Shaikh-ul-Islam Pashazada Allahshukur Hummatoglu is chairman of the Board of Management of Caucasian Muslims. Fred Halliday and Maxine Molyneux interviewed him in Baku in July 1984.
How are Soviet Muslims organized?
There are four separate Islamic religious bodies in the Soviet Union. Three of these are for Sunnis. Here in the Transcaucasian region, comprising Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, Shi‘i Muslims are the majority. Their leader is the shaikh-ul-Islam, the position I now hold.
Are you appointed by the state?
The leaders of Soviet Muslims are elected, not appointed. The believers elect a congress, and this congress elects the shaikh-ul-Islam. The Sunnis similarly elect their leaders, the three muftis.
What is your work?
To do whatever is stipulated in the Qur’an and the Hadith. I issue fatwas on relevant matters and work with the imams who are attached to the mosques throughout this region. My job is to oversee the implementation of the shariat, the law for Muslims.
Do Muslims here pay religious dues, zakat or khums?
There is one day in the year when they give their khums to the mosque.
What about fasting for Ramadan?
People fast, too.
How many mosques are there in this area?
We have six masjid-i-jame in Baku alone, and many in the Azerbaijan region as a whole, even in some of the villages. We have qualified ulema, who have studied at the two madrases in Tashkent and Bokhara.
Do you get financial support from the Soviet state?
All our income comes from contributions of the faithful. There is no need for help from the government. Moreover, the constitution of the USSR separates religion and state.
Do you have access to the state-run media, or to schools?
No. We conduct our own religious education for those who desire it.
Does the state try to prevent religion?
Article 52 of the constitution says that everyone is free to worship, or not to worship at all. Islam is in the hearts of the believers, it is something personal.
Do the Shi‘i Muslims in this area celebrate Ashura?
On the day of Ashura, up to 10,000 people come to the mosque here. There is no ritual flogging any more — that happened only before the revolution. A fatwa was issued on this matter.
Do you enforce Islamic codes with regard to women?
The state decrees that men should have only one wife and this is out of respect for women. It is important that women should be given rights and know what these are. If women want to work they should be able to. It is an alien idea that women should only stay at home. My wife doesn’t work herself; we have six children, the oldest of which is nine. She has more than enough work to do as it is!
Has Khomeini’s interpretation of the shariat influenced women’s behavior here — for example in the increased incidence of wearing the hejab?
Khomeini is ruling on behavior in his own country, and it may be appropriate in Iran — maybe. But I am afraid that things will not go well for women in Iran. Actually I don’t think hejab is necessary. But it is a personal decision. People here do sometimes wear hejab, mostly older women. I wouldn’t say there are many more people wearing hejab now than before.
So the impact of Khomeni’s views has not been very substantial?
We all listen to him on the radio, but do we hear him? These days you can listen to the whole world. But people are very skeptical about what he has to offer. Look, we had a revolution 60 years ago, we don’t have much to learn from him. We say water comes from the top and goes down; it doesn’t go up again. We know the achievements of our revolution, we are on high ground. Of course, every revolution gives something to the people, including the Iranian revolution. For Iran this is progress, but what is the point of these Muslims fighting each other? People here know what war really is, and they fear it.