MOROCCO: Towards a new approach of violent extremism after the murder of two Scandinavian women?

– HRWF (06.01.2019) – In the aftermath of the brutal murder of two young Scandinavian women in the Atlas mountains a few weeks ago, several journalists and intellectuals in Morocco have questioned the efficiency of Rabat’s anti-extremist policy. On 25 December 2018, Morocco World News published an interesting article of Youssef El Kaidi, a PhD candidate at the University of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdelah Fez, entitled “Terrorism in Morocco, a drastic approach needed now” (https://bit.ly/2Vzw8wg). See hereafter large excerpts of his paper (the titles in the text are those of HRWF).

 

“Morocco has invested significant efforts in both the security and religious fields in order to build its reputation as a peaceful, welcoming, and tolerant country in the otherwise turbulent region of North Africa and the Middle East. Those efforts were consistent and serious, leading ultimately to very positive effects worldwide.(…)

About the murder of the two Scandinavian women in the Atlas and the prevention of violent religious extremism

The proactive measures taken by Morocco’s intelligence and security services have made the country impenetrable ever since the inception of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or so it seemed. Does this crime indicate that Morocco has finally been penetrated? Is this terrorist act an indication of more terrorist activity taking place in our country in the coming days? Were the security and religious approaches implemented by the government to fight religious extremism really enough? What measures can be taken next to spare the country from other harsh incidents?

The above questions are pressing and should be thoroughly contemplated and addressed before any strategic move in the fight against religious extremism is made in the future. The religious and security approaches that Morocco has relied upon so far were very instrumental and should not be underestimated or belittled.

The strategic national policy initiated by King Mohammed VI in the aftermath of the 2003 Casablanca attacks to monitor and manage the religious field through the control of mosques, the training of moderate religious scholars and preachers, and the control of fatwas by appointing the Supreme Scientific Council were all very successful. Moroccan intelligence and security services have also managed, since 2002, to dismantle more than 183 terrorist cells across the country, according to the Central Bureau of Judiciary Investigations (BCIJ).

The recent murder of two Scandinavian tourists, however, has raised concerns about Morocco’s counterterrorism approach, which had previously inspired many countries at the regional and international levels. The dismantling of dozens of terrorist cells every year should have been seen as an indicator of the strong existence of the terrorist ideology in Morocco. The successful and decisive intervention of Morocco’s intelligence services before those terrorist cells could translate their ideology into brutality and bloodshed does not change the fact that the mechanisms by which that ideology works and spreads are still operating.

Therefore, terrorists and religious extremists could even be around us anywhere on any day, in private and public places, waiting for the right time and the right place to put their radical beliefs into action.  The claim made by one of the arrested suspects in a video declaring his allegiance to ISIS prior to the murder of the Scandinavian tourists should be taken seriously. He said, addressing the leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakar Al-Baghdadi: “You should know that only God knows of the exact number of the followers you have in Morocco.”  How can we track down and prevent those followers? What about those who firmly hold the ideology but do not belong to organized terrorist cells?

Fighting against the roots of violent religious extremism

We need to understand that religious extremism is an ideology and the fight against it should be at the intellectual and educational levels first and foremost. Morocco, despite the efforts that have been made, was remarkably lenient with the discourses of hate, intolerance, and bigotry which surface in schools, the media, and public spaces.

We have repeatedly seen videos circulating on social media by prominent Wahhabi leaders in Morocco demonizing and threatening intellectuals such as Ahmed Assid, Rachid Aylal, and others by accusing them of heresy. Somehow, those people were never arrested or tried (*). Perhaps the pressures by Islamic forces (Islamic parties, Islamic groups, conservative civil society, etc.) in the country put the state in a difficult and complicated position. Those conservative forces have always fiercely objected to reforms interpreting them as secular and anti-Islam, starting from the Modawana (family code) in 2003 to the Islamic education school curriculum reform in 2018.

The recent terrorist attack near the tranquil and peaceful village of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains awakens us to the bitter truth that terrorism is a constantly looming threat for Morocco. Thus, a more drastic and comprehensive approach should be implemented with zero tolerance to bigots, extremists, and the advocates of hate and terror in the name of religion.

Morocco should address the conditions conducive to the emergence and spread of terrorism by fighting poverty and social disparity in the country. Moreover, strengthening the educational system and building students’ cultural awareness, promoting the culture of peace and coexistence through educational programs and curricula, ensuring humans rights and the rule of law, and promoting the universal values of peace, justice, co-existence, integrity, love, and cross-cultural dialogue would be a few steps in the right direction.

May the souls of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland rest in peace, and may peace, love, and prosperity prevail in the world.”

(*) HRWF comments

A few days ago, Sheikh Kettani, an Islamist preacher, heavily criticized Moroccan channel 2M for airing on New Year’s Eve a comedy show allegedly degrading Qadi Ayyad, an Islamist scholar in the 11th and 12th century.He also called on Ulama council’s scholars and intellectuals to condemn and raise voices against this act.Seikh Kettani was a former political prisoner. In September 2003, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for alleged connections to the Casablanca bombings in 2003. Eight years later, Kettani was granted a royal pardon due to efforts of his lawyer, Mustapha Ramid, who also obtained the pardon of other Islamists along with promises to renounce violence and extremism. In 2012, Ramid became Morocco’s Minister of Justice as a member of the Party of Development and Justice (PJD) advocating Islamism.The PJD is the main party in the government with almost 1/3 of the seats in the parliament.

