Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran's Sunni Leader Says Discrimination Is A Big 'Problem'

Molavi Abdol Hamid(L), a Sunni theologian and a spiritual leader of the Sunni community in Iran, in a meeting of Sunni clerics with president Rouhani, on Sunday December 11, 2016.

The de facto leader of Iran’s Sunnis, Zahedan’s Prayer Leader Molavi (Mawlana) Abdola-Hamid has again complained of “discrimination and inequality”.

He has reiterated that Sunnis do not get high level government jobs and he is personally under travel restrictions. He also says that there are “no written laws” on such matters.

In an interview published by state run Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, on Saturday, November 11, the charismatic Sunni clergy has insisted that there is no oral or written order barring him from travelling around.

But when he travels, Molavi Abdol Hamid says, security and intelligence forces interfere and they even create problems for his hosts.

Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, CHRI, had recently reported that Molavi Abdol Hamid has been barred from traveling, except to the capital, Tehran.

It is also reported that Sunni leaders from different parts of Iran are barred to visit his stronghold, Zahedan.

His exclusion from the list of guests at President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration last August triggered a stream of vitriol among the incumbent’s reformist allies.

Reformists complained that Sunnis, thanks to Molavi Abdol Hamid’s guidance, played a pivotal role in Rouhani’s reelection and he deserved to be invited to the swearing-in ceremony.

Deputy Speaker of the parliament, Ali Motahari also insisted that leaving the Sunni leader’s name out of the list of the inauguration guests was a mistake.

Two weeks before last May’s presidential election, Abdol-Hamid had criticized what he said was discrimination against Sunnis by the ruling system.

“Iran does not belong only to Sunnis or Shi’a or the Persians; Iran belongs to all ethnic groups and religious groups,” he said. “National unity and lasting security depends on the elimination of discrimination and equal treatment of all the nation.”

Four years ago, regions with substantial Sunni populations, such as Kurdish and Turkmen areas and Sistan-Baluchestan Province, gave the highest votes to Rouhani.

However, Rouhani kept Sunnis out of his first cabinet, disregarding the fact that more than 70% of the people in mainly Sunni populated provinces of Kurdistan and Sistan and Baluchestan voted for him.

Keeping Sunni’s away from high positions forced Molavi Abdol Hamid to once again directly write a letter to the Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei in August, complaining about discriminations Sunnis suffer from.

Khamenei, who had ignored Abdol-Hamid’s previous letters, this time chose to respond by saying, “the pillars of the Islamic Republic”, based on the Constitution, are “duty bound” to refrain from discrimination against Iranian citizens.

However, according to Article 12 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution, the official denomination of the country is Twelver Imams Shi’a.

Furthermore, Article 115 stipulates that high positions in the Islamic Republic, i.e. the Supreme Leadership and Presidency are exclusive to the Shi’a, therefore Sunnis, as well as followers of other religions and denominations cannot take these key positions.

Moreover, Sunnis have been barred from building their own mosque in the capital, while many Sunni clergy have been detained in recent years.

Molavi Abdol Hamid, recently met Ebrahim Raisi, Rouhani’s main challenger in last May’s election, but he told ISNA that the meeting did not necessarily mean Sunnis were going to make a U-turn and vote for the conservatives in next presidential election.

“Supporting a candidate in next election depends on the situation at the time. Yet, both factions [of the ruling system], reformists and conservatives need inner change”, Molavi Abdol Hamid told ISNA.

Reformists need to fulfill their promises and stop hanging on to their high positions. They should serve the people, as well”, the Sunni top cleric noted, adding “The conservatives should also avoid being illiberal and narrow minded. They should take the international, regional and internal situations and trends into account”.

In another part of his interview, Molavi Abdol Hamid insists, “If we bring women and Sunnis into our cabinet international attitudes towards us will significantly improve. We should not stay behind [other countries]. Currently, there are several women serving in [United Arab] Emirates’ cabinet and one of them is a Baluch emigre. Why not having her in our own government?”

However, many analysts, including former MP and political activist, Hassel Dasseh, believe that a number of Grand Ayatollahs are behind keeping Sunnis out of the Islamic Republic’s cabinets.

In an interview with Campaign for Human Rights in Iran’s website, the reformist former MP has disclosed, “During a gathering with a number of officials, they told me that senior ayatollahs have called government officials, ordering them to ‘wrap-up’ what they labelled as “Sunni shenanigans”.