Religion and politics

Azerbaijan is a largely secular state. Religious affiliation is nominal. Practicing adherents of Islam are far smaller than the estimated 93.4%Muslim part of the population.

Government controls

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union and independence in the 1990s, independent Shi’a and Sunni groups have developed that do not accept the authority of the official religious bodies. The government has been suspicious of such independent groups, seeing them as possible sources of Islamic extremism. The authorities have used such official organizations as The State Committee for Work with Religious Institutions and the Caucasus Board of Muslims to control them.

Anti-government protest

Conservative clerics, such as Taleh Bagirzadeh from Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku, have led protests against government policy banning the hijab from schools and universities.  Bagirzadeh spent a year and a half in prison, and was rearrested in March 2013 on drug charges.  After his arrest, several hundred residents of Nardaran--a deeply and openly religious town--participated in a demonstration calling for the release of Bagirzade hand other "prisoners of the hijab," combined with anti-American and anti-Israel slogans.

Islamic extremism

Azerbaijan has been the target of violent Islamic extremist cells since the 1990s, both foreign (such as Iranian and Lebanese Hizbollah) and domestic extremists.

The radical group Hizbut-Tahrir is suspected of having several hundred members in Azerbaijan; some have been arrested and prosecuted by Azerbaijani authorities.