In 2017, another controversial cleric, Sheikh Abdellah Annahari, stirred up controversy once again on social media by claiming that celebrating New Year’s Eve was “undoubtedly Haram.” In a video shared on his Facebook account, the Salafist preacher declared that celebrating the New Year would be an “unforgivable sin” and that all New Year’s commercial activities should be strictly prohibited.“Whoever celebrates the New Year is no different from Christians and their religion of debauchery,” Annahari said. “Buying or selling the fir tree is Haram, taking a picture next to Santa Claus is Haram, partying is Haram and even sending New Year wishes is Haram,” he shouted while violently stumping his cane. Annahari also claimed that celebrating any non-Muslim festivity will lead to imitation of the “infidels’ creeds”. The Oujda-based cleric, who is well known for his provocative statements, went as far as describing as “zebras” Moroccans who exchange hugs during their celebrations. (More about Annahari on Morocco World News: https://bit.ly/2Re4OW6https://bit.ly/2VswULL)

The Islamist ideology is alive and well in politics and society in Morocco.




Denmark deports Said Mansour, deprived of citizenship, to Morocco

– By Susanna Spurgeon

– Morocco World News (05.01.2019) – Denmark has deported Said Mansour, convicted of incitement to terrorism and formerly a dual Moroccan-Danish citizen, to Morocco.

According to Danish media, Mansour arrived in Casablanca yesterday night, aboard Royal Air Maroc flight 222 from Copenhagen. Danish authorities handed him into Moroccan custody.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen tweeted that he was “very satisfied” with Mansour’s deportation: “Said Mansour has been handed over to the Moroccan authorities. A final end to a pertinent effort to carry out the Danish Supreme Court’s ruling to deport him in 2016…. It sends a clear message that criminal foreigners, who so obviously act against the Danish values and promote terrorism, do not belong in Denmark.”

Rasmussen had talked to Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita in December about Mansour’s deportation, according to Danish news outlet Horsens Folkeblad.

‘Justice has been served’

Danish immigration minister Inger Stojberg was in Morocco this week on a secret trip to make a deal with Morocco on the deportation.

In a statement today, Stojberg said, “Justice has been served.” Mansour, she said, was “one of the most fanatic Islamists who we have deported…. He was on the very top of our list.”

In an unprecedented 2015 ruling, a Danish court stripped Said Mansour of his Danish citizenship. The court had convicted Mansour of incitement to terrorism for Facebook posts praising Osama bin Laden and encouraging followers to join the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, according to Al Jazeera.

The court sentenced Mansour to four years in prison. Mansour appealed the loss of his citizenship, arguing he would face torture in Morocco.

The Danish Supreme Court in 2016 ruled against Mansour, and the Danish government has since been trying to deport him.

Stojberg today asserted the deportation deal “is completely in order concerning the obligations we have to abide by the international human rights of Said Mansour.” The remarks imply Denmark received promises from Morocco that Mansour would not be physically harmed, tortured, or executed.

On December 17, 2018, Danish tourist Louisa Vesterager Jespersen was found murdered with a Norwegian tourist near Imlil, in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Morocco has arrested 23 suspects in the case and connected it to terrorism.

The Imlil murders may have expedited Denmark’s efforts to deport Said Mansour.

Mansour was the first Danish citizen to lose his citizenship and be deported.

In 2007, Mansour received a separate terror conviction and spent 3.5 years in prison in Denmark.

Born in Morocco, Mansour has lived in Denmark since 1983, earning citizenship in 1988. He has four children with a Danish ex-wife and grandchildren living in Denmark.

Morocco does not have an extradition agreement with Denmark. According to a Norwegian source, many Norwegian and Danish criminals come to Morocco to avoid extradition.




FRANCE: An Algerian imam faces deportation

HRWF (15.04.2018) – The French government is trying to expel El Hadi Doudi, an imam preaching a fundamentalist form of Islam contrary to human rights. On 8 March, a Commission composed of administrative and judicial magistrates opened the way to the deportation of the controversial imam after it identified cases of hate speech in the numerous sermons of the imam. Jews are “unclean, the brothers of monkeys and pigs,” he said. Adulterers “must be punished by stoning to death or decapitation,” while women “must not leave the home without authorization.” The apostate “needs to be eliminated by the death penalty, to protect Muslims.” Most damning, the Commission report said, Imam Doudi “explicitly” justified jihad.

 

El Hadi Doudi, an imam who preaches a fundamentalist form of Islam, at a courthouse in Marseille, France, in February. The French government is trying to expel him. Credit Anne-Christine Poujoulat/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Imam Doudi, 63 was born in Algeria and is not a French citizen. As he is very active on internet, his influence extends not only in France but also throughout Europe. His lawyer said he is the only imam authorized to issue fatwas. Over 37 years, he has often criticized Jews, women and the modern world, yet former governments have long tolerated his hard-line sermons. President Macron is adopting a tougher line, especially about hate speech.

