Can Azerbaijan become an Islamic state?

In a nation vacillating between its post-Soviet past and proximity to Iran, how does the relationship between the state and religion play out? In the second part of the exclusive interview with Meydan TV, Azerbaijani religious scholar and activist Haji Taleh Baghirzade spoke about the separation of religion and the state, and whether Azerbaijan can become an Islamic state. Read the first part of the interview here.

What is your take on the relationship between religion and the state enshrined in the constitution?

This issue is completely wrong in the constitution. Religion is separate from the state, and this has several implications. The akhunds [clerics] of the Office of the Muslims of the Caucasus and others have been given a special status, which prevents them from running in the parliamentary elections, because according to the constitution, religion is separate from the state. However, a religious person has the constitutional right of freedom of religion. An Islamist can be elected as a president or he can earn a mandate to the parliament. In my personal opinion, from the point of view of Islam, religion is not separate from the state. However, the existing legislation of Azerbaijan does not limit relations between the religion and the state. We, the people of belief, also have right to take part in the parliamentary and presidential elections, which means an Islamist lifestyle is not an obstacle to state administration. Some people use the idea that “religion is separate from the state” to declare that a believer should not join socio-political processes; he should only conduct his namaz (prayer) and oruj (fasting). But in reality Islam promotes resistance to oppression.

Do you want an Islamic state to be established in Azerbaijan, or do you want it to be a secular state?

In general, today the establishment of a fundamental Islamic state in Azerbaijan is impossible. There is no prospect for that. Even though some people speak about it, it is important to know that an Islamic state has a very complex structure. In the judicial system, tens of mujtaheeds [those capable of interpreting religion] are needed. In Azerbaijan, however, there are no mujtaheeds and no students have been educated [in ijtihad]. Alternatively, we would need people who know Islamic legislation, who do not exist in Azerbaijan. An Islamic state is not only about a name. If we talk about establishment of an ideal, fundamental Islamic state, in Azerbaijan there is neither a basis for nor a prospect of this. And when something is so improbable, it is naive to even talk about it. Our current task is to act upon the existing situation.

Let’s talk about the relationship between religion and politics. Are Quranic verses sent to the prophet by God considered political rules or lifestyle guidelines addressed to people, in your opinion?

Politics is the right form of administration. Some people engage in politics, but do not govern in the right manner. If Islam has come, politics is unavoidable. Because governing people is exactly what politics is about. The Prophet of Islam restored the true İslamic democracy in the city of Medina. In Mecca however they did not allow him to do it. People elected the Prophet of Islam and invited him to Medina. But today approaches are different and are divided into modernism and postmodernism; while the former denies the past the latter reevaluates it. If we approach the situation through this prism then we should reevaluate the notion of democracy. Democracy is not only secularity. It is people’s choice. If people choose Islam, it is democracy. If they choose secularity it is, again, democracy. When the people’s will is exposed, then we can talk about democracy. But, as these are long topics InshaAllah, we can return to them some time in the future.

But still, the verses that the God sent to the prophet, are they political regulations or rules on how to live a life, addressed to humans?

There is no need to distinguish here. Sometimes people ask whether Babak was an infidel or a mujaheed. It can be that Babak was both a hero and an infidel. Again, religion is not separate from politics. Politics is part of religion because in religion there is a notion of governance.

If there an Islamic state were established, how would it be governed? Would it be governed based only on the rules of Sharia?

Who the legislator should be in this case is an important question so I will briefly explain it. First of all, the legislator should know both the material and physical sides of people so that he can develop laws for their wellbeing. He who does not know man cannot apply laws that are good for him. Since we believe in God with our entire existence, we believe that there is no being who knows a human better than the God. If the human was created by the God, then no doubt that the legislator is the God himself, and he has shown people the way through his prophets. Undoubtedly, the ideal Islamic state would be governed with the laws of the God and not with the product of human brain. This is why we should be discussing topics related to compliance of Islam with modernity. There was a time when people spoke about the destruction of all the Islamic states in the region, yet today Europe is building relationships with them on nuclear agreements and the development goes on.  This shows that the Islamic legislation has not turned old. It is not about Iran, it is about the Muslim world as a whole.

What about Muslim countries like Iran and Pakistan, are they really governed through Sharia?

In the constitutions of these states, especially Iran, Islamic laws are applied. Laws are written by mujtaheedeen so the secular laws are supported also by Islam. Islam is not a closed religion. Simply, as time has passed, Islam has been distorted. There is difference between Islam brought by the Prophet and today’s Islam. You see the crises that occur in the Islamic lands and these also have their reasons, namely the influence of external forces on Muslims. We all saw the latest events that happened in Turkey, our brother country. They have drawn the country into a war. It is true that the government’s policies also serve as a cause for problems but we are concerned with the problems that occur in the neighboring countries. Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, these are our Muslim brothers.

Nowadays there are Muslim states which deprive peoples of linguistic and cultural rights, and do not allow them to open a school, start a newspaper or a magazine in their own language. Is this compliant with God’s rules?

In general, it is a bit strange to start an argument over a language in the twenty first century. Language is a means for people to express their thoughts and it does not matter whether it is Arabic, Turkish or Persian. However, unfortunately foreign imperialist forces use language to create disturbance among people. Iran is our neighbor. And it is not only in Iranian Azerbaijan, but also in Georgia, Armenia, Russia and Turkey that we have historical lands. Why among all these we are only focusing on Iran? In what way is this helpful?

What Azerbaijanis living in Iran? Do they get to preserve their language?

Today Azerbaijanis who live in Iran must speak their language fluently, without using Persian words. We are in favor of the Azerbaijani language being taught perfectly and not being distorted in Iran.

Does this mean Azerbaijanis must be given cultural rights?

Yes, it does.

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