The leader of Friday Prayer in the majority Sunni-populated city of Zahedan has called for qualified Sunnis to be employed in the new government of President Hassan Rouhani, who was re-elected last week.
Speaking at a gathering of Rouhani’s campaign managers on May 24, Mawlana Abdol-Hamid said the government should “focus on Iran, regardless of religious and ethnic differences.”
Employing a tone similar to that of secularists, the Sunni leader reminded the audience that “religion is a personal matter, a matter between an individual and their Allah (God).”
“Your Sunni sisters and brothers think about the honor of Islam and Islamic Iran. The whole society of Iranian Sunnis’ priority is the honor and security of Iran and Iranians,” Abol-Hamid told the audience, which included Rouhani.
He emphasized that Sunnis are members of the great body of the Iranian nation.
“Iranian Sunnis are ready to do whatever they can to defend Iran’s honor and reverence, as well as its territorial integrity,” said Abol-Hamid, the highest-ranking Sunni cleric in the country.
His comments were warmly welcomed by the audience, which chanted, “Hail to Mawlavi!”
Referring to Iranian Sunni demands, the cleric reiterated, “One of the most important requests of the Iranian Sunnis is asking the president to only focus on the fatherland and Iranians as a [whole and unified] nation. They demand Rouhani avoid considering sectarian and ethnic issues in national services.”
He then directly addressed the president.
“Employing qualified Sunnis [in the government] leads to the promotion of Iran’s honor in regional and international equations. Wherever Rouhani’s government see fit, Iranian Sunnis are ready to serve there, with their hearts and souls,” he said.
In the May 19 presidential election, Iranian Sunnis overwhelmingly voted for Rouhani. Prior to the election, Abdol-Hamid had expressed his open support for the incumbent.
“Most Sunnis are inclined to vote for the current president, Hassan Rouhani, despite their complaints about his government,” he said, prior to the vote. “We hope that if Rouhani is elected, more serious attempts will be made to resolve existing difficulties.”
Four years ago, regions with substantial Sunni populations, such as Kurdish and Turkmen areas and Sistan-Baluchistan Province, gave the highest vote to Rouhani, according to the Iranian Sunni Online website.
“In Iran, Sunnis have been denied certain civic rights, including appointment to high-level government positions, although two years ago, a Sunni was appointed for the first time as [Iran’s] ambassador to Vietnam and Cambodia,” the website said. “The Rouhani government has also appointed another Sunni, Emad Hosseini, as deputy oil minister.”
However, Abdol-Hamid is not allowed to travel anywhere except for the capital, Tehran. Other high-ranking Sunni clergy from Kurdistan, the Turkmen region, Khuzistan, and the port city of Bandar Abbas are also banned from visiting each other’s regions, as well as Sistan and Baluchistan Province, where Abdol-Hamid is based.
Sunnis have also not been allowed to have their own mosque in Tehran.