Religious and cultural solidarity has been fully ensured in a small Muslim country, Azerbaijan. Due to its commitment to the Sunni and Shiite unity- it is a rare example in the world - 2017 declared as a “Year of Islamic Solidarity”. According to the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan`s statistic, there are 65 percent of Shiite and 35 percent Sunni Muslims living peacefully in Azerbaijan. Culturally and religiously diversified community in the country became a valuable asset. Despite the fact that dominant religion is Islam in the country, almost all branches of Christianity are presented here. Thus, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant branches as well as members of the historical Albanian Church live in the territory of Azerbaijan. Mountain Jews who settled in Azerbaijan from ancient times, communities of Georgian and European Jews (Ashkenazi) also operate in the country. They live, work and mutually understand each other. That is why Azerbaijan has never witnessed any national and religious conflicts so far.
All these facts prove that Azerbaijan is one of the multicultural and multi-confessional countries in the world. In order to protect tolerant traditions and multicultural values in the country, the government started to implementing several state policies for strengthening interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Thus, 2017 declared as a “Year of Islamic Solidarity” is found to be continuation of multiculturalism policy and it is an answer to the ethnic as well as religious conflicts and wars in the world. A year before celebrating Islamic solidarity – 2016 was declared as a “Year of Multiculturalism” in Azerbaijan to highlight an environment of dialogue between different religions and cultures within country while mutual cooperation of ethnic groups, tradition of tolerance and condemnation of all sorts of hatred and xenophobia had been core principles of this policy. Consequently, Azerbaijani government not only established favorable environment for Muslim confessions but also, non-Muslim religious communities, particularly Christians and Jewish. For example, 2166 mosques, 7 synagogues and 14 churches have been built and renovated by the government so far. In doing so, peaceful coexistence, interfaith and intercultural dialogue have become interconnected factors in which Azerbaijan`s stability based on.
To this extend, calling Muslims to solidarity by Azerbaijan is urgent more than ever in the time of intra-Islam tensions and conflicts. In this regard, Azerbaijani case demonstrated that peaceful coexistence of Sunni and Shiite is possible.
Several events and conferences have been held during a year of solidarity. 4th Islamic Solidarity Games were held in Baku, capital city of Azerbaijan was among them. It was the one which demonstrated a unique example to bring 54 Muslim countries together in an atmosphere of friendship whereas there were Muslim countries in tension. In addition, significant development in terms of uniting different Islamic beliefs is to exercise a “Unity Pray”. In Azerbaijan, it has been able to practice “Unity Pray” of Sunni and Shiite in a single mosque. Azerbaijani example of “Unity Pray” is defined as exercising Islamic rituals [red. Friday pray] by pious behind religious clerics of Sunni or Shiite. All these achievements in interfaith dialogue represented Azerbaijan`s unique place in the world. It showed Azerbaijan`s stance toward strengthening dialogue, mutual understanding, preserving multicultural values and traditions of tolerance.
Another significant contribution to the solidarity of religions was to organize international conference on interfaith and intercultural dialogue in the year of Islamic Solidarity. The conference titled “2017-Year of Islamic Solidarity: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue” were held in Baku on December 21, 2017, was a concluding remark of the “Year of Islamic Solidarity”. There were participants included state officials, religious figures and scientists from nearly 40 countries, heads and representatives of eight international organizations, special envoys of heads of states of a number of countries, heads of religious communities, members of parliaments, general public and representatives of the diplomatic corps in the conference. So, small Muslim country brought Muslims, Christians and Jewish to the dialogue platform in order to show possibility of mutual understanding as well as interfaith and intercultural communications between Muslims, Christians, Jewish and other religions. These are the facts that Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the co-chair of Simon Wiesental Center, Malcolm Hoenlien president of Conference of American Jewish Organizations, Thomas Schirrmacher Associate Secretary General for Theological Concerns of World Evangelical Alliance, Rabbi March Schneier, Monsignor Akasheh member and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Metropolitan Theodore (Chuadze) of Akhaltsikhe and Tao-Klarjeti and Harun Khan General Secretary of Muslim Council of Britain are among the religious leaders. This conference should be understood as an annual report on “Calling the World to Peace, Solidarity and Dialogue” amid increasing trends of religious discrimination, intolerance, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
In order to promote religious solidarity and mutual understanding in the world, the decision made for organizing this type of international conference every year in Azerbaijan as a part of “Baku Process”. The State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Caucasus Muslims` Board has been assigned an organizer and coordinator of it.