thrown into the building, killing two worshippers and wounded another 18.

The precise motives for this bombing have never been satisfactorily explained, though some believe the attack was linked to the fact that the mosque followed the Sunni tradition – whereas most Azeris are Shia.

The authorities says a radical Muslim group called The Forest Brothers was responsible, and that they have arrested 13 people in connection with the incident and are tracking down other members of the organisation.

But since then, police have refused to allow Suleimanov to reopen the mosque, saying the threat to the building has not been dealt with.

According to one local media outlet, police expect a new attack and the building is under police protection day and night. The imam has been forced to go to court to get permission to unseal the premises.

Meanwhile, he claims the continuing enforced closure of the building reflects officialdom’s indifference or even hostility to Muslim communities.