Attired in a sleeveless but lose gown-style dress that hardly covered her knees, a woman with predominant Azeri ( Azerbaijani) features came out of the prayers hall of Suburtala mosque, the one and only official mosque in Tibilisi, the capital of Georgia, removed her headscarf, gave it back to the mosque’s administrator, threw some coins in the donation box, put on her high heels and departed leaving me and my Christian friend who escorted me to the mosque, and also served as my interpreter, astonished.
The scene was no different to one which we witnessed just half an hour ago while visiting an Orthodox church, located a few steps away from the mosque, where women wearing mini-skirts or hip-hugging shorts, but covering their heads with scarves they borrowed from the church administration.
The similarity of these women’s dresses not only overwhelmed me, but my Christian friend, a former German diplomat, who is currently serving as Bishop of Lutheran Church in Georgia, was also astonished.
“I never saw this at a mosque before”, Hans Joacham Kiderlane, the Bishop, commented.
But Haji Tahamais, the administrator of the mosque located in the hilly old city area of the capital, did not appear to be surprised.
“ This is the remnant of Soviet occupation of Georgia, where not only Muslims, but Christians and Jews were discouraged to regularly visit mosque, church or synagogue”, Haji Tahamais, who were engaged in finalizing the Ramadan calendars, which would be distributed across this former USSR state, told OnIslam.net.
According to Tahamais, religion was the main target of defunct Soviet rule, whether it was Islam or Christianity or Judaism.
“Because of that discouragement and a strict check on religious activities, many Muslims too had developed a habit of visiting mosque only on Fridays in line with Christians and Jews whose majority still visit church and synagogues only on Sundays and Saturdays respectively.” Tahamais, hailing from Azeri origin, maintained.
|The number of people who break their fast in the mosque during Ramadan varies-sometimes in dozens, sometimes not more than half a dozen.|
A One Day Visit
The foundations of secularism promoted by the Soviet rule i.e. to visit the mosque, church or synagogue once a week, and get your weekly sins forgiven, is still the general attitude in Georgian society.
Muslims in Tibilisi usually do not offer five-time prayers in the mosque except Fridays. They, according to Haji, offer prayers either at homes or work places due to long distances, tight working schedules, and unavailability of mosques as against a Muslim state.
Friday is a special day, when hundreds of Muslims-both men and women- turn up, and offer Friday prayers.
However, in Ramadan every year, there are usually groups who break their fast at the mosque, and offer prayers. The number of people who break their fast in the mosque varies-sometimes in dozens, sometimes not more than half a dozen.
|A majority of Muslims inhabit in the towns and villages bordering Turkey and Azerbaijan; they hail from Turkish and Azeri origins.|
Bordering powerful Russia in north, Turkey, and Armenia in south, Azerbaijan in southeast and Black Sea in the west, Georgia is located at the crossroads of western Asia and Eastern Europe. The country is home of 5 million people, of which, according to different estimates, Muslims make up 9.9 per cent to 10.5 per cent of the total population of Georgia.
Haji Tahamais claims that the population of Muslims in Georgia is around one million; however local Georgians do not verify his claim.
“Muslim population in Georgia is between 400,000 and 500,000”, Hans Joackham opined.
A majority of Muslims inhabit in the towns and villages bordering Turkey and Azerbaijan; they hail from Turkish and Azeri origins. There are native Georgian Muslims, who have recently embraced Islam; however their numbers are in hundreds.
A few Georgian ladies too have recently embraced Islam after marrying to Pakistani and Indian Muslims who have settled in Georgia for business purpose.
Mosques in Georgia operate under the supervision of the Georgian Muslim Department, established in May 2011. In 2010, Turkey and Georgia signed an agreement by which Turkey will provide funding and expertise to rehabilitate three mosques and to rebuild a fourth one in Georgia.
Suburtala mosque, having a capacity of 500, is the only big mosque in Tibilisi, home of around 10,000 Muslims. A tall minaret of the mosque can be seen from a long distance.
The mosque does not belong to any particular sect. A verse from the Qur’an exhorting Muslims to hold fast the rope of Allah, is written on the entrance wall.
“We offer prayers behind one Imam. We are just Muslims. Both Sunnis and Shiites fund for this Mosque and offer prayers together here”, Haji Tahamais said.
Both Sunnis and Shiites were seen offering prayers as per their respective Fiqah in the hall.
There are two major Muslim groups in Georgia. The ethnic Georgian Muslims are Sunni Hanafi and are concentrated in Autonomous Republic of Adjara of Georgia bordering Turkey. A majority of ethnic Azerbaijani Muslims are predominantly Shiite are concentrated along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Meskhetian Turks are Sunni Hanafi Muslims. Meskhetian Turks are the former Turkish inhabitants of Meskheti region of Georgia, along the border with Turkey.
Based on a Wikipedia piece, Islam in Georgia was introduced in 645 AD. when an army sent by the Second Caliph of Islam,Hazrat Umar bin Khatab (RA) conquered Eastern Georgia and established Islamic rule in Tiblisi] During this period, Tbilisi (al-Tefelis) grew into a center of trade between the Islamic world and northern Europe.
Islam's history continued in Georgia throughout the late 14th and early 15th centuries with Timur's invasions of Georgia and during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Safavids and Ottomans commanded influence in the region. In 1703, Vakhtang VI became the ruler of the kingdom of Kartli and he embraced Islam.
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