However, France had never been lax in its fight against extremism and terrorism. From 2012 to 2015, the then Interior Ministry kicked out 40 Muslim clerics, and another 52 people, including clerics, were also deported over the last 28 months.

“It’s not just the terrorist organizations, the armies of Daesh, the imams of hate and death that we are fighting,” Mr. Macron said, referring to the Islamic State, in a speech last week honoring Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, a police officer who died in terrorist attack at a supermarket in southern France after swapping himself with a hostage.

“What we are fighting is also this subterranean Islamism, which advances through social networks, which accomplishes its task invisibly, which works silently on the weak and the unstable, betraying even those it claims to represent, who, on our very soil, indoctrinate through proximity and daily corrupt,” Mr. Macron said.

The expulsion of Imam Doudi was recommended by the Marseille authorities under a French law regarding “deliberate acts tending to provoke discrimination, hatred and violence toward an individual or a group.”

Marseille – France’s second-largest city, one-fifth Muslim – is not especially radicalized. Other cities in the south of France, like Nice, have had higher numbers of young people leave to fight in Syria, and greater proportion of Muslim residents on the government’s terrorism watchlist. However, almost all of the fines in Marseille for wearing a face-covering, head-to-toe veil – which is illegal in France – have been imposed in the vicinity of Imam Doudi’s mosque, the police say. The authorities are growing increasingly concerned about the potential for radicalization – especially since two young women were killed in a knife attack at the city’s main train station in October.

The Sounna mosque where Imam Doudi preached, on the Boulevard National in the Third Arrondissement of Marseille, was closed by officials in December on the grounds that his sermons could “provoke acts of terrorism.” Five members of Imam Doudi’s flock left to fight jihad in Syria, according to the police.

His sermons are “exactly contrary to the values of the Republic,” said Marseille’s prefect of police, Olivier de Mazières, a terrorism specialist who has led the case against the cleric.




PAKISTAN: MOURNERS BURY 11 KILLED IN QUETTA CHURCH SUICIDE ATTACK, AS 50 INJURED

World Watch Monitor (18.12.2017) –  https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2017/12/pakistan-bomb-attack/ – Worshippers were lining up to take the Holy Communion when at least two men, armed and wearing suicide vests, attacked Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in western Pakistan’s restive city Quetta on Sunday morning. They left at least eleven dead and more than 50 injured, many in a critical condition, unofficial local figures say.

“It was a pleasant morning. We had sung songs and children had presented a Christmas program. Pastor Simon Bashir had finished his sermon and we were moving towards the altar when we started hearing gunfire outside the church,” said Sohail Yousuf. His 13 year-old daughter Mehak lost her life; her 16 year-old sister Wasiqa is critically ill after an operation in Quetta’s Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

Yousuf, a manager in an insurance company, migrated 16 years ago to Quetta from Punjab after his wife, a government schoolteacher, was posted there.

“We bolted all the doors and were praying that God would protect each of us. Then a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main door. The explosion shattered the door and injured many inside. When some rushed outside, they were injured by gunfire as the terrorists were on the church lawn. But soon the situation was brought under control by the volunteer church security guards and police present there.”

Caritas Executive Director Sheezan William told World Watch Monitor that the first person killed was the church security guard George Masih, who tried to stop the men advancing towards the church.

“I came to know what was happening while the exchange of fire was taking place. I phoned two youths in the choir. I could hear gunfire on the phone and then rushed to the church,” he said.

Leading Pakistani newspaper ‘Dawn’ also confirms that police intervened after the church security guard scuffled with one attacker. About two hundred congregants were inside the church, beautifully decorated for Christmas, when the terrorists unleashed their attack. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility but provided no evidence for this claim.

“The injured were taken to the Civil Hospital, CMH, Akram Hospital and other private hospitals. Relatives picked up two bodies from the church and took them away, which is why they are not counted in official numbering.”

Retired Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf, a political analyst who is close to security agencies, told World Watch Monitor the attackers were four in number. “They were equipped with ample ammunition supply and were aiming to take worshippers hostage and kill them one by one, prolonging the scene of terror as much as they could.”

Video footage shows a church security guard was quick to close the door when he saw two men approaching. This provided more time for local security personnel to plan.

“One terrorist was shot in the compound before he could blow himself up inside the church. Meanwhile, the other one rushed to the church entrance where he blew himself up,” said Sharaf. “The agencies chased the other two who fled, and a search operation is ongoing.

“The incident has taken place close to the sad day in the country’s history, December 16 [when Pakistani forces were defeated in 1971, leading to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh]. Our enemy keeps reminding us of our history. This time Christians are targeted who stand united with other Pakistanis against the menace of terrorism.”

