Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Nearly Half of Azerbaijan’s Muslims Do Not Identify as Sunni or Shiia, Study Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 14 – Thirty eight percent of Azerbaijanis who identify as Muslims say they are Shiites, according to a new survey, while only 14 percent say they are Sunnis; but nearly half – 45 percent – do not identify with either of the two main trends of Islam, a legacy of the Soviet period that almost certainly extends to Muslims in other post-Soviet states.

            Yesterday, the Center for Strategic Research in the Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan released the results of a poll it conducted among 1501 residents across that country on the state of Islamic identity in that country ( and

            According to the findings of the poll, 30.2 percent identify themselves as committed believers, while 66 percent say they are “simply believers.” Among Azerbaijani residents, 96.8 percent identify as Muslims, 0.8 percent as Orthodox Christians, 0.1 percent as Jews, and 0.6 percent as believers but not attached to any particular religion.

            Further, the survey found that 10.3 percent of those queries said they had always been believers but “over the last five years had begun to believe in the Most High more than they had in the past. Just over a fifth – 21.8 percent – said that they had learned about Islam from religious books, 16 percent from the Koran, and 27.2 percent from television.

            And concerning their observance of religious practice, 10.9 percent said that they regularly pray; 57.6 percent said they don’t, but 22.1 percent said they plan to begin praying.  Forty-five percent expressed distaste for Wahhabism, with 15 percent saying they didn’t like the behavior of the Wahhabis and 30 percent saying they associate that trend with extremism.

                That roughly two-thirds of Azerbaijanis declare an attachment to either sunni or shiia Islam is consistent with pre-Soviet practice, but that so many Muslims in Azerbaijan do not identify with either reflects the low levels of access to religious information in Soviet times, a pattern true among most post-Soviet followers of Islam.

            On the one hand, that means that large numbers of such people view Islam as many Russians view Orthodox Christianity as part of their identity rather than as an active faith. But on the other, it means that they are more likely to be swayed by new information and the activities of missionaries and foreign broadcasts than are their more committed co-believers.


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