Iran’s Gonabadi Dervishes: A ‘prolonged historical previous’ of persecution


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On the night of February 19, growing tension between Iranian safety forces and individuals of the country’s Gonabadi Sufi affirm got right here to a violent head in north Tehran.

Gonabadi « Dervishes » had gathered that Monday in entrance of Police Situation 102, Pasdaran Avenue, to protest the arrest of a member of their neighborhood, Nematollah Riahi, who had been detained a day forward of.

Clashes broke out after safety forces arrived on the scene. Dervishes stated the violence became provoked by policemen and posted photographs online, allegedly captured on the night, showing men with bandaged and bloodied faces.

Iranian authorities blamed the clashes on the protesters. The following day, Iranian media reported five safety officers had died because the violence: three police officers were killed when a white minibus, reportedly pushed by a demonstrator, rammed proper into a crowd of get up police. In a separate incident, a member of the manager-aligned Basij militia became budge over by a automobile and one other became stabbed to loss of life.

Bigger than 300 Dervishes were arrested by Tuesday, Iranian media stated.

Farhad Nouri, an editor of Dervish-budge data attach of dwelling Majzooban Noor who lives in Australia, beneficial Al Jazeera as many as five individuals of the Gonabadi Sufi neighborhood died because the clashes.

The loss of life toll became the very best for Iran’s safety forces in a single night since anti-executive demonstrations in 2009.

For Iran’s Gonabadi dervishes, instruct analysts, it follows a pattern of persecution that has existed for bigger than a decade.

Possible to mobilise

Gonabadi dervishes describe the ideal of Iran’s Sufi orders. Estimates of what number of individuals belong to the spiritual neighborhood vary between two and five million. Nouri, who fled Iran in 2011, stated as many as 10 million Gonabadi Dervishes dwell there.

Gonabadi Dervishes take be conscious of themselves Shia Muslims, but the paranormal Sufi branches of Islam have a clear interpretation of the Quran.

« With any replacement faith, whether it be Dervishes or Baha’i or others – they stare it as a threat to their official faith, » stated Omid Memarian of the Contemporary York-basically based Heart for Human Rights in Iran.

« Dervishes have been below somewhat just a few stress by the manager in exercising their beliefs proper during the last years. The executive is the use of these protesters to discredit them. »

Sufism is extraordinarily deeply rooted in the Iranian culture. They’re now not that diversified from the ability that Iranians pursued Islam in its early years

Tara Sepehri Some distance, Human Rights See

Tara Sepehri Some distance, an Iran researcher with Human Rights See, stated the rift between Iranian authorities and the country’s Gonabadi Sufi affirm is now not accurate over interpretations of Islam.

« This neighborhood has a prolonged historical previous of being persecuted, » she stated. « Sufism is extraordinarily deeply rooted in the Iranian culture. They’re now not that diversified from the ability that Iranians pursued Islam in its early years.

« Most of their efforts have been tranquil in the previous, but they have the skill to mobilise. » 


Gonabadi Dervishes enjoyed an very favorable stage of tolerance in Iran even after the Islamic Revolution, which build the Shia clerical affirm on the top of Iran’s strength construction. The Dervishes’ unique « qutb », or colossal master, Nour Ali Tabandeh, ninety, became at one level a deputy culture minister and deputy justice minister.

But relations between the Gonabadi Sufis and Iranian authorities took a tumble almost at the moment after hardline inclined president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took strength.

In 2006, a Sufi resort became destroyed in Qom and higher than 1,000 dervishes were reportedly arrested after a high-rating cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Noori-Hamedani, called the spiritual affirm a « possibility to Islam ».

Most often the Dervish are now not politically concerned. Their finest political act is taking piece in elections and balloting for reformists

Saeid Golkar, senior fellow on Iran coverage on the Chicago Council on World Affairs

« The hardline [clerics] realised after Ahmadinejad became elected they now had a companion in the manager division that supported their conception to expel Sufis from the metropolis of Qom, » stated Saeid Golkar, a senior fellow on Iran coverage on the Chicago Council on World Affairs.

In 2009’s controversial election, which became in the waste obtained by Ahmadinejad amid stylish allegations of fraud, Tabandeh publicly backed reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, deepening the rift between himself and Iran’s established affirm.

« That became one other moment that the hardliners, both in the navy and safety apparatus and the clergy got right here together and stated ‘We now prefer to push this neighborhood support’, » stated Golkar.