William added: “A team of about 70 youths is working day and night to provide blood supplies, food or any other assistance to the injured, and coffins for the burial.” He told World Watch Monitor that seven families living in the church compound, including that of Pastor Simon Bashir, were told to vacate their houses. “All of them have moved to relatives until the area is given clearance.”

Al-Jazeera reports Moazzam Jah Ansari, police chief of Balochistan province, as saying: “We have cleared the immediate area around the church, and we are now clearing a peripheral area”.

Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, is situated along the Afghan border. The mineral rich, mostly hilly, region – the least populated area in the country – is where an insurgent separatist movement has long been going on. Most Christians in this province have migrated from Punjab but mostly remain unharmed by the separatists, though the separatists are against Punjabis, believing they are doing an injustice to them by controlling their land and resources.

The Quetta Methodist church, established in 1959, came under the control of the Church of Pakistan in 1971 after six Protestant denominations, including the Methodist Church, united as one denomination.

Ten days ago, a seven-year-old boy and two others were killed during a hand grenade attack on the gates of a Christian colony in Chaman, also in Balochistan, south-western Pakistan.

Punjabi Christians staged a protest, about the way they feel the government does not do enough to protect them against radical Islamic militant extremists, outside the Lahore Press Club a few hours after the Quetta attack.

Last week, the EU Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, was in Pakistan, and took part in the set-up of an inter-faith advisory commission. Its main aim is to help stop misuse of the blasphemy law.

Since 9/11, Christians are the main religious minority that has come under both communal attacks on the pretext of blasphemy, and by terrorist attacks on their places of worship. Immediately after 9/11 there were six attacks on churches, Christian hospitals and educational institutions. Such attacks re-surfaced again in 2013 with the suicide attack on All Saints’ Memorial Church in Peshawar province, which is also on the Afghan border. About 90 people died in that incident, including many children.

Then on 15 March 2015, just before Easter, two churches in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore came under twin suicide attacks. About 25 people died. In 2016 in Lahore, Punjab – where the largest Christian population lives – a suicide attack took place on a park, killing mostly Christians as they celebrated Easter. This year, security was on high alert at Easter. In March, Pakistan’s military agency, to prevent an attack, killed a husband and arrested his wife, who’d been trained in Syria by IS. (She was later released by security agencies.) Security agencies are on high alert for Christmas.

The worst attack in Pakistan’s history (which changed the course of the country by triggering new anti-terrorism laws after showing the population how ruthlessly Islamist militant radicals could behave), took place exactly three years ago in Peshawar when terrorists raided an army public school, massacring 141, including 132 children.

List of victims (Source: British Pakistani Christians: http://bit.ly/2z33cAz)

Below we have a list of those killed and injured with some images of the survivors you may find these upsetting and should stop reading from here is so: List of People who lost their lives during the blast in Church in Quetta 1. Mehak D/O of Sohail Yousaf 2. Akash S/O Naseem 3. Fazal Masih S/o Malik Masih 4. George Masih 5. Gulzar Masih 6. Sultan Masih S/O Siraj Masih 7. Sona Nazaf D/O Noaf Hameed 8. Madeeha Barkat D/O Barkat Ali List of people who were injured: 1. Ashraf S/O Manzoor 2. Sultan S/O Mizaj 3. Saiqa wife of Sohail 4. Aaliya Naeem 5. Nadia 6. Mekal 7. Saima 8. Sunil 9. Shamim 20. Yasir Naveed 21. Shezadi Shamshad 22. Adil 23. Khushi 24. Salma 25. Hanan 26. Sadaf 27. Jospheen 28. Ayeasha 29. Tina Qaisor 30. Ramish 31. Eman Wali 32. Zeeshan 33. Aksa




OP-ED: ABOUT THE ISLAMIC TOTALITARIANISM

An ideology that wants to radically change the existing nature of a state into a theocracy to be dominated by one religious worldview

An ideology that wants to change the structure of a diverse civil society into a society to be dominated by one religious worldview

An ideology that wants the daily life and the behavior of each individual to be dominated by one religious worldview

is a totalitarian ideology, as was the Communist ideology inspired by the political philosophy of Marx and Engels.

Islamic totalitarianism is a totalitarian ideology inspired by the Quran but it is not a religion.

It divides and fragments the Muslim communities around the world.

The primary “collateral victims” of the fight for power of Islamic totalitarianism are Muslims, who in many countries adhere to an historically peaceful Islam.

Christians are a second category of “collateral victims” of Islamic totalitarianism in Muslim majority countries.

Diverse civil populations in countries where Islam is not professed by a majority are the third category of “collateral victims” of Islamic totalitarianism.

The Islamic totalitarian virus infecting the software of the ummah must not infect humankind. An antidote must be administered.

Combating Islamist totalitarianism with ideas, with words and in practice is legitimate. It is obligatory. It is the self-defence of states, of non-Muslim societies and minorities, and of individuals.

Combating groups and individuals, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic universities such as al-Azhar, which promulgate Islamic totalitarian ideologies is a must. This is not Islamophobia. It is a fight for human dignity for all, for equality for all and for human rights for all.

