Wednesday, February 15, 2006

1,000 Arrested After Clash in Qom

Reuters, AlertNet:
Iranian police have arrested around 1,000 people in the central seminary city of Qom after violent clashes over the closure of a house of worship used by mystical Sufi Muslims, city officials said on Wednesday. Officials and a Qom resident said the police had fired teargas to disperse a crowd of dervishes, or mystics, and those who had gathered to support them.

They said the dervishes were armed with knives and stones.

Around 200 people were hurt in the clash, one official said.

The fighting erupted on Monday after the Sufis refused to evacuate a suburban house where they had been congregating for dervish rites, said an official at Qom municipality who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The violence ended and their place was knocked down on Tuesday," he said, adding the municipality had demolished the building because the Sufis had illegally turned their residential building into a centre of worship. READ MORE

Sufi Muslim spirituality is tolerated under mainly Shi'ite Iran's strict Islamic laws, although some senior religious figures occasionally call for a clampdown on its rites.

The governor-general of Qom accused the dervishes of being part of a foreign plot, but he did not explain this.

"We did not aim to confront them at first, but when we felt that ... a plot was under way, we took steps," Abbas Mohtaj was quoted as saying by the Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper.

"The arrogant powers are exploiting every opportunity to create insecurity in our country and (the Sufis') links to foreign countries are evident," he added. Mohtaj said about 200 people had been hurt and around 1,000 arrested.

The Sufis' mystical path to God through dance and music does not go down well with some of the most senior religious figures in the country.

Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani in September called for a clampdown on dervish groups in the holy city of Qom, which he called a "danger to Islam".

Some said the tensions with dervishes in Qom were due to the increasing popularity of Sufism there.

"Dervishes were becoming popular in Qom and the officials wanted to crackdown on them," said an employee at one of Qom's reformist seminaries.