The Revival of Islam:Hidden Prayers in the '90s

By Leman Safarli

If before 1990s, for the question "Are you muslim?" the answer was, "Yes, I am", and everything was simple, then later, the answers began to diversify.

Currently, the philosopher and theologian, known in Baku as Sayyid Hasan Huseynov, was born into a religious family in Zangilan region, Azerbaijan
(today, under the control of Armenian forces). The part of their house was always a place for praying, a kind of shrine. However, during Soviet times, it was forbidden to do that and the place was closed, only to be later operated as a school. He remembers," I opened my eyes in a religious family. I remember when we were kids,  a part of our house which was a place for worship was destroyed and the school was opened instead. My grandmother always used to argue with them: "It is a shrine, you are mistaken in the destruction of a sacred institution." However, despite the pressure, the family continued to worship. "

Although he was born and grew up in a religious family, he himself, came to the religion in the ‘90s. "Due to the fact that my family was religious, I also had some interest. In childhood, I always took my grandmother's Koran and asked the question, "I wonder if I can read it someday or not?” However, because of various reasons such as  education, military service, then work, I could not find time for it.  When the war started in the ‘90s, I fought in the war as a volunteer, and was seriously injured. When I was ill I started to read some classics and religious books, and with my father's advice, I went to study at a madrasa and while studying I felt how my love for Islam started to become stronger. I entered Baku Islamic University and began to study and research religious literature.

Hasan Huseynov is currently continuing his scientific and religious activity. He visits sacred the Mashad and Hajj. "At that time, my family members wanted to visit too, but because of regime it was impossible. I am happy that at least I was fortunate enough to see the holy land."

Changes that happened in all things Azerbaijan in the 1990s reflected on religion too.  Since being part of the Soviet Union meant that religion was banned, after the collapse, the population started to spread religious ideologies. The head of the philosophy and cultural history department at Baku State University (former scientific atheism department), Rabiyyat Aslanova says, "when communist ideology failed, a gap appeared. And of course, this gap was filled by religion, because people needed this "buried religion", and there was spiritual hunger."

Religious freedom in the ‘90s has a lot of negative effects. In the first years, various radical religious sects began to flow into the country and it was uncontrolled, a variety of sects used the weakness of the people with their propaganda to attract people to their environment. Despite that the state carries out some arrangements, today the number of people joining the Islamic radical sects has continued to grow. 

The akhund of Bibiheybet mosque, Haci Rahim, says that during the Soviet period, Azerbaijanis were prone to Islam. People spread the islam worship in secreacy, because it was not possible to do it openly.

Even Bibi Heybet mosque was exploded in 1936 by the Soviet Regime. Moreover, holy cemeteries were destroyed and a road was built instead. Only in the 90s, after gaining independence, this mosque was restored.


Construction of mosques was forbidden in the Soviet era, and even the existing mosques were replaced with warehouses or cinemas. At that time, there were 17 mosques in Azerbaijan. After gaining independence, the religious monuments and mosques began to be built rapidly. Currently, there are more than 1900 mosques in Azerbaijan and many new ones are in the process.


Freedom of religion is affected on everyday life too. Thus,  in recent years, as a result of an increase in interest in religion, the new-born children named after the religious people are popular. According to the latest statistics, most of the names of the boy, include: Yusif (Joseph), Ali, Hussein and Mohammed, or girls: Zahra, Fatima and Zeinab.


Bibiheybat mosque in the early ‘90s and today

Men are performing their noon prayer at Bibiheybat mosque.

Women are circling around the holy graves and praying at Bibiheybat mosque

Men are listening to the Akhoond’s prayers after performing the noon prayer at Bibiheybat mosque.

Men are praying at the entrance of the room where the holy graves are placed at Bibiheybat mosque.

Women are praying by touching the written bars around the graves at Bibiheybat mosque.

Women are performing noon prayer at Taza Pir mosque.

In the streets of Mashtagha settlement. which is known as a religious place in Baku.

Hasan Huseynov is performing prayers.

Religious atributes that belong to Mr Hasan. Most of the portraits refer to the İslamic religious leader, Imam Ali.

His favorite accessories: a ring and a pin in the form of Imam Ali’s name in Arabic, brought from holy sanctuaries


Generation of the 1990s