 

Willy Fautré




RADICALISM AND JIHADISM IN AZERBAIJAN

HRWF (28.10.2017) – http://bit.ly/2xvauwY – On 21 October 2017, contact.az posted a long article written by Kenan Rovshanoglu entitled “Religious freedom in independent Azerbaijan”. The various sections are entitled as follows:

  • Religion in Soviet times
  • Legislation in the field of religion
  • Import of religion into independent Azerbaijan
  • Control increases
  • Period of prohibitions (2006-2012)
  • First armed religious groups and first arrests
  • Jihadism and radicalization
  • Government policy in the religious sphere: bans and pressures
  • Conclusion

Below, we reproduce his article, except the part on religion in Soviet times.

In the conclusion, the journalist questions the effectiveness of Azerbaijan’s fight against radical Islam.

Legislation in the field of religion

In 1991, the independence of Azerbaijan was restored and freedom of religion was declared in the country. On August 20, 1992, President Elchibey signed Decree No. 281, which passed the “Law on Freedom of Religion”.

This law, which should be considered one of the most democratic legal acts in the history of Azerbaijan, recognized the freedom of all faiths, restored religious centers to believers, gave believers the right to freely disseminate the principles of their faith and create religious educational institutions. However, not everything in the law was perfect. Fearing the growing influence of the ideas of the Iranian Islamic revolution, the law forbade spiritual figures to be elected to the national parliament of Azerbaijan.

Because of the fear of radicalization of the religious sphere, this law was changed several times in the following years under the current regime: on June 7, November 5 and December 27, 1996, on October 10, 1997, on November 23 2001, in 2009, in 2011, in the year 2015, the law was toughened and restrictions were imposed on it.

Tougher legislation that has taken place in the last 5 years prohibits foreigners from engaging in religious propaganda and people who have received religious education abroad to hold religious posts.

Strongly toughened bans in the religious sphere “Law on Struggle against Religious Extremism”, adopted in December 2015.

Import of religion into independent Azerbaijan

As mentioned above, after the restoration of independence in 1991, freedom of religion was declared in Azerbaijan, and with the fall of the Iron Curtain, missionaries from Muslim countries, especially from Iran, Turkey and the Persian Gulf countries began to come to Azerbaijan.

Charitable foundations, which in the beginning came to the country as humanitarian or charitable organizations, soon began to create religious educational institutions. According to the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cabinet of Ministers, in 1993-2003 there were already about 150 madrassas in Azerbaijan. The activities of foreign funds were conducted by different countries in three main areas. The Shiite current was conducted mainly by Iran, the Sunni movement mainly by Turkey and Egypt, Salafi propaganda was conducted by the funds of Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Persian Gulf.

As already noted, about 65% of Azerbaijan’s population consider themselves Shiites or come from traditional Shiite regions: Karabakh; Ganja and the areas around it; Aran; South Region; Mil Mugan; Baku and the surrounding areas are considered Shiite territories. Therefore, Iran’s religious activities have become particularly successful in these regions. I agree with official data, out of 150 madrasahs in the country 22 are under the control of Iran, 14 of them were registered by the Ministry of Justice. The most famous among them are madrasahs in Goychay, Lenkoran, Jalilabad and Nardaran.

There are also representative offices in the country

  • Ministry of Culture of Iran;
  • Propaganda of Islam;
  • Madrasah Coordination Organization;
  • Organization for International Cultural Relations;
  • International publishing house “Al-Khuda”;
  • Charitable Foundation “Imdad Khomeini”;
  • Representation of “Bali Fagih” (representation of the Supreme Religious Leader of Iran).
  • Iran’s prayer house in Baku – “Huseyniyya” is one of the most visited religious centers in the country.

The Ministry of Education of Turkey has opened five schools with a religious bias in the Turkish “Imam-Khatip” type in Baku, Sumgait, Shcheki, Mingechaur and Agdash.

According to the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cabinet of Ministers, in the following years, 26 mosques were built or restored to Turkish charity funds. In these mosques, events are held by Turkish religious figures.

In addition, under the auspices of Turkey in the country operate

  • Madrasah “Khafizov and Islamic Sciences” in the cheeks,
  • The Aliabad madrasah in Zagatala,
  • Madrasah in Agdash
  • and madrassas in Badamdar settlement of Baku.

The founders and long-time heads of the Faculty of Theology (İlahiyyət) of the Baku State University were the theologians invited from Turkey, the training was conducted according to the Turkish program, compiled according to the Sunni canons.

Another faculty of Theology was founded in the Guleni University “Caucasus” (today it is closed).

Some of the mosques of Baku Akhunds were appointed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Turkey. Aziz Makhmud Khudai (Youth Support Fund), Nur community (Sunuris), Fathulla Gülen communities developed active religious activities.

After the restoration of independence, especially in the mid-1990s, more than 15 Arab religious charitable organizations began to operate in Azerbaijan. The most active among them were the radical Salafist organizations.

Among the 65 mosques operating with financial support from the Arab countries, the 61st mosque was built by the “Fund for the Revival of the Islamic Heritage”. Among them – four mosques are built in Baku.

