ISSN 2330-717X

Role Of Multiculturalism Policy In Struggle Against Religious Extremism: Example Of Azerbaijani Experience – Analysis



Religion is a social phenomenon which has emerged both as the system of beliefs and the form of management of society for many centuries. All of the religions are based on the principles of peacefulness, humanism and humaneness, and these creeds act as an ideological basis guiding the wide masses. Given that more than two thirds of the world population are the believers of different religions, the relations between religion and state as well as religion and society will always maintain their timeliness.

In the modern period the freedom for faith is part of the fundamental human rights. Although today religion is viewed from the prism of human rights and national-spiritual values, it also requires a security-wise approach. In many countries religion is separate from the state. However, the state must be responsible for the religious status and the citizens’ security in the country. [1]

To maintain peace, tolerance and multiculturalism in the world today, there is a great need in distinguishing the freedom for faith from religious radicalism, religious extremism and fanaticism. The process of deradicalization and the steps taken by the states and societies in this regard should also be analysed from a scientific perspective, and there should be some outcomes. Religious extremism and religious radicalism are a threat to the national and multicultural security of any state, and in the struggle against these phenomena the states have always combatted in the terms of different conceptions by improving their legislative basis. Besides, as religious extremism can lead to the notion of terrorism, special attention should also be attached to international cooperation in this regard.

In Azerbaijani society situated in a geography, where historically various cultures and religious creeds have merged, multicultural customs and traditions, as well as mutual understanding have predominated. Nevertheless, different periods have seen religious extremist and radical forces in a religious disguise to benefit for their own interests by taking over the power, violating social stability, causing religious confrontations, and there have been attempts to impinge the state sovereignty and stability. However, today Azerbaijan has managed to provide its multicultural security completely and raised the ideology of multiculturalism to the level of a state policy.

This article will present the political-legal experience of the Azerbaijani state in comparison with other states in the guarantee of the freedom for faith and in the struggle against religious radicalism as well as religious extremism.

The threats to our country’s national security associated with religion are multi-aspect. Some religious-political groups, which are being materially and morally supported by foreign states and functioning without permission, can be considered the most dangerous among them. The international practice shows that as such groups are inclined to national and religious extremism and terrorism, their activities cause more danger for the stability of society. They can be considered a threat to our national security. [2]

The Main Part

The history of terrorism and extremism, which are seriously threatening the humanity in the modern period, goes back to the ancient periods, and their formation is associated with different reasons. In many cases such kind of conflicts occur on ethnic, religious, racial and other bases. Irrespective of its motives and formation reasons, terrorism is one of the manifestation forms of extremism and the eradication of this danger is one of the most important and basic duties of humanity. [3]

“Religious extremism” often implies aggression derived from religion. However, no matter how paradoxal it may be, actually, religion and agression are notions too far away from each other. It is clear that religious extremism has not any connections with sacred religious creeds and is a very dangerous social phenomenon for all societies. Every state combats religious extremism and radicalism in different forms.

If we review the historical experience of human civilization, we can see an interaction between religious extremism and terrorism. In general, the religious factor is of great importance in the formation of emotional-psychological, extremist behaviour as well as terroristic activities. It can be said that being carried out in a religious disguise, religious extremist activities are the criminal activities of different organizations, groups targeted at changing the constitutional structure by force, taking over the power, instigating religious intrigue and using other acts of violence to achieve political goals. [4]

To strengthen the struggle against religious extremism the Republic of Azerbaijan regularly improves its legislative, educational as well as law-enforcement measures, and always consolidates the ideological bases. Time has shown us that in case of an ideological gap and in the absence of the co-existence model, dangerous armed groupings in a religious disguise are most probable to emerge.