« Most often the Dervish are now not politically concerned. Their finest political act is taking piece in elections and balloting for reformists.

« There are millions of Sufi followers in Iran and so that they practice their chief. These millions of of us can affect any election. »

In unique years, persecution of Gonabadi Dervishes has persevered. Two extra locations of cherish were destroyed after the one in Qom, in Borujerd and Isfahan.

A 2014 file by the UN’s particular rapporteur on the human rights enviornment in Iran stated authorities had « centered » Dervishes with « arrest, prosecution and judicial harassment ». Now now not much less than 970 Gonabadi Dervishes had been prosecuted since 2008, the file stated.

Over time, there have been reports of Gonabadi Dervishes being brushed other than their jobs and banned from universities for belonging to the spiritual affirm.

Concerns over arrested

The violence that took dwelling on the night of February 19 followed a series of incidents that build Iranian authorities at odds with the country’s Gonabadi Sufi neighborhood.

Rigidity between Gonabadi Dervishes and Iranian authorities flared again in December, when five Sufi activists belonging to the Gonabadi affirm were reportedly arrested and transferred to the notorious Evin penal advanced amid renewed anti-executive protests throughout which dozens were killed and a complete bunch detained. 

And on February 4, clashes had taken dwelling between Dervishes and Basij individuals after intelligence and safety brokers reportedly surrounded Tabandeh’s condominium, prompting fears he would possibly well be arrested.

Golkar stated the timing of increased stress by Iranian authorities on individuals of the spiritual affirm would possibly well must secure with upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, to be held in 2020 and 2021, respectively. 

« Or now not it’s section of a tactic the hardliners began the use of directly after Rouhani obtained the election [in 2017]. They realised they prefer to secure something. 

« Hardliners are now not shimmering to the middle class and knowledgeable Iranians. But they’re going to inflame and disappoint them to the level that they bypass the election, » stated Golkar. 

Within Iran, some have stated the violence became directed from originate air the country. Tehran Metropolitan Police Deputy Brigadier Customary Hassan Rahimi reportedly claimed the « rioters » had been « puppeteered by foreign fingers and foreign-basically based anti-institution terrorists ». 

Loads is smooth unclear about what exactly took dwelling on the night of February 19.

Nouri maintained there would possibly be now not any « conclusive evidence » that Dervish protesters were in the support of the wheel of the bus and automobile that killed the three police officers and Basij militia individuals on the night of February 19.

« Dervishes are recognised as pacifists with no interest in violence and inflicting human struggling. It is extremely now not going that they have been occupied with this incident, » he beneficial Al Jazeera. 

President Rouhani condemned the assaults, announcing « violent habits and insults against the police force, which is responsible of declaring public affirm and safety, is per chance now not tolerated below any circumstances, » in line with Press TV.

Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli stated these « disrupting the safety » would possibly well be « treated decisively », but additionally equipped a extra conciliatory tone. 

« We deem the Dervish neighborhood all the contrivance in which during the country is tending towards moderation and prudence, » Radio Farda quoted him as announcing. 

« We for poke secure now not attribute the incidents on Pasdaran Avenue to the Dervishes. »

But some hardliners took a harsher stance. 

Noori-Hamedani called the Dervishes « devious, in the atrocious, and liars », Radio Farda reported. 

One other senior cleric, Naser Makarem Shirazi, reportedly warned « Iranian officers will need to smooth be cautious on what they instruct and build some distance from feedback against spiritual teachings that will backfire. »

Observers have meanwhile expressed concerns in regards to the medication of the bigger than 300 Dervishes who were arrested, some of whom have now reportedly been released. 

Newshounds Without Borders (RSF) on February 22 stated they were « extraordinarily concerned » about two journalists who were amongst the arrested. Reza Entesari and Kasra Nouri, two journalists for Majzooban Noor, had reportedly been beaten forward of they were taken in by police, with some announcing they are basically in a coma.

« The dearth of transparency and denial of justice surrounding their arrest and hospitalisation is unacceptable, » Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran desk stated. 

HRW’s Sepehri Some distance mirrors these concerns. 

« These arrests, accurate the magnitude itself signals arbitrariness, » she beneficial Al Jazeera.

« We’re skittish in regards to the costs these of us are going to face. The story of Iran’s abuse in conditions love these is pertaining to. »

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