Other Arab religious charities include

  • Organization of Help “Al-Haramain”,
  • Committee of Muslims of Asia Kuwait (Kuwait),
  • International Organization of Islamic Charity (Saudi Arabia),
  • The World Islamic Youth Assembly (Saudi Arabia),
  • International Islam Najat (Saudi Arabia),
  • Dar al-Beer (United Arab Emirates).

Most of these organizations controlled the open or secret activities of the madrassas they built.

Control increases

Since the mid-1990s, the government has gradually begun to tighten religious legislation, but this did not prevent foreign missionaries from freely carrying out religious propaganda. However, since 1998, the authorities began to severely restrict the activities of Arab religious organizations. The most famous propagandist of Salafism in Azerbaijan Sheikh Salim Zaharna (preacher of Arab origin) was deported from Azerbaijan. Pressure on Arab religious organizations increased after the events of September 11, 2001 in New York, many of them were closed, and their leaders were deported from the country. The last Arab organization Dar al Bir was closed several years ago.

It was during this period that the authorities of Azerbaijan were seriously concerned about the rapid expansion of the religious segment of society. In addition, in those years, reports began to be received that the Azerbaijanis began to join foreign religious armed groups in such regions of the Sunni “jihad” as Afghanistan and Chechnya. Serious concern was also caused by the increased religious influence of Shiite Iran.

The first arrests of radical religious activists began in the mid-1990s. It was during this period that the leadership of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA) was arrested, arrests were also made among members of Islamic extremist groups, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

In 2001, by the decree of President Heydar Aliyev, the “Committee for Work with Religious Organizations” (hereinafter – the Committee) was established. A member of the Academy of Sciences, Professor Rafik Aliyev was appointed Chairman of the Committee. Immediately thereafter, by the government’s decision, 14 Iranian-controlled madrassas were closed. Gradually, the authorities closed all the independent and sponsored madrasahs and courses of the Koran, except for four madrasahs in Baku, Zagatala, Aghdash and Shcheka, controlled by the Turkish government.

The Committee received the right to register religious communities, formerly belonging to the Ministry of Justice, the right to examine religious literature, as well as control over the activities of religious communities.

During the times of R. Aliyev, the Committee began to take serious measures to streamline and monitor religious activities. Religious communities and mosques were required to register as official communities and soon more than 400 religious communities were registered. At the same time, according to the requirements of the legislation, the religious activity of foreign citizens was banned and these people began to be expelled from the country. This process continued until the expulsion of the last employee of the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs from the country.

The Committee also compiled a list of banned religious literature and banned the import and sale of several Islamic and Christian books “for propagating religious intolerance in them.” The government annually updated the list of banned literature. In addition, the Committee’s expertise department began to censor religious literature imported and published in the country.

Period of prohibitions (2006-2012)

In the summer of 2006, the new president, Ilham Aliyev, freed Rafik Aliyev from the post of the head of the Committee and appointed Hidayat Orujov, presidential adviser on national and religious issues. The period of 6 years after this became a period of restrictions and strict interventions of the state in the sphere of religion. The reason for this was the strengthening of religious radicalism in the Middle East (under the influence of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), the intensification of the propaganda of jihad, the strengthening of radical religious appeals. As a result, bans in the religious sphere of Azerbaijan have become tougher from year to year.

The first acquaintance of our society with the real activity of radical Islamists occurred in connection with the newspaper article of the well-known publicist Rafik Tagi in 2006, in which the author unflatteringly spoke about the Prophet Muhammad. R. Tagi began to receive a large number of threats of violence by phone, and religious activists from Nardaran held a press conference, which already openly threatened Tagi with physical violence. As a result, Tagi and the editor of the newspaper Samira Sadagatoglu were arrested for a short time. On November 23, 2011, Rafig Tagi, who was released, was killed, no killers have been found.

In May 2007, the government banned the transfer of azan (a call to prayer) through radio amplifiers at the beginning in Baku, then and throughout the republic. The ban lasted several days and after a serious discontent of the religious community, the government formally abolished the ban. But despite this, in several mosques, the ban on the adhan still works. In the summer of 2007, the Committee, under the pretext of “the need for a new registration,” closed 19 courses of the Koran, working legally. A small number of these courses were registered inside religious communities.

In 2008, the government decided to destroy the “Fatimei Zahra” mosque in the village of Yeni Gunashli. And in 2009, the mosque “Our Prophet Muhammad” in Baku and the mosque on the Oil Rocks were destroyed, which was accompanied by active protests of believers.

In 2009, the parliament adopted an amendment prohibiting people who received religious education abroad to hold a religious office. The quota for participation in the pilgrimage to Mecca was reduced from 6000 to 2,000 people. Permission to deal with hajj organizations was given only to SAMC, it was forbidden to private companies.

In November 2010, the Minister of Education Misir Mardanov made a statement about the ban on wearing women’s head-covers in state secondary educational institutions. This decision caused serious discontent and protests from believers. On December 10, 2010, on May 6, 2011, on October 5, 2012, protests were held in front of the Ministry of Education. Especially memorable was the last action, which ended with a clash with the police. As a result of 36 protesters were arrested.

