Baku, Azerbaijan, July 21
By Elmira Tariverdiyeva – Trend:
What does auto racing have to do with religious freedom? In Azerbaijan, everything, wrote Jacob Kamaras, an editor for the Jewish News Service, in his article published by the cnsnews.com portal.
“Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority nation situated in the South Caucasus and at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, recently hosted a Formula 1 Grand Prix event for the second year in a row. Three pre-race practices and a qualifying race took place during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, while the race itself was held on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan,” wrote the author.
“In Saudi Arabia, women are legally barred from driving year-round. In Azerbaijan, Formula 1 cars buzz around a racing track in Baku at speeds of up to 240 miles per hour—during a Muslim holy month,” says the article.
“In the Islamic Republic of Iran, women are forbidden from watching men’s sports in stadiums. In Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran, women can watch men race in a major international sporting event on the eve of a Muslim holiday. Notice the difference?” said Kamaras.
While approximately 92 percent of Azerbaijanis are Muslims, Azerbaijan is a bona fide Western nation where religious minorities are appropriately protected and respected, while secular liberties like attending an auto race are welcomed—even during the most sacred time on the Islamic calendar, according to the article.
Azerbaijan is religiously tolerant and open to secular forms of entertainment, unlike so many other Muslim-majority countries, noted the author, adding that it starts with proper separation of church and state. Azerbaijan’s constitution affirms the country as a secular state and ensures religious freedom for its citizens, he added.
According to a Gallup International/WI Network of Market Research poll published in April 2015, Azerbaijan ranked as one of the most secular nations among the 65 countries covered in the survey, with 54 percent of Azerbaijani respondents describing themselves as either "not religious" or "atheist", wrote Kamaras.
“Irreligious or atheistic citizens would need to hide their beliefs in the theocratic, autocratic Muslim states of Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the secular, democratic, Muslim-majority nation of Azerbaijan, they can not only believe what they wish without fear of government persecution, but they can even choose to attend a high-profile public sporting event rather than making preparations for Eid al-Fitr,” said the author.
“Such details are more than just symbolic. They are concrete examples of how sports, entertainment and Western culture are celebrated in Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, making the country an oasis of hope in the otherwise repressive Muslim world. In the year leading up to the next Formula 1 race in Baku, the international community should learn to understand this event’s true significance,” concluded the author.