Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Crackdown of Dervishes in Qom

Mostafa Qomi, Rooz Online:
The peaceful three-day sit-in of Nematollahi dervishes in the religious city of Qom turned violent as police and plain-clothes forces arrested, rounded up and injured tens of the dervishes. On Sunday afternoon hundreds of Nematollahi dervishes, mostly those that had traveled from Kurdish regions and other parts of the country to express their solidarity with striking dervishes in Qom, protested the occupation of their religious center by the security forces dervishes are Muslim Sufi monks usually referred to a mendicant ascetic. READ MORE

The dervishes which included women held white flowers and sat in front of the Nematollahi Gonabadi centre and ayatollah Marashi Najafi's library to peacefully express their condemnation of the occupation of their center and the arrest of 10 of other dervishes. .

When the sit-in began, security forces gathered around the centre, while anti-riot forces too were present on Sunday morning. By around 7pm some 400 government forces, armed with walkie-talkie radios and weapons surrounded the compound and seemed poised to occupy the religious centre while hundreds of Qom dervishes had gathered in and outside it.

The security forces announced a deadline of Monday 3:00pm for the evacuation of the centre while at the same time chanting slogans against the dervishes. To protect themselves form physical attach, the protesting dervishes held photos of ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and also those of the Iraq war martyrs. During the stand-off, while chanting violent slogans such as "death to Sufieh" and "Sufieh is a British plot", plain-clothes forces threatened the dervishes with their warnings. By Monday afternoon, government forces had occupied the dervish religious centre, injured hundreds of the praying participants and transferred many of them to unknown locations. It is said that about 115 individuals were arrested, after which the forces sealed the centre on the pretext that it was a charity-owned building. Informed sources said that as the forces attacked the dervishes using explosives and fire-power, smoke and fire filled the streets surrounding the building and anti-riot police engaged in physical fights with the praying dervishes, which lasted until midnight.

The crackdown of the dervishes started when Iran's ultra-conservative dailies of Jomhuri Eslami and Keyhan both published warnings against the popularity of dervishes and people's tendency to follow the sect. In addition to the newspapers, a religious jurist cleric in Qom had also called for removing the dervishes from the city.

A few days later, the dervishes broke the seals of the mosque which had been shut by the government and entered it to perform their ritual prayers. But despite the rumors about the differences among Qom’s political officials over the issue, the city's intelligence bureau initially pressured the dervishes to leave the religious centre.

A decade ago, Iran's dervishes were under similar pressure and assault from the Islamic government. Their mosques were shut down and a number of senior dervishes were arrested, and some even disappeared never to be heard of again. Just a few months ago, a similar crackdown had occurred in Isfahan. For the dervishes, things have been changing rapidly, especially with the demise of ayatollah Khomeini who in the early days of the revolution had warned the hardline radical supporters of the regime and the revolution to be respectful to the dervishes.
See photos here.