First armed religious groups and first arrests

Lieutenant Kamran Aliyev, a member of the Salafi group, serving in Geranboy (on the front line with Armenia), fled his military unit, in October 2007, arrived in Baku and attacked several facilities, including a gas station. Soon he and members of his group were arrested.

On August 17, 2008, a grenade was thrown at the Salafi mosque of Abu Bakr in Narimanov district. The mosque was closed and as a result of the investigation it became known that the terrorist attack was carried out by a group of radical Khawarijas – “The Forest Brothers”. Members of the group were arrested, their leader Ilgar Mollachiyev was killed.

A terrorist of Arab origin named Abu Jafar was arrested in Sumgayit. Two members of the group “Forest Brothers” were arrested in Pakistan and handed over to the Azerbaijani authorities.

In 2003, about 15 Azerbaijani citizens who arrived from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia to start partisan activities in Karabakh were arrested during the operation in Ganja and Baku. During the operation, a senior police lieutenant was killed. A large number of arms and ammunition were confiscated from the Raf car belonging to the group. Later, the leader of the group called “Karabakh Partisans” – Rovshan Badalov and all members were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. One of the members of the group received a life sentence. R. Badalov was released in 2011-2012, it was reported that he went to fight in Syria, joined there the “Islamic State” and was killed during the fighting.

In 2007, about 30 people were arrested in Baku on the “Said Dadashbeyli case”. Some of the detainees were released after a while, and 11 people from this group of prisoners were sentenced to prison terms of 12 to 14 years

In early 2011, the head of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Movsum Samedov, senior management and regional representatives of the party were arrested. According to official reports, weapons and ammunition were found in their homes.

Shiites were also arrested, protesting against the ban on wearing the hijab in public schools.

These arrests lasted two years intermittently, dozens of Shiites were arrested under various pretexts. Even the moderate religious preacher Haji Shahin was arrested in 2011 but he was released six hours after the intervention of Sheikh-ul-Islam.

Jihadism and radicalization

The fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria led to the rapid spread of the ideas of jihad. The Sunni groups fighting against Bashar Assad declared their struggle sacred, that is, jihad.

For the first time in May 2013, a group of Azerbaijanis in Syria distributed a video on the Internet calling for compatriots to join the jihad in this country. Since then, it has become obvious that Azerbaijani citizens are participating in armed clashes in Syria. The press reported from time to time that many radical Salafis from the northern regions of the country, as well as from Sumgait and Mushvigabad settlement (near Baku) are or are sent to Syria to participate in the jihad against Bashar Assad.

At first, the authorities looked at the jihadists from Azerbaijan through their fingers, but by 2014 the flow of jihadists had increased, such an increase in extremism began to cause concern to the government. In January 2014, after the retreat of Asadov troops in northern Syria, a war broke out in this region for the supremacy between the radical Islamist groups “Islamic State” and “Front Al Nusra.” Soon, media reported about the death of hundreds of jihadists from both conflicting sides, among which about 30 Azerbaijani jihadists were killed.

After that, the authorities began to move. Silent earlier Sheikh-ul-Islam issued a fatwa against jihad in Syria. In the official press, active propaganda began against the jihadists. The legally operating Salafi of Azerbaijan under the leadership of the akhund of the Abu Bakr mosque Haji Gamet also made a statement that what is happening in Syria is not a jihad but a struggle for power and we should not interfere. Further, the authorities passed a law banning the participation of citizens of the country in illegal military formations abroad. After that, the first arrests began. In recent years, about 100 citizens of the country, who returned from Syria, were arrested.

The bloody clashes between Shiites and Sunnis in Syria and influenced the relationship between these religious communities in the country. Between the representatives of various branches of Islam, hostile appeals, mutual accusations, which could be read in social networks, intensified.

Shiite Taleh Bagirzade (Bagirov), who was released in the summer of 2015, was again arrested on April 26, 2015 during a police operation in Nardaran. During the operation, six people were killed, including two policemen. More than 60 believers were arrested both in Nardaran and in other regions of the country, including in Ganja and Lenkoran. Along with Taleh Bagirzade, activists of the movement “Muslim Unity” Zulfugar Mikayilzadeh and Elman Agayev were also arrested.

Earlier, in 2011, the leader of the Islamic Party Movsum Samedov was arrested and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment; Abgul Suleymanov (arrested in 2011, sentenced to 11 years in prison); Faramiz Abbasov (arrested in 2011, sentenced to 11 years in prison).

Government policy in the religious sphere: bans and pressures

The powers of the country are more often trying to control the situation in the religious sphere through restrictions and prohibitions, generously using the power structures. But a marked increase in religiosity among the population and the emergence of ever new radical religious leaders cast doubt on the effectiveness of repression. Attempts by the authorities to establish a dialogue with the religious community are limited to communication with legally functioning religious communities and mosques.

Government agencies that are entrusted with the management and control over the activities of religious communities have received from 2014 the authority to conduct religious education and propaganda for the ideas of “true Islam.”

