By Khaled Mahmoud
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- the Iranian government issued on 27/04/2010 a decision banning Sunni Muslims from praying at state universities and military camps, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt. This decision comes within the framework of pressurizing the Sunni community in Iran, which has been taking place for decades.
This ban, which was confirmed by Sunni sources in Tehran, came after Sunni Muslims were banned from holding communal Friday prayers services in their homes in cities like Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman, and Yazd.
Sheikh Abdul-Hamid Esmaeel Zahi, the highest authority for Sunni Muslims in Iran and the imam and preacher of the Makki Mosque, the largest Sunni mosque in Iran located in the city of Zahedan, expressed his sorrow at the ban. He said, "We are very sorry that some elements have come forward to ban Friday prayers from being held in the home and placed restrictions on this practice. This group is ideologically deviant and they truly have a narrow outlook and are overly sensitive with regards to [Sunni] mosques and schools and advocacy."
Sheikh Zahi criticized this decision, stating that the Iranian constitution does not prevent any religious group from practicing its faith, regardless of its sect. He added, “There should not be a ban on performing prayers, rather everybody should be invited to perform prayers, and we hope that all Sunnis and Shia take the initiative to perform this obligation that is the most important pillar of Islam after belief in the oneness of God."
Sheikh Zahi considered the objection of officials to the construction of mosques, schools, and religious centers for Iran's Sunni community to be completely contrary to the principles of Iran's Islamic government. He said, "There are some [Sunni majority] villages where only one Shia family lives, and the government builds a [Shia] mosque. However the problem is that they do not allow us to build mosques or religious schools in large cities that are home to large Sunni communities."
He added that the officials who object to Sunnis praying at university do not have religion or any knowledge of God. Sheikh Zahi said that somebody who hates to pray behind or beside somebody from a different Muslim sect is showing signs of extreme ignorance.
Sheikh Zahi said, "I call on the country's officials and the Supreme Leader…to grant the freedom to pray in every place, which is the least right granted to us in the constitution, and that is the freedom to conduct communal and Friday prayers."
He stressed that the most important concern for the Sunni community in Iran is the issue of jurisprudence, saying "we do not feel that there is a problem with regards to the constitution, however there is despotism from some extremist elements in some regions that have Sunni minorities, and this is something that concerns us."
Sheikh Zahi added, "The representative of the Supreme Leader has banned the Sunni community from conducting Friday prayers in a number of [Iranian] cities, however the Sunni community in this city – even if it is a minority – wants to perform Friday prayers, however the Supreme Leader's representative rejected this saying 'let them follow my example [of praying in the Shia way] in their prayers.'"
Sheikh Zahi has denounced such negative practices, and asked what law – national or Islamic – is able to take away the rights of Sunni Muslims to perform independent communal Friday prayers in any area of the country?