On 5 December 2015 the Republic of Azerbaijan adopted a special Law “On the Struggle Against Religious Extremism”. By defining the legal, organizational bases of the struggle against religious extremism this law fixes the rights and obligations of the state organs and citizens carrying out the struggle against religious extremism. The main purpose of adopting this law is to protect the constitutional structure, sovereignty and multicultural security of the state and strengthen the struggle against armed groupings and terroristic organizations formed in a religious disguise. Given that armed terroristic groupings formed in a religious disguise are threatening the entire humanity and are trying to involve the young generations in their ranks relying on extremely radical ideas, the adoption of the mentioned law was of great importance.

While the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On the Freedom for Faith” has successfully been regulating the relations between religion and state so far, the new law has already differenciated between the freedom for faith and religious extremism, radicalism and fanatism from the legal point of view.

Certainly, the existence of monoethnic and intolerant societies is one of the cases causing the formation of religious extremism. From this point of view, the basic ideological foundation in the struggle against religious radical groupings is the advocacy and support of the idea of multiculturalism and the model of multicultural society. By turning the policy of multiculturalism into one of the political guidelines, Azerbaijan has formed an equal attitude to all religious communities, creeds and cultures at the state level.

However, contrary to it, in many Western societies the notions of religious fundamentalism, religious extremism and terrorism acquired the similar meaning and began to be associated with the name of some great religion (for instance, Islam). The mottoes like “Islamic terrorism”,” Islamic radicalism” happened to threaten the very peaceful heavenly religions in the mass psychology. This is very dangerous. In other words, those states are causing a great risk for themselves. The researches conducted by the sociologists of Maryland University in 2008 had very interesting outcomes showing that 51 per cent of the population of 20 countries completely rejected any association with any religious creed.[5] It shows that without any distinction people have come to associate even humanistic religious views with terrorism.

It should be noted that the line of development of these dangereous phenomena, which have actually no connections with religion and are beyond religion, is usually as follows:

Religious fundamentalism → religious radicalism and fanaticism → religious extremism → terrorism

For religious fundamentalism to emerge, ideology is not sufficient, for it to occur there must be a favorable socio-political and psychological environment. This notion means the existence of religious dogmas absolute, inherited from the past, unchangeable and inadaptable. Religious fundamentalism can be seen in three main symptoms.

  • The believers should be managed by unchangeable and absolute religious rules established by the past.
  • These religious rules can be interpreted only in one way for believers.
  • The religious rules should be above the secular rules.

Religious fundamentalism first manifested itself in Christianity and Judaism in the 1900s. Whereas, in Islam it started to spread extensively at the time when Salafism emerged in Egypt in the XIX century.

In the 2008 report of the European Commission the notion of religious radicalism is viewed together with religious fundamentalism, and it is noted that radicalism is such a phenomenon that it can pave the way to religious extremism and terrorism by uniting people with identical views and ideas round the severe religious views. [6] One can derive such a conclusion that religious extremism is not a phenomenon that emerges all of a sudden. This is a line of development where religious fundamental ideas can develop and lead to religious extremism. Many scholars call it “the process of radicalization”. Then there rises a question: when does this radicalization process completely turn into extremism? Can one draw the line of demarcation between these notions?

In fact, even in everyday practical life it is very difficult to differentiate between the freedom for faith and religious radicalism. Many scholars also demonstrate some controversial position on the complete transition of radicalization process into religious extremism. However, in general, there is such an accepted idea that an extremist is a person who tries to gain some results illegally and by force or disseminate his/her own idea.

Although in the early XX century terrorism, radicalism and extremism generated a serious threat in a number of countries including Azerbaijan, the highly educated youth are capable of not only preventing radical terrorism but also denouncing it openly. The development of education plays an important role in the solution to social problems, in the development of the country. The conflicts in various countries of the world are due to the low level of education in those societies. Equal educational opportunities are created for every citizen in Azerbaijan, irrespective of his/her religion, ethnic identity. Owing to the care of the Azerbaijani State which attaches special attention to this sector, over three thousand schools have been built in the last ten years. Owing to the education programs abroad over 3500 young people have received their education abroad. Multiculturalism is being taught at universities having been included in our country’s university curriculums. [7]

