Wednesday 12 August 2020

Islam in Georgia

Georgia, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, ha s significant Muslim population ranging between 9-11% according to different sources, that is every one in ten Georgians is a Muslim. However, despite the sizable Muslim population, Islam is seen by many as a hostile religion.
Adjara’s Muslims occupy a peculiar position in the popular mind. They are not real Georgians, because they are not Christians. But neither are they enemies, because they share the same language.[2]
Islam came to Eastern Georgia in 654 by the armies sent by Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph of Islam and established their foothold in Tbilsi, the capital of present day Georgia. The Autonomous Republic of Adjara on the Black Sea coast in western Georgia is home to a large and much overlooked Muslim community. Islam first arrived in Adjara in the 16th century. A former region of the Ottoman Empire, Adjara was ceded to Russia – and joined to other Georgian territories. Under the Soviet Union rule, the state sponsored drive to proclaim atheism, the Muslim rights were forcible usurped. Even after independence of Georgia, during the rise of religious and ethnic nationalism in the 1990s, Georgia ensured that Islam never regained its pre-Soviet influence, and slowly ceded its positions in Adjara to the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The affairs of Muslims of Georgia and mosques are managed by the Georgian Muslim Department, established in May 2011. The same year in July, Parliament of Georgia passed new law allowing religious minority groups with “historic ties to Georgia” to register. The draft of the law specifically mentions Islam and four other religious communities.

Turkey is in the forefronts in helping out the Muslims of Georgia and signed an agreement with the Georgian government in 2010 to provide funding and expertise to rehabilitate three mosques and to rebuild a fourth one in Georgia. The Georgia-Turkey agreement allows the reconstruction of the historical Azize mosque in Batumi, Ajaria burned down in 1940.

There are two major Muslim groups in Georgia. The ethnic Georgian Muslims are Sunni Hanafi and are concentrated in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara of Georgia bordering Turkey. The ethnic Azerbaijani Muslims, predominantly Shia Ithna Ashariyah, concentrated along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Chechens Muslims of the Naqshbandi order are living in Pankisi Gorge.

There are also smaller numbers of Muslims in Georgia belonging to other ethnic groups of the South Caucasus, such as Ossetians, Armenians, and Pontic Greeks (divided between Caucasus Greeks and Turkish speaking Urums). These are mainly descended from Ottoman-era Christian Orthodox converts to Turkish Islam. 
Central Mosque in Tbilisi [Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / author: Henri Bergius from Finland / Source]

Tbilisi's Jumah mosque is shared by Sunnis and Shia because Soviets destroyed the Shia's house of worship decades ago - it was never rebuilt. Batumi's Orta Jami is not big enough to accommodate the Friday congregation; some worshipers offer prayers outside in the rain and snow, according to Nakaidze. Although an open plot was obtained in 2015 for building a larger masjid, the formal approval for construction has never been approved, probably the local government doesn't want to offend the majority Orthodox Christians.
The makeshift new mosque opened without a building [Courtesy of Tariel Nakaidze / Al Jazeera]

Life in Georgia for Muslims is really tough, specially for the women as the biggest challenge is wearing the hijab in public. While many Muslim women do not cover their hair  in an attempt to blend into Christian society, but those who do and choose to wear the traditional Muslim attire walk the streets while their fellow citizens whisper 'Iranian', 'Turk', and 'Go back to your own country' behind their backs. Many Muslim women recount that they were refused a job simply because they were wearing the hijab to a job interview. Sometimes, they said, mentioning that they were Muslim was enough to bring the interview to an end.

"Generally, if you are not visually recognizable as a Muslim, people are fine with you because they don't necessarily ask about your religion. But if you are wearing a hijab and express your religious identity, you get a different reaction," said Hurie Abashidze, a 25-year-old postgraduate psychology student.[4]
The views of Muslim tourists visiting Georgia are true reflection of life of Muslims in Georgia: [3]
I have just returned from Georgia today and as a hijab-wearing Arab woman I found the majority of Georgians exceptionally rude/giving me the cold shoulder - some people even refused to help when I asked for simple things such as directions etc. I have experienced subtle racism before but I felt in Georgia the hostility towards Muslims is very direct/in your face.
From personal experience, having visited Tblisi with family (women and children), whatever words you wish to use or whatever you like to call it, we were never served in a public restaurant. We would go and sit for about 15~20 minutes but nobody would come to take our order. They just went about with other guests or stood by the counter as if we didn't exist. 
How is the life of Muslims in Georgia, read excerpts from a research: [5]
In Georgia Islam have very extraordinary features. For example, in the rituals and religious practices of the Muslim Georgians of Adjara one may observe some influence of Christianity. Furthermore, over the recent period of time conversion of the Muslim Adjarians to Christianity is getting more and more frequent. Islam of the Chechens (the Kists, according to the Georgian tradition) living in the Pankisi Gorge is well mixed with both the Christian and local pagan beliefs. A very interesting situation has been formed among the Azeri community: as a result of mutual influence of the Shiites and the Sunites, living side by side, the difference between the rituals of these two major streams of Islam has faded (the Shiites perform the Sunite rituals and vice versa).
In the context of the overall religious revival in the world, the rise in the level of religious identity of the Muslim citizens of Georgia (first of all of those who are not ethnic Georgians) is noticeable. New mosques have been constructed and, sometimes, even young people have been sent to the religious educational institutions of the Islamic countries for getting higher Islamic education. All these processes have been funded by foreign Islamic organizations or individuals. In this context the spread of Wahabism among the Muslim communities of Georgia (especially the Kists of Pankisi Gorge) is the matter of much concern, especially as there is a strong discord between the Wahabits and the adherents of the traditional Islam. 
I could not find more material on life of Muslims in Georgia. May be Georgian Muslims read this post leave their impressions in the comment box below.

You may now listen to a first hand account of a Muslim in Georgia and the life therein:
Disclaimer: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

To know more about life of Muslims in other non Muslim countries, please visit our page: Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
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