Islamic Revival Tests Azerbaijan's Tolerance

June 29, 2009

Author: Emil Guliyev

Source: Google News

Wire Service: AFP

Nearly 20 years after it broke from the atheist Soviet Union, Azerbaijan is seeing a deep religious revival, its ancient capital Baku dotted with new mosques and the Muslim call to prayer echoing through city streets.

Designated by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference as 2009's "Capital of Islamic Culture," Baku is this year embracing its Muslim heritage with a year's worth of concerts, festivals and conferences.

But amid the celebrations, some are accusing the government of seeking to re-impose Soviet-era religious controls and are raising alarm about the forced closures of several mosques.

Authorities insist the measures are aimed at rooting out extremists and "foreign influence" on the country's moderate religious traditions.

For critics, however, the moves make a mockery of events celebrating Azerbaijan as a centre of Islamic faith.