On February 28, 2014, the State Service for Multiculturalism, Interethnic and Religious Affairs was established. On May 15, 2014, the “International Baku Center for Multiculturalism” was established by the decree of the President of the Republic.

On October 20, 2014, the head of the Committee Mubariz Gurbanli held a meeting with a group of theologians and representatives of various religious denominations. At this meeting, it was announced that a new “Commission on Religious Studies” had been set up under the Committee, with a view to combating the ideas of religious extremism.

As the government’s interference in the religious sphere intensifies, there is a noticeable weakening of the influence, fully supported by the authorities, of the SAMC (Caucasian Muslims Board), led by Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshyukyur Pashazadeh.

According to the current legislation, the Government has entrusted the management and control of the activities of the country’s Muslims to the Caucasian Muslim Board, which exercises control over mosques, appoints Akhundov and imams, and makes recommendations to government agencies on the registration of religious communities. But recently this practice is being revised. The main role in the management of the religious sphere was transferred to government agencies. Since 2014, the government has provided financial assistance to religious communities through the State Committee for Religious Affairs, not through the SAMK (the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Caucasus), as it was previously.

By the way, the Muslim Board as a non-religious organization, according to the Constitution, should not be funded by the state, but in fact, the state aid is as follows: annual Sheikh apply directly to the president with a formal request for financial assistance, and the President allocates funds from its fund maintenance of the SAMK apparatus 2-3 million manat (1.7 manats – 1 dollar). Akhunds and imams of local mosques work on a voluntary basis and live off donations from the population and payments for religious ceremonies, such as wake ceremonies and registration of religious marriages. In February 2013, 2 million manat was allocated from the presidential reserve fund for SAMK; in the summer of 2015 3 million manats; In the summer of 2015 1 million manat [2].

By the end of 2016, the deputy chairman of the Muslim Board Haji Sabir Hasanli said that only about 600 mosques already assigned akhunds and imams, while about 1,500 mosques expect purposes [3], due to lack of personnel. This shortage of personnel resulted from the above-mentioned ban on the activities of persons who received religious education abroad. That is why, at the end of last year, the management of SAMK announced the creation of seven new madrassas in different regions of the country for the preparation of imams and akhunds for mosques.

According to the law, the akhunds and Imams in the mosque appoint the Caucasian Muslims Board, but this appointment is consistent with the State Committee for Religion. Buildings and land of mosques are considered the property of the state or municipality. According to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, most mosques (about two-thirds) are on the balance of municipalities. Municipalities provide these mosques to SAMC or the relevant religious communities for free rent.

Some mosques are on the balance of the “Office of the State Historical and Architectural Reserve” Icherisheher “(Old Town) in Baku.

Mosques, the architecture of which is of historical importance and considered historical monuments are on the balance of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Communities of mosques are registered in the State Committee for Religious Affairs and must report to this state structure.

So, the mosques and the legal sphere in the sphere of religion are managed by three different structures: the State Committee for Religion, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus and municipalities.

Conclusion

Facing such problems in the religious sphere as extremism and opposition to the authorities, the current government is trying to put religious activity (like any other independent public activity) under maximum control. The legislation is toughened, the possibilities of religious propaganda are limited and rigidly censured, not to mention the use of police measures.

The effectiveness of these measures is questionable because, first of all, the personnel potential and academic centers of the authorities are weak for carrying out an alternative – pro-government religious propaganda. And, of course, it is impossible to change the protest moods in a country that is in an all-embracing crisis with no propaganda. In recent years, independent religious activity has been carried out mainly outside the mosques controlled by the authorities – in illegal communities, prayer houses and independent courses on reading the Koran. Law enforcement structures from time to time expose the secret prayer cells, but this is only a small part in the overall process of spreading and radicalizing the Islamic religion in the country.

The activities of the State Committee for Religion and the “State Service for Multiculturalism” consist mainly of holding seminars and conferences among official organizations and loyal religious communities. The authorities try to influence the process from above, through the leaders of these communities and pro-government religious authorities. The effectiveness of such a policy is small and then, the last argument of the government in dealing with an independent religious community is the police.

It would seem that SAMK should have an important role in the process of resolving problems in the religious sphere, but this structure, left in the inheritance from the tsarist and soviet times, lost its authority among the population, it is passive and remains outside the process that develops with noticeable intensity.

Some important links

https://www.azadliq.org/a/prezident-qafqaz-allahshukur/27846544.html

http://www.az.azvision.az/Prezident_QMI-ye_3_milyon_-65951-xeber.html

http://scwra.gov.az/vnews/366/

http://scwra.gov.az/article/22/

http://static.bsu.az/w21/14.pdf

 

 

[1] The Council, consisting of religious authorities

[2] https://www.azadliq.org/a/prezident-qafqaz-allahshukur/27846544.html

[3] http://az.trend.az/azerbaijan/society/2535176.html

 

HRWF recommended reading

La crise syrienne vue d’Azerbaijan, Bayram Balci (28.03.2013)

http://www.sciencespo.fr/ceri/fr/content/la-crise-syrienne-vue-d-azerbaidjan