Considerable scholarly work on the post-Soviet region has focused on the various regional conflicts and security challenges, but rarely on the roots of the growing Islamism factor as a new source of threat. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, with its forcibly imposed atheist agenda, the majority of Muslim countries in Central Asia and the North Caucasus witnessed growing Islamic sentiments that led to a long-term, violent Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus and, to some extent, in Central Asia. However, unlike other Muslim countries in the post-Soviet space, Islam plays a minimal role in Azerbaijan.
The country has maintained its unique secular model mainly due to the firm “secular nationalism” ideas put forward by local intellectuals since the 19th century. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand the historical evolution process of Islamic thought in Azerbaijan, underline the role of certain external actors in promoting radical Islamic ideology, and understand how they pose an existential threat to national security and identity.
This study provides a comparative analysis of Islam’s historical role in Azerbaijan, overviewing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. It also examines the growing role of radical Islamic thought in the fragile South Caucasus region, which was shaped by influential external factors. The essay will answer questions about how Islam gained new impetus in Azerbaijan during the independence years, and which factors led to the popularization of radical Islamic thought in Azerbaijan. The study also traces the essential methods and means available to Azerbaijan, with its secular political regime, to prevent homegrown religious extremism.