by Our Own Correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1432)
In October 2010, the ruling regime in Azerbaijan banned hijab in public schools and revived an unprecedented socio-political activism of the Islamic movement. The mobilization is not only domestic, but also international. For the first time an international conference on an Islamic issue in Azerbaijan was organized.
In October 2010, the ruling regime in Azerbaijan banned hijab in public schools and revived an unprecedented socio-political activism of the Islamic movement. The mobilization is not only domestic, but also international. For the first time an international conference on an Islamic issue in Azerbaijan was organized. The conference under the title International Solidarity — Islamophobia, Hijab and Muslim Prisoners in Azerbaijan took place on the 6th of March 2011 in Istanbul. The conference was organized by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC).
The conference attracted notable participants from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, US, Canada and the UK. However, it is not the size of the conference that is crucial, but its essence. Almost all international conferences relating to Azerbaijan focus on Western-secular dogmas. Therefore, the Istanbul conference is a first mass scale international public relations event of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan.
Apart from addressing the potential solutions to the illegitimate ban on hijab, the conference also gave an opportunity for the Azeri Ulema to present their perspective on the overall situation in Azerbaijan. Islamic scholars from Azerbaijan that attended the conference included Abgul Suleimanov, Faik Valizade, Elchin Aliakbarov and Ilham Aliyev. The position of the Azeri ‘ulama showed that the Islamic movement is no longer shying away from underlining the illegitimacy of the ruling elite in Azerbaijan and its deplorable record of oppression and corruption. The speeches of the Azeri ‘ulama were no longer “defensive” in nature.
The hijab ban in Azerbaijan forced many Islamic organizations that previously never dared to challenge the repressive regime to confront the establishment. Even though this is a significant phenomenon for the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan, where the ruling regime exterminated the authentic opposition forces over the past 15 years, the future of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan is still shaky. The movement is still relatively passive and politically immature. However, it possesses an unshakable credibility throughout diverse segments of society, a luxury that no other socio-political movement can afford in Azerbaijan today.
Even though the secular nationalist groups have been completely co-opted by the ruling regime and lost political relevance in the country, the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan is still unable to fill in the political vacuum in the country.
The main stumbling point of the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan is that it lacks concrete socio-political and economic programs, along with a consistent and powerful methodology of political struggle that is not dictated by the regime. The latter is a problem facing all Islamic socio-political movements except for Hizbullah and Hamas. The waning credibility of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen in Egypt shows that a movement with a strong socio-political program can still suffer a significant setback if its methodology of action is determined by the regime rather than the movement itself.
Another significant factor of the conference was its location. Ten years ago an Islamic conference in Turkey challenging the ruling regime in Azerbaijan would be unthinkable. The fact that Turkish authorities let it take place shows that the despotic regime in Baku is losing regional support. It also lifts the “Iranian” label from the Islamic movement in Azerbaijan. The regime can no longer accuse it of being an Iranian protégé and easily demonize the movement within the westoxicated segments of the Azeri society.
The ruling regime in Azerbaijan thought that arresting Muslim scholars and activists, who are vehemently opposing the regime’s hijab ban, would silence the Islamic movement. Instead it has regenerated the Islamic movement to an unprecedented degree. How the Islamic movement will be able to use this momentum will depend on its ability to galvanize the support of the people beyond its main constituency. If the Islamic movement manages to present itself to the broader Azeri society as the only force capable of liberating the country from the clutches of the current regime, its success will be guaranteed. To achieve this it will need to acquire political maturity which it certainly will, since time is on their side.