AA: Maulana Abdolhamid, popularly known Shaikh al-Islam Maulana Abdolhamid among the Iranian Sunnis, is one of the outstanding and most influential figures of the Sunni community in Iran. The people of Baluchistan, southeastern Iran, know him as the Friday imam of “Grand Makki Mosque” and president-rector of “Darululoom Zahedan”. He is the chairman of the “Coordination Council of Sunni Seminaries in Sistan & Baluchistan”; a private educational organization with more than 60 Islamic schools. The main office of this council is sited at Darululoom Zahedan; the biggest private religious educational institute of the Sunni community in Iran. This educational center leads social, cultural and even media activities. Big decisions on national and regional elections are made by the same institution. Dozens of citizens, Sunnis, Shias and even non-Muslims, knock the door of Darululoom Zahedan to find any solution for their problems. Darululoom Zahedan runs the only international magazine of the Sunni community, Nedaye Islam, and also the multi-language website of sunnionline.us, the most authentic news source covers the news of the Sunni community. The Grand Makki Mosque is the biggest Sunni mosque inside Iran which has been built as the Sultan Ahmad Mosque of Turkey. The mosque has been turned into a famous tourist site in Baluchistan in recent years. People in the region, even in other parts of Iran, have less information about Baluchistan and the Sunni community of Iran; this information is, probably, incorrect or defaced. To get more information about Baluchistan and Iranian Sunni community, Anadolu Agency has conducted a detailed talk with Maulana Abdolhamid.
First of all, please tell us about the Iranian Sunnis and their population?
According to statistics we have, Sunnis in Iran constitute 20 percent of the whole population. Most of the Iranian Sunnis live at frontier areas near borders. They also live in central cities and regions; in cities like Tehran their population is above one million. They live also in Esfahan and Shiraz and there is no any city free of Sunnis. However, their number can be less in those cities; still they may exceed 100 thousand. Sunnis live in every corner of Iran. There is no any ethnicity in Iran without Sunni citizens. As far as jurisprudence is concerned, they practice Hanafi and Shafi’i schools of thought with a smaller community of Hanbalis. Mostly Hanafis live in the eastern part of Iran from south to north. While Shafi’i Sunnis live mainly in the west and northwest of Iran. Hanbalis live in Ahwaz and Abadan. Salafis are very less in number who live in different parts of the country. The majority is with Hanafi and Shafi’i Sunnis. The Sunnis of Iran are busy with business and marketing. They get education in universities. Shias and Sunnis are together and even in some businesses they are partners. Common people have no difference and they cooperate with each other.
How is the situation in Baluchistan politically, socially and economically?
Praise be to Allah, the situation is good in Baluchistan. Baluch people have gone to universities for education. They are active in political and economic issues. Economically, people suffer from unemployment. However, the biggest positive point of Baluchistan is the 1370 km long border; 370 km of the border is maritime boundary. The border is the biggest potential for Baluchistan. The condition of the maritime boundary is not bad, but the other border has problems. We struggle to see these borders managed with a correct policy. The capacities of these borders should be utilized in maximum scale.
What are the biggest problems in the above-mentioned areas and how Baluch people compromise with them?
Sunnis have problems in employment and official posts. They have been striving to have share in higher managements and positions such as minister, vice-minister, ambassador and provincial governor. Also the Iranian Sunnis want a balance in provincial offices between Shias and Sunnis. In most of the Sunni-populated districts and provincial capitals people suffer from discrimination in employment. We Sunnis want removal of discrimination; because poverty, illiteracy and all problems have roots in these discriminations. Sunnis pine from these problems.
The other problem is shortage of religious freedom in metropolises and particular areas where Sunnis are in minority. Sunnis do not have mosques in metropolises and they establish prayers in their houses.
You have been demanding for employment of Sunnis and Baluchs in higher official positions. Why have the demands been refused until now?
