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Attack on Sufis Reveals Intolerance of Muslim Sects

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  • Attack on Sufis Reveals Intolerance of Muslim Sects

    The destruction of a monastery belonging to the Gonabadi Sufi order in Boroujerd town of Luristan province, this month, has once again highlighted the hostile environment in which Iran’s many religious minorities and non-conformist sects exist.

    According to Mohsen Yahyavi, the consevative representative for Boroujerd in parliament, the trouble began with the Sufis kidnapping several youths affiliated to a nearby mosque and beating them up. Yahyavi told the Aftab news agency that others who had rushed to their help were roughed up, forcing security men to intervene.

    The Sufis, however, have a different story to tell. Harassment of this sect has been going on in Boroujerd, where there they form a sizeable community, for some years now, a young female follower of the order in Tehran, who has her relatives in Boroujerd, told IPS.

    "Religious vigilantes had once before tried to bulldoze the hosseinieh (Gonabadi Sufis’ monastery or place of worship) and succeeded in destroying parts of its walls. This time on the night before the hosseinieh was completely destroyed (Nov. 10), the Basij militia and the vigilantes staged a bogus attack on a nearby mosque where there was a gathering to criticise Sufi beliefs. The attack was then blamed on the Sufis to justify the attack on the hosseinieh," she said.

    "The Sufis refused to evacuate the building, as demanded by the assailants, and called law enforcement for help. But after midnight the law enforcement forces abandoned the scene and there was a blackout. More clashes followed in and outside the hosseinieh. The Sufis trapped inside the hosseinieh were left at the mercy of the vigilantes who were armed with tear gas and colour sprays," she added.

    "They bulldozed the building which was already burning because fire from a neighbouring building torched by the vigilantes had spread to it. Then the law enforcement forces returned and arrested the Sufis. The next day, the remains of the building were razed to the ground by the authorities themselves and no trace left of the hosseinieh," she said.

    More than 180 followers of the order in Boroujerd were arrested by the police and 80 people were wounded during the incident that happened on Nov. 10, the Fars news agency reported the deputy governor of Luristan province as saying.

    The Shiite religious establishment generally views Sufism with hostility and, in spite of their adherence to the rules of Shariah, considers them a danger to Islam because of their unorthodox traditions such as ‘sama’ which involves dance, music and 'dhikr' (recitation of Allah’s divine names).

    The 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought Iran's conservative Shiite clerics to power, deemed that Shariah would be the basis for all laws in the country. They denied sects within Islam such as the Ismailis and the Sufis any rights in the new constitution.

    Sufism is a mystic tradition within Islam in which adherents seek mystic or divine revelations through ‘whirling dervish’ dances and mystical poetry, especially that of 13th century Persian poet Jalalad-Din Rumi. The tradition extends from Turkey to India, but is viewed with suspicion by both Shiite and Sunni establishments.

    In Iran, traditionalist clerics such as Grand Ayatollahs Safi Golpaigani, Makarem Shirazi, Fazel Lankarani and Nouri Hamadani have issued fatwas against Sufis, calling them heretical. All of them also view President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government as a saviour of religious values.

    The Sufis claim the fatwas have provided security bodies like the intelligence ministry with a reason to suppress the order and religious vigilantes an excuse to attack the Sufis and their places of worship.

    The Sufis have been defended by other clerics who uphold their right to free worship. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, a very influential cleric with a huge following throughout Iran, issued a statement following the attack on the hosseinieh of the dervishes in Qom in February 2006 declaring that attacks on their place of worship had no religious justification.

    Former parliament speaker and leader of the Etemad Melli reformist party Mehdi Karrubi, a Shiite cleric himself, has on several occasions written letters to grand ayatollahs and state officials in defence of the Sufis’ right to free worship.

    Following the recent incident in Boroujerd, Karrubi wrote an open letter to interior minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi admonishing him on citizens’ fundamental rights and respect for their security and belongings which he said is the primary duty of all governments.

    But after the letter was published in his own ‘Etemad Melli’ newspaper and some others, Karrubi has come under fire from the traditionalist and hard line clerical establishment.

    The violence against the Sufis and destruction of their place of worship has also been condemned by reformist Islamic Iranian Participation Front (also known as Mosharekat). The party’s political deputy chairwoman called on authorities to put an end to their harassment, the party’s news portal ‘Norouz’ reported.

    The history of Gonabadi Sufi order goes back to the 15th century. The tenets of the order are much closer to Shiism than any other Sufi order. The Gonabadi Sufis, whose numbers are estimated at anywhere from tens of thousands to several hundred thousand, profess to be Shiite.

    Adherent of the Gonabadi Sufi order call themselves dervish and their places of worship are called hosseinieh which means a place dedicated to Hossein, the third Imam of Shiites.

    Sufis follow the guidance of spiritual leaders and believe in enlightenment of the heart through tarighat (mystic path). At present, the Gonabadi order is led by Nour Ali Tabandeh (also known as Majzoub Ali Shah), a retired judge and university professor.

    He was forced by the local governor’s office to leave his hometown of Bidokht Gonabad in October 2006 where he used, every year, to spend the month of Ramadan and give audiences to his followers from around the country. He was then escorted by security agents to Tehran.

    Although Tabandeh has so far shown no political aspirations for himself, he is known to favour the Iranian National Front and the Freedom Movement of Iran. Both parties are banned in the Islamic Republic.

    An attack on a Gonabadi dervishes’ place of worship, similar to the one in Boroujerd, took place in Qom in February 2006. According to official reports 1,200 followers of the order were arrested during the incident and hundreds were wounded in clashes between the Sufis and vigilantes.

    The hosseinieh as well as the private residence of the leader of the Gonabadi community in Qom, Ahmad Shariat, were bulldozed by the authorities the next day on the grounds that the building had been illegally built. The place has been converted into a parking lot.

    Following the incident 52 members of the order and some of their lawyers were sentenced to jail terms and lashes by a court in Qom. Ahmad Shariat was sentenced to a year in prison and a cash fine in lieu of lashes for disturbing public order. He was also banned from living in Qom for ten years. The prison sentence was later changed into a cash fine and his exile from Qom reduced to nine years by the court of appeals.

    Gholamreza Harsini, a lawyer who had represented the members of the order in Qom, was himself sentenced to five years’ suspension from practicing law, a year in prison and a cash fine. The court of appeals later cleared him of all charges because his presence at the time of the incident in Qom could not be proved.

    "The attacks on the Sufis have intensified since Ahmadinejad took office. In December last year he ordered the Islamic guidance (culture) ministry’s Public Guidance Council to review policies to prevent the emergence of ‘deviant’ persons and societies working under the cover of mysticism and spiritualism in the society," an analyst in Tehran speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS.

    "The crackdown on the Sufis must therefore be seen as part of a greater plan to suppress alternative reference groups in the society by the hard line government of Ahmadinejad. The hard line and traditionalist clerical establishment that has brought the man to power is increasingly in danger of loss of influence among the masses because of its intolerance," he said.

    "Adherence to secularism is growing. More and more young people are being attracted to Sufism. As proponents of secularism and due to their new appeal among the people who find their tolerance a good alternative to the official ideology the Sufis are rightly seen as a huge danger by the establishment," he added.

    "In guidelines recently provided to their political instructors, the military arm of the clergy, i.e., the Revolutionary Guards, has grouped the Sufis with feminists, Bahais, advocates of religious pluralism and non-governmental organisations as threats to the state. All these groups are capable of providing leadership and organisation, political or religious, and hence of mobilising the people against the regime," the analyst said.

  • #2
    poor sufis :/ .