Issue of religious freedom in Azerbaijan

For centuries Azerbaijan, located at the junction of the West and the East, was a home for various civilizations. Historical traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance have formed there. In different periods of history, this country also became home for representatives of different peoples, cultures and faiths. That's why Joshua Kucera's article, published by Eurasianet on May 15, boggled many people. 

This article doesn't reflect objective religious situation in Azerbaijan, official representative of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Hikmet Hajiyev wrote as a response to the article "As Islamic Games Open, Azerbaijan Wrestles With Muslim Identity". In his article, Kucera uses the concepts of secularism and Muslim identity, fight against radicalism and religious freedom in Azerbaijan in a contradictory context. For centuries, Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived in Azerbaijan side by side in peace and tranquility. This is an essential nature of the Azerbaijani society and the lifestyle of its people.

During the Soviet period, Azerbaijan had only 17 mosques, but in early 2017 their number reached 2166. The largest synagogue in the Caucasus region was also built in Azerbaijan.

The head of Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, called Azerbaijan a bridge between various religions and civilizations during his visit to Baku in September of 2016.

There is no contradiction between secularism and Muslim identity of the majority of Azerbaijanis. Secularism in Azerbaijan isn't just a constitutional norm, it's a way of life. In a sense, it's an additional process, in which secularism is closely connected with respect for religious values. In order to understand the essence of Azerbaijan's secularism, you need to thoroughly read philosophers and writers of the late 19 - early 20 century. 

The growing trend of radicalism and extremism has become a subject of serious concern of the entire world, including Islamic societies. The influence of radical and extremist religious ideologies is also known in Azerbaijan. Terrorism will spread even more if nothing will be done about them. That's why author incorrectly tries to portray Azerbaijan's efforts in the fight against certain radical elements and terrorism as a violation of religious freedom. Azerbaijan protects all religious freedoms.

Based on successful experience of holding the Islamic Solidarity Games, Azerbaijan contributes to the isolation of radical religious ideologies and popularization of values of fair competition among young people in Islamic countries. It's also an effective response to the growing trends of Islamophobia. Spectacular opening ceremony of the Islamic Games demonstrated that Islam means peace, understanding, culture, science, knowledge and so much more.

It's symbolic that after hosting the European Games, Azerbaijan now hosts the Islamic Solidarity Games. It demonstrates that Azerbaijan has become a center of the dialogue between civilizations and religions. As a secular Muslim, who attended the opening ceremony of the Islamic Solidarity Games, I felt pride for my country.

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