Sunni Muslims in Tehran have been banned from congregating at prayers marking the end of Ramadan.
Iran, a Shia country, ordered its Sunni minority not to hold separate prayers in Tehran for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that brings the month of fasting to an end. They were instead asked to have a Shia imam leading their prayers – something that is against their religious beliefs.
Hundreds of security police were deployed in the capital to prevent Sunni worshippers from entering houses they rent for religious ceremonies.
In recent decades, Iranian authorities have refused Sunnis permission to build their own mosques in Tehran. There is currently no Sunni mosque in the capital, despite there being several churches and synagogues for much smaller Christian and Jewish populations. .
“Tehran’s security police prevented Sunni worshippers from performing Eid prayers in various parts of the capital,” the official website of the Sunni community in Iran said. “They surrounded the houses where Sunnis perform prayers and have prevented worshippers from going inside.”
Thousands of Shia worshipers on Wednesday stood in rows behind Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who led the crowd at prayers held in Tehran University. The Iranian regime uses Eid prayers to demonstrate that the country’s political figures are united behind its leader. Politicians from different groups are supposed to attend the prayers and their absence can be interpreted as a sign of dissent.
Under the Iranian constitution, religious minorities should be respected and should have representatives in parliament. Two days ago, several Sunni MPs wrote a letter to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asking for their communities in Tehran to be allowed to hold separate Eid prayers.
Sunnis in Tehran have complained in recent weeks of being told by officials to provide written assurances guaranteeing not to hold Eid prayers in houses in the capital.
Shaikh Abdul-Hameed Esmail Zehi, a Sunni prayer imam in Zahedan, a city in south-east Iran, criticised the regime in a recent sermon for imposing restrictions on Sunnis.
“I would like to request the supreme leader to stop discriminative and illegal steps of some officials, as they have been forbidding Sunni minorities in mega cities of Iran to offer prayers in congregation specially Eidain [the Eids] and Friday prayers. This is the demand of all Sunnis in Iran,” he said, in quotes carried by the Sunni community’s website, Sunnionline.us.
Iran boasts that its Shia and Sunni populations get along, but Sunnis have complained of a crackdown by the Islamic regime in recent years. The regime, which has blamed Sunnis for recent bombings in south Iran, is at odds with most of the Sunni-ruled countries in the Middle East.
Other religious minorities in Iran have been facing restrictions. Seven leaders of the Bahá’í community are serving 20-year jail sentences. Bahá’ís in Iran are deprived of rights such as education or owning businesses and are often persecuted for their beliefs.
Last week, the Bahá’í community’s United Nations office wrote (pdf) to Iran’s minister of science and technology, Kamran Daneshjoo, calling on the regime to end discrimination against Bahá’í students who recently had their universities closed.