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Sunni Leader Allowed To Leave Iran And Visit Oman

Iran -- Prominent Sunni Cleric Molana Abdol-Hamid, Leader of Sunnis in Iran's province of Sistan & Baluchistan, undated.

The most prominent Sunni cleric in Iran has been allowed to travel out of the country for the first time in almost a decade.

Mawlana Abdol-Hamid (also known as Molavi AbdulHamid) arrived in Oman's capital city Oman, on Sunday, December 23, where he was welcomed and received by many people.

The official website of Shaikh Abdol-Hamid reported that he is visiting Oman just to meet Ulama (religion experts) and lay people from diverse groups.

Reportedly, more than one-third of Oman’s population belongs to Baluch community and many of senior officials of the country are also Baluch.

Oman has been mediating between the U.S. and Iran in recent years and reportedly has even served as a venue for secret meetings between the two sides.

It is possible that Abdol-Hamid's visit is the result of an Omani request or a goodwill gesture by Iran to a friendly country in the region.

Abdol-Hamid was previously banned to visit foreign countries and the mainly Sunni populated areas inside Iran.

As recent as last October, the 72-year-old Sunni cleric told pro-reform daily E'temad that he was not allowed to leave Iran for Qatar to visit his relatives.

The influential Sunni leader also disclosed, "During the previous period, heavy pressures were exerted (on me and other Iranian Sunni leaders). While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, I was officially banned from leaving Iran" adding, "I sent a message to President Ahmadinejad inquiring about the reason for being banned.'It has got nothing to do with me, others are responsible for the ban’, Ahmadinejad responded."

Abdol-Hamid appealed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, telling him that Iranian Sunnis are “unlucky” as they are discriminated against at home and looked upon suspiciously abroad for being Iranian citizens.

"Many Sunni countries do not accept us and…claim that we are the emissaries of the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, we are facing restrictions inside our homeland, Iran. We are struggling with problems in and outside Iran", the Sunni leader said.

Molavi Abdulhamid has always been the spearhead of defending Sunni rights in Iran. He has even called for Sunnis to be allowed to run for the country’s presidency. “Sunnis are facing more problems than Shi’ites in Iran, and securing religion freedom is one of the most important requests Sunnis have from the next president," said Molavi Abdulhamid, in a sermon, on May 5, 2017, at Friday Prayer in the mainly Sunni city of Zahedan in southeast Iran.

His request contradicts Iran’s constitution, which explicitly stipulates that candidates should embrace and endorse the official religion of the country – the Shi’ite branch of Islam.

Earlier, in a “guideline note”, on April 19, 2017, the Chairman of the Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati, 91, had even called for the disqualification of all non-Muslims nominated for City and Village Councils’ membership, in constituencies where Muslims form the majority of the population.

According to unofficial statistics, up to 9 per cent of the Iran's population are Sunni Muslims; mostly Kurds in northwest, Arabs in southwest, Khuzestan province; Baluchis in Sistan and Baluchistan province; Larestanis in Larestan and Bandar Abbas; and a smaller number of Persians, Pashtuns and Turkmens in the northeast.

Sunni activists have always accused Iranian authorities of discrimination and practicing sectarian persecution against their community. In July 2015, Tehran municipality, backed by security forces, demolished the only Sunni mosque in the capital, provoking anger among the Sunnis.

In a recent report, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran claimed that Zahedan’s Friday Prayer Leader, Molavi Abdulhamid, is not allowed to travel to anywhere outside Sistan and Baluchistan, save Tehran. Meanwhile, other Iranian Sunni clergmen are forbidden to visit Sistan and Baluchistan province, the report said.