Introduction / History
The Mussulman Tat of Azerbaijan live in the mountain valleys of the north and northeastern parts of the country. They also live in northwestern Iran, in the mountain valleys along the Azerbaijani border. A large number also live in the capital city of Baku. They are part of three distinct religious communities that fall into a category known as "tats." The three groups include the Jewish Tat (known as "mountain Jews"), the Christian Tat, and the Muslim Tat. The small group of Mussulman Tat who live in Azerbaijan are part of the Muslim Tat. Most of the Tat groups live over the border in Iran.
The Turks originally coined the term "tats" to designate settled groups of non-Turkic origin. Both the Muslim Tat and the Mussulman Tat speak a native language known as Tati. Because no alphabet exists for Tati, they use Azeri (Azerbaijani) for their written and literary language. Depending on the area in which they live, the Tat speak other regional languages in addition to their own. There may be a Christian Tat dialect, but this cannot be confirmed.
What are their lives like?
Although the Azerbaijani Mussulman Tat have been an agricultural people from the beginning of their history, they have also developed a strong urban community. Farmers living in the valleys raise wheat, barley, maize, and cattle. Those living in mountain villages raise sheep, bulls, and buffaloes. In the northeastern area, communities consisting of 80 to 120 households are located in mountain settlements built on ledges.
The rural Mussulman Tat still live in their ancestral villages among the mountains and valleys. The availability of well water determines the village location. Each villages contains a mosque, a bath area, and a well, as well as family dwellings.
The Mussulman Tat in rural areas usually live in one- or two-story homes, which are constructed of rectangular-shaped natural stones cemented with clay mortar. The houses feature flat roofs and front porches supported by wooden pillars. Families living in two-story homes use the upper floor for living quarters and the lower floor for workspace.
Azerbaijan is an ethnically complex country where minority groups staunchly defend their traditional differences and struggle for local autonomy. The Tat are considered a closed society because they insist on maintaining ethnic purity by allowing marriage only within the tribe.
Although education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and eleven, many classroom facilities are inadequate. Classes are segregated by sex, and the major emphasis is on religion and traditional values.
What are their beliefs?
Almost all of the Azerbaijani Mussulman Tat are Muslim. The great majority are Shi'a (Shi'ite) Muslim and about one-tenth are Sunni Muslim. Because of continued Soviet persecution, the Mussulman Tat practice their religion in semi-secrecy, a pattern known as "parallel Islam."
The Mussulman Tat adhere to the five essential "pillars" or duties in Islam: (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give alms generously. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his lifetime.
Most Muslims believe in the traditional form of marriage for life. However, some traditionalist Shi'ites still practice mutah, a form of temporary marriage that can be dissolved at any time stipulated in the premarital agreement.
What are their needs?
There has been little evangelization among the Mussulman Tat because they are such a small group within the Indo-European population. Few of the Mussulman Tat in Azerbaijan are Christian.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through intercession.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor any missions agencies focusing on the Mussulman Tat.
* Ask God to use the small number of Mussulman Tat Christians to share the love of Jesus with their own people.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Mussulman Tat towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Mussulman Tat.