Iran: paramilitaries destroy Sufi monastery after clash

The Iranian town of Boroujerd, Luristan province, is tense and divided following the Nov. 10 destruction of a hosseinieh or monastery belonging to the Gonabadi Sufi order by the police and Basij paramilitary forces. According to Mohsen Yahyavi, the conservative parliamentary representative for Boroujerd, the trouble began when Sufis abducted and beat several youths affiliated with a nearby mosque. The Sufis, however, tell a different story. One young female follower of the order told IPS: “Religious vigilantes had once before tried to bulldoze the hosseinieh and succeeded in destroying parts of its walls. This time on the night before the hosseinieh was completely destroyed, the Basij militia and the vigilantes staged a bogus attack on a nearby mosque where there was a gathering to criticize Sufi beliefs. The attack was then blamed on the Sufis to justify the attack on the hosseinieh.”

The militiamen then turned on the hosseinieh: “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… They bulldozed the building which was already burning because fire from a neighboring 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.”

More than 180 followers of the order were arrested, and 80 people were wounded during the incident, the Fars news agency reported the deputy governor of Luristan province as saying.

An AP report said the Sufis “traded fire” with police and paramilitary forces. Local journalist Morteza Bourbour told AP the violence began when Sufis attacked a nearby mosque, injuring several Shi’ite clerics who had urged their followers to shut down the Sufi lodge because it was “illegitimate.” Iranian state radio briefly mentioned the news Nov. 11, saying “clashes between people and Sufis ended in Boroujerd after police intervention.”

AP also cited the independent AdvarNews, saying some 100 Sufis were injured and another 500 arrested “after an unidentified group captured the lodge, setting fire to it and flattening it by bulldozer.”

AP identifies the Sufi order as “Nematollahi-Gonabadi,” and reports that conservative clerics such as Grand Ayatollahs Safi Golpaigani, Makarem Shirazi, Fazel Lankarani and Nouri Hamadani have issued fatwas against Sufis. The Sufis have been defended by other clerics who uphold their right to free worship—including Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who issued a statement following the attack on the hosseinieh of the dervishes in Qom in February 2006, declaring that attacks had no religious justification.

Mehdi Karrubi, former parliament speaker and leader of the Etemad Melli reformist party, a Shiite cleric himself, has written letters to ayatollahs and state officials in defense of the Sufis’ right to free worship. (IPS, Nov. 23; AP, Nov. 11)

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