13 May 2011
The Georgian Musliim Department was established this week for the purpose of governing the mosques and islamic communities in Georgia.
The new non-governmental organization is headed by mufti Jamal Bagshadze.
Up to now, the affairs of Georgia's Muslims have been governed from abroad by the Caucasus Musmins Department (CMD) in the neighboring country of Azerbaijan. This arrangement is a holdover from the Soviet era, when both countries were republics in the USSR. During that time, Muslim affairs for the whole Caucasus region were centrally governed from Azerbaijan's capitol Baku.
The CMD has objected strongly to the formation of the Georgian Muslim Department. CMD spokesman Ali Aliyev stated through the Azerbaijani news media that the CMD looks negatively upon the new organization.
"Management of the Caucasus Muslims has always been carried out from Baku with an Azerbaijani staff. However, there is no single Azerbaijani in the Georgian Muslims Department today," Aliyev said, adding that Azerbaijanis hold minor positions in the structure.
"Now anyone will elect himself a mufti or sheikh, which is in fact wrong," Aliyev added.
The question of the ethnic composition of Muslims in the predominantly Christian Georgia is not simple. The largest number of Muslims in this country are indeed Azeris (about 500,000 people), but there is a substantial number of Georgian Muslims (mainly the population of Adjaria), as well as Abkhaz, Chechens and other ethnic minorities.
Islam was introduced into Georgia in 645 AD by the Second Caliph of Islam, Umar, who established Muslim rule in Georgia's present capittol Tbilisi. Currently, Muslims constitute approximately 9.9% of the Georgian population.
"Caucasus Muslims Board opposes separate Muslim body in Georgia" News Azerbaijan may 12, 2011
"Georgian Muslims go out of control of Baku-based Caucasus Muslims Dept" Azerbaijani Business Center May 12, 2011