TBILISI – Reflecting growing divisions in the European country, a new imam has been appointed in Georgia to cater to Muslims in eastern parts of the Caucasian country while confining the authorities of the current imam to western parts only.
"I was elected in an open ballot with 19 votes," Jemal Paksadze, the mufti of western Georgia, was quoted by Democracy & Freedom Watch on Thursday, January 16.
"I am the Mufti of Georgian Sunnis living in Georgia.”
The decision to appoint Lasin Aliev, the chief imam, as the Mufti of eastern Georgia was announced in a statement by the administration of Muslims of All Georgia last January 9.
It has also confined the role of the current Mufti of Georgia, imam Paksadze, to Western Georgia only including, Tbilisi, Kakheti and Tsalka.
The decision of splitting East and West Georgia under two mufti administrations was criticized by members of the Georgian Muslims' Union, deeming it as a failure of the Administration of Muslims of all Georgia that was established in 2011 by the government to represent the Muslim minority.
Tariel Nakaidze, the head of the Georgian Muslims’ Union, added that members of the much criticized administration do not show up at mosques and do not perceive themselves as Muslim.
The union has claimed that Azerbaijani Muslims managed to separate from the administration as they "do not trust" it.
"It turns out that the government doesn’t trust the Muslim community and tries to let people under its control found an organization which it will control easily,” Nakaidze explained.
Joining the debates, the head of Georgia’s Supreme Muslim Religious Department issued a statement saying that the new government is continuing what the previous government did.
“In other words, they repeated what the Saakashvili’s regime did with only one difference: This time one of the newly appointed persons is one of us,” the statement reads.
“This way they’ve attempted to hide their lies and didn’t solve the real problem, but made another mistake.”
According to local Muslim leaders, the total population of Muslims in Georgia is around one million out of total 5 million.
However, government sources say that Muslim population is between 400,000 and 500,000.
A majority of Muslims inhabits in the towns, and villages bordering Turkey and Azerbaijan, and hails from Turkish and Azeri origins.
There are native Georgian Muslims, who have recently embraced Islam, but their numbers are in hundreds.
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.
The ethnic Azerbaijani Muslims are predominantly Shiite and are concentrated along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Shiite and Sunni Muslims break the fast together at mass Iftar, but at their respective times.
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