Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Posts Tagged ‘Islam

An Azerbaijani Reflection on the Night of Qadir, and Our Connections with Divinity

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The end of Ramazan (also known as Ramadan) draws nigh and just this past week was the celebration of Lailatul Qadr’, or the ‘Night of Power’ (one possible translation). Muslims believe that the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad happened within the last 10 nights of the month of Ramazan, on an odd-numbered night. Around here, that means there are 10 nights during this time when the devout will stay up all night at the mosque praying. Muslims throughout the world have been fasting already for the first three weeks of Ramazan. As the end of Ramazan approaches, known as the Eid or Eid al-Fitr, on the 30th and 31st of August this year, I thought I’d share a thoughtful reflection by a blogger, Sabina, on her first experience going to a mosque last week during the Qadir:

I was really excited about the idea of going to the mosque and spending the night there awake. In Azeri, Mosques are called ‘Allahın Evi” (the house of God). I truly believed that I was going to be much closer to God. When I was in Georgia, my friends and I went to the cathedral and lit a candle. I was feeling embarrassed that as a Muslim I had gone to the cathedral first. So this was a good chance for me to feel God in another house of His.

However my excitement faded away when I stepped in the mosque. No. I didn’t see the mosque, but the yard of the mosque. When I began to follow the crowd, which mainly consisted of males, my sister grabbed my arm and forwarded me to the tent. It turned out that males were going to spend the night inside the mosque with Akhoond, and females were to spend the night in the tent in the yard on the ground covered with old carpets. There was a speaker in the tent to hear the voice of Akhoond.

To be honest, I was really surprised, because I have read a bit of Quran, and God’s words say to treat woman kindly. Besides, in our culture, in the buses or other places, males always give their seats to females, or they always seem to be protective. Sometimes extremely protective to females. But no, in the house of God, males agree to stay inside and let females (their mothers, sisters, wives) sit in the tent on the ground in the cold weather. (That night it was drizzling). Another surprising thing was that the women didn’t care about it. It was just me asking around why males are inside. My aunt thought I should keep silence. Well I did. But I didn’t keep silence in my mind; I really thought a lot but didn’t find any answers. Although my sister answered this question, it just seemed a pretext to me.

There are so many ideas going on here. Sabina embarks on a deep reflection on the role of Islam in gender, the complexity of our earthly connections to divinity, against a background of not just Muslim culture but also Azerbaijani culture. The whole post is worth reading to get a full perspective from one Azerbaijani woman on Ramazan, Islam, Azerbaijani culture, divinity, and the questions we should all be asking ourselves.

Written by Aaron

August 29, 2011 at 6:43 am

Ramadan, Coming to You on August 1st

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This is my second year in a Muslim country during Ramadan (Ramazan, in Azeri). And it’s another time that reminds me that Azerbaijan is not necessarily the most devout of Muslim countries. (Let’s chalk that up to 70+ years of Soviet repression, shall we?) When I head to the bank on Tuesday, it’s likely that 40% or so of my bank colleagues will be fasting in accordance to the Sawm. This is what I had to say about Ramazan last year, which I’m sure is still applicable (note, however, that we’re regularly hitting 100+F in temperatures this year):

One of the big concerns we’ve had is that this month has been extremely hot. We’re talking about mid- to high-90′s each day, no rain, all sun, all the time. That’s concerning for folks who are not even drinking water. There have got to be some alternatives that people are pursuing to keep this up. At the bank, I know there have been a few more people complaining of headaches and feeling ill recently, which I’m going to directly attribute to the fasting. Yet, I admire the earnestness with which these people approach the time of Ramadan. It’s an impressive undertaking, no matter how hot it is outside.

This is also another time to discuss the religiosity of Azerbaijanis, their relationship to Islam. We’ve seen other examples of ignoring Islamic principles, such as excessive drinking by Azeri men. Ramadan is no exception. While there are certainly a lot of people fasting during Ramadan, I think it’s fewer than I thought. An informal survey of the bank office showed that about a third of the office was fasting, about 16 out of the 50 or so people that work there. Talking with Miri, it’s about the same at the TV station. Miri’s also a bit more cynical about the whole enterprise. He suggested the other day that while some people fast for religious purposes, there is another subgroup of people who are fasting for more vain purposes, trying to lose weight, or for health. I’m not into criticizing people for fasting for those purposes. But I do find it a little surprising.

This year the month of Ramazan starts officially on August 1, 10 days earlier than last year, according to the Caucasus Muslims Board:

Qadi Council of the Caucasian Muslims Board issued a fatwa on the start of the Month of Ramadan.

An event was held on this occasion at the Caucasian Muslims Board. According to the fatwa, the first day of the Month of Ramadan falls on August 1 of the Christian calendar. July 31 is the night of intention. The Eid ul-Fitr falls on the 29th or 30th of the Month of Ramadan by the hijri calendar – August 30 or 31 by Christian calendar.

One feature that I find particularly interesting about Ramazan is that the myriad important dates during the (lunar) month are fairly vague. Notice above: we’re not sure which day the Eid falls on. Other dates, the days on which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet or the days on which Shi’ites commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali, are similarly uncertain. It all depends on the sightings of the moon.

Written by Aaron

July 31, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Maccabi Tel Aviv v. Xəzər Lənkəran: Israeli Football Players on Iran’s Doorstep

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Well, I doubt that the players from Maccabi Tel Aviv FC are heading down to the border town of Astara, but Lənkəran isn’t very far away. We sit about a 30 minute drive north of the border, so when Maccabi Tel Aviv players came to Lənkəran, I’m sure they were closer to Iran than they ever thought they might be. I hadn’t even thought of the security implications of tonight’s match until I was sent this news article:

Some 15,000 fans, 400 policemen and 300 soldiers will meet Maccabi Tel Aviv for its return leg tonight against Khazar Lankaran in Azerbaijan, just 40 kilometers from the Iranian border. In a move to prevent Iranian citizens from entering the stadium, every fan will have to present a passport. The 30 Maccabi fans who made the journey in three flights will be given heavy security.

A few things: First, those 30 Maccabi fans aren’t very travel-savvy. They should be able to get to Azerbaijan with only one layover. If they were really savvy, they would realize they could have flown to Moscow or St. Petersburg and been on a flight directly from there to Lənkəran. Second, the article describes later how the Maccabi team complained about the conditions of getting to Lənkəran. Same goes for them: if they were any good at international travel, they should have been able to get a flight into Lənkəran (it’s a football team: shouldn’t they have their own chartered flight?) and skipped the “rickety bus” they talked about. And even if they had taken a bus from the Baku bus station, it would have been air-conditioned. What buses are they talking about? Third, those security measures are interesting. At the last game I went to, there was a very small crowd of fans for the other team that was surrounded by security for the entire game. And it seems that no matter who the opponent is, security at these games is always plentiful, with local military regiments lining up around the pitch and into many of the seating sections.

Last, people around Lənkəran have been talking about this game all week. I’ve been asked tens of times in the last few days if I’ve bought a ticket yet (I haven’t) and I’m sure that the stadium will be packed. For the fans’ sakes, I hope that the game is better than the last one I went to, against a team from Moldova. For this upcoming game, we know that Xəzər Lənkəran, this year’s Azerbaijan League champion, took the loss in the last meeting of these two teams in Israel a few weeks ago. Hopefully Xəzər can take some lessons learned and advantage of the hometown crowd to turn that 3:1 score from the loss into a 3:1 win here in Lənkəran.

Written by Aaron

July 21, 2011 at 7:25 am