The 4 December 2015 Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On the Struggle against Religious Extremism”, which defines the legal and organizational bases of the struggle against religious extremism in the Republic of Azerbaijan, fixing the rights and duties of the state organs and citizens carrying out the struggle against religious extremism, conceptualizes religious radicalism and fanaticism as follows:

Religious radicalism is the behavior which expresses the association with extreme religious views in the frames of any faith, demonstrates irreconcilable attitude in fixing the exceptional nature of those religious views and is characterized by the use of aggressive methods and means in its dissemination;

Religious fanaticism is an extreme degree of religious belief excluding any critical approach and accompanied by blind observance of religious norms as one of the ideological bases of religious extremism; [8]

Besides, that law reflects the main goals of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the struggle against religious extremism – the guarantee of the bases of the Constitutional structure of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as its territorial integrity and security, the protection of the human and civil rights and freedoms, the detection, prevention of religious extremist activities, the minimization of the expected harm resulting from religious extremism, the detection and elimination of the reasons for and conditions of the formation of religious extremism and the implementation of extremist activities as well as the detection and elimination of the cases of financing religious extremism, the main principles of the struggle against religious extremism, the subjects, forms and methods of carrying out special operations against religious extremism, the situation and responsibility arising from the religious extremist activities, also in cases of violation of the appropriate provisions of the legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan.


It is obvious that as a social phenomenon, religion is a very sensitive and timely theme; and the more religion alienates from its origin, the more it becomes politicized and turns into a tool in the hands of extremist forces to achieve certain goals. Thus, there appears religious extremism, another negative social phenomenon, which is against all other views and tries to firmly inculcate its statements in people.

Today in the Republic of Azerbaijan the law enforcement bodies are taking consistent, educational and systematic measures to prevent the tendencies of extremism and radicalism in the country. One of the main goals of the state is not to facilitate or allow the dissemination of radical sects, religious extremism in our Republic.

In the modern period it seems impossible to prevent such kind of problems without joint efforts of a powerful state and civil society and international organizations. There must be both a powerful state and strong civil society to combat extremism and radicalism efficiently.

As a civil and secular state, Azerbaijan has always been against religious extremism, condemned religious intolerance and cooperated with other states in this sphere and is doing it today as well. Azerbaijan gives preference to cooperation with the countries combatting terrorism, religious extremism. At present legal enforcement bodies are taking consistent and targeted measures to prevent the radical and extremist tendencies. The activities of all the radical religious movements in the country have been taken under control, the import of harmful religious literature and its dissemination in the country have been prevented.

In Azerbaijan the educational work is being carried out intensively both by the state organizations and civil soceity representatives. Every year the State Committee for the Work with Religious Organizations develops special programs on educational work; besides this, hundreds of civil societies functioning in the country implement projects on religious education and advocacy of multiculturalism.

In accordance with the research findings, we would like to point out that religious security is really part of national security. Despite the stable and peaceful co-existence in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the threat of religious extremism, radicalism always exists for every state. To prevent all this, the traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism should be maintained, developed and advocated throughout the entire society.

*About the author: Dr. Ravan Hasanov, Acting Executive Director of Baku International Centre of MulticulturalismRepublic of Azerbaijan

[1] Ismayilov Gunduz. Tolerance: What We Know and We Don’t, Baku 2014, p.191
[2] Religious security is part of the national security. The newspaper “Zaman”. 17 March 2015
[3] Mammadov J. Azerbaijan in the Struggle Against Extremism. 4
[4] Hajiyeva A. Religion and Terrorism. 6.[5] The Caucasus and Globalization, Volume 3, İssue 2-3, page 2009
[6] The European Parliament, Religious Fundamentalism and Radicalism, Briefing, March 2015
[7] The Role of the Youth in the Struggle Against Terrorism, Extremism and Radicalism. /
[8] The Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On the Struggle Against Religious Extremism”, 2.

Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.