Azerbaijan is a secular country that constitutionally allows freedom of religion to its citizens. Azerbaijan has separated state affairs from religious activities declaring no faith as a state religion. Therefore, all religious beliefs in the country are equal before the law. Its education system has also been secularized. Islam is the most common religion with about 93% of the total population adhering to one of the two principal forms of Islam- Sunni and Shia.
Religious Beliefs In Azerbaijan
Shia Islam is the leading religious belief with 80% of the country’s population adhering to the faith, making it the second largest Shia population in the world. The strongholds for Shia Islam were mainly in the areas around Lenkoran and Baku. Some the Azerbaijanis were converted into Shia Islam during the 16th century. During the same period, Shia was declared a state religion by Ismail I of the Safavid Dynasty. The enforcement of the state religion created conflict between Shia and Sunni eventually leading to the migration of the Sunni Muslims in the 19th century, leaving Shia as the largest Muslim belief in the country.
Sunni Islam is the second leading religious belief in Azerbaijan with a following of 13% of the total population. The Islam group differs from Shia in that they believe Prophet Mohammed did not appoint a successor. The Sunni and Shia Muslims have been in constant conflict in various Islamic countries based on their beliefs and practices leading to migration of the Sunni from Azerbaijan. Sunni Muslims are mainly found in the northern parts of the country. Conversion into Sunni Islam took place around the 16th century.
Orthodox Christianity is the third largest religious belief and a minority religion, with a following of a total of 3% of the population. The Russian Orthodox Church was the first to be established after the Russo-Persian War of the 19th century. The Georgian Orthodox is the other Orthodox Christian community in the country. Most of the adherents were converted from Islam and were persecuted during the Soviet period during which the religions were suppressed.
Atheism Or Agnosticism
Azerbaijan is considered one of the most irreligious Muslim countries with most of the people attaching no direct importance to religion. Approximately1% of the population is atheist or agnostic practicing no form of worship. Atheism and agnosticism in Azerbaijan have been attributed to the secular nature of the country.
Other Christian Religious Beliefs
Azerbaijan also has some other minor Christian denominations including Apostolic, Roman Catholic, and Protestant which together constitute about 1% of the whole population in the country. The apostolic community is the largest with various establishments including the Armenian Apostolic Church. Roman Catholicism has less than 1000 adherents mainly in the areas surrounding Baku.
Religious Intolerance In Azerbaijan
Although Azerbaijan is a secular country with high religious intolerance, the government has been accused of denying some religious groups the rights to operate within the country including Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists, and the Assemblies of God members. Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Baha’i are other minor religions in Azerbaijan making up about 1% of the population in the country.