Iranian Authorities Destroy Sufi Holy Site In Isfahan

This article was originally published in Radio Free Europe

February 18, 2009
By Golnaz Esfandiari
A house of worship of the Gonabadi dervishes in Isfahan has
reportedly been destroyed by the Iranian authorities.

The reason for the destruction — which reportedly took place
shortly after midnight on February 18 — is not clear, but it comes
amid growing pressure on dervishes, who practice the Sufi tradition
of Islam, and other religious minorities in Iran.

The dervish house of worship, or hosseinieh, was located next to the
tomb of the great poet and dervish Naser Ali at the historical
Takht-e Foulad cemetery, where a number of respected Iranian figures
are buried.

Dervishes gathered there to pray, meditate, read Sufi poetry, and
perform religious ceremonies. In recent months, following the
demolition of several dervish sites throughout Iran, dervishes in
Isfahan had expressed concern that their hosseinieh could meet a
similar fate.

To prevent that from happening, several of the local dervishes were
spending nights at the hosseinieh to keep watch.

But there was little they could do when, in the early hours of
February 18, some 200 members of the security forces, police, and
plainclothes agents arrived.

The dervishes’ mobile phones were taken away to prevent them from
informing others of the raid, and they were detained and transferred
to a police station.

Abdol Saleh Loghmani, one of the Isfahan dervishes, told RFE/RL that
the security forces cut off water and electricity to the area, and
destroyed the walls around the poet’s tomb with a bulldozer.

“They also destroyed the library where [religious] books were kept.
They demolished the big hall where we had our Monday and Friday
ceremonies and also our Sunday dawn meetings. They took away all the
carpets and other property,” he said.

He said the five people were detained, but they were released after
the authorities completed the demolition. He that added authorities
then dispersed the dervishes who, after hearing the news about the
destruction, had gathered around the site.

*Crackdown On Minorities*

Sufis in Isfahan and elsewhere in Iran see the raid as just one part
of a campaign by conservatives against the Gonabadi dervishes. The
crackdown has included arrests, court summons, and accusations in
the media that Sufism is a deviation from true Islam.

A Sufi house of worship was demolished in the city of Qom in 2006;
another was partially destroyed in Borujerd in 2007; and a Sufi
prayer house in Kish was forced to close late in 2008.

Some Sufis have faced arrest, been sentenced to lashings, or been
forced to pledge not to attend Sufi ceremonies.

Mostafa Azmayesh, the author of several books on Sufism and the
representative of the Gonabadi dervishes outside Iran, told RFE/RL
that what he describes as “hidden pressure” on dervishes is also
growing.

Authorities “have said that dervishes are not allowed to be buried
in Beydokht [the main birthplace of leaders of the Gonabadi
dervishes] anymore,” he said. “There is a [cemetery] there that
belongs to the Gonabadi branch, and some dervishes write in their
testaments that they want to be buried there — but the Beydokht
municipality has banned it.”

Sufis observe Islamic beliefs, but they also believe in pursuit of
the truth through mysticism. Some conservative clerics consider
Sufism a danger to Islam.

Dervishes believe that what they describe as their sect’s growing
popularity is one of the reasons behind the growing state pressure.
They say many Iranians are fed up with the official state
interpretation of Islam and are attracted to alternative approaches.

Azmayesh says it is clear that there is growing state intolerance
toward religious minorities in Iran.

“These demolitions…demonstrate the oppression and crimes that are
being committed against the religious minorities in Iran — when
they treat dervishes that are Shi’ite Muslims in this manner. It’s
not clear what [authorities] do to the other [Iranian citizens] who
are the followers of other religions,” he said.

Rights groups say respect for religious freedom has deteriorated in
Iran since hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took power some
four years ago.

10 Responses to “Iranian Authorities Destroy Sufi Holy Site In Isfahan”

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