The ruling atmosphere in Iran does not allow these demands to be accepted. The country suffers from intolerance and bigotry with very less advancement. Also there are hard tendencies among Shias and Sunnis. As the Shia brothers control the power, some elements put pressure by self-made rules illegally. Bigotry and extremism in any country prevent development of that country and nation. Tendencies and bigotries should be mild. Harsh bigotries have been refused by the Almighty Allah, the messenger of Allah and Islam. Our beloved prophet PBUH put Jews under the umbrella of justice. Even he believed in some rights for Arab infidels who inked up agreements with him. Religious extremism, from any side, is not in accordance with the path of Islam. We think extremists of both sects, Shias and Sunnis, harm Islam. It is our wish to see Iran moves on the way of sobriety; in this regard we are not alone and many of Shia intellectuals and clerics support our viewpoint to pull back the country towards sobriety.
Dr. Rouhani has been ruling as president for more than four years; has there been any development in Baluchistan?
There have been few changes. Most of district governors in Baluchistan belong to Baluchs. Only one of the vice-governors is a Baluch. In Zahedan, the provincial capital, Baluchs occupy only a few percentage of directorates. They have not got their due rights here, while it is the center of the province where the decisions are made for the province. Baluchs constitute about 70% of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan province, but their presence in the destination of their province is pallid. We hope to see more positive changes in accordance with the population of the both sects in the next four years.
You have repeatedly asked for revisal of some articles and paragraphs of the constitution. Have you got any response?
We have not received any response yet, but we are optimistic to get result in future. Many of Iranians agree with us in this regard. The constitution which has been adopted for 38 years has some weak points. The officials can revise; although it has many positive points, too. Revising constitution is a normal thing in the world. The laws should be checked always to find out their weaknesses and problems and then modified. We hope such kind of revisal may take place in our country. Then we can get more rights. In the other case, we should enjoy our minimum legal rights to see some of our problems resolved. If the authorities comply with our demands, it will be in favor of Iran. We think for the interests of Iran and we do not allow anyone to destabilize our peace and make sectarian disputes on the pretext of supporting Sunnis. However we should get our rights.
Are you optimistic about the conditions of Baluchs and Sunnis? How much this hopefulness conforms the current realities?
Keeping in mind the recent situation of the region and Muslim world, we hope to witness some changes. We want change. There have been few changes in Baluchistan and some Sunni regions. But still we hope more changes would take place and get equal rights or at least proportional rights which are near to the fact.
You were not invited to the swear-in ceremony of Rouhani, what’s your remark?
Before this, the Interior Ministry held a celebration on the victory of Dr. Rouhani where I talked to the audience. That speech was welcomed warmly and it had a huge coverage inside and even outside of the country. This time, the parliament was the host of the swearing-in meeting and pressure groups intruded to not invite us. The parliament submitted to the pressure and accepted it. The behavior of the parliament brought a widespread propaganda and reactions inside and outside of the country. Also it hurt the feelings of the Sunnis who took part in the election with zeal and vivacity. Although the parliament presented some excuses, but people did not accept them. There is a custom in our country that whenever the pressure groups interfere, unfortunately the authorities withdraw. If they resisted, it would have been beneficial for the Islamic Republic of Iran and our national unity and security.
How do you compare the situation of the Sunni community in Iran, especially in Baluchistan with the condition of the Saudi Shia community? Is there anything common between them in the issues like marginalizing, oppression and etc.?
We do not have much information about the Saudi Shias. But we know there is no any question about sect in employment papers in Saudi Arabia. Mostly they ask about the country and every Saudi citizen can be employed; but in our country there are questions about the sect. We think Shias in Saudi Arabia enjoy more rights, because they have a grand mosque and Friday prayers in Riyadh. Sometimes they organize protesting rallies. They hold important posts such ministry. Shia brothers who mostly live in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia have judges of their own sect. economically they have influence. The state-run company of Aramco, which is considered the biggest oil company in the world, is under the hands of Shias without any sensitivity from Saudi Arabia. The Sunnis of Iran just want their due rights, but still they face a cold shoulder.
In my journeys to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and other countries and meetings with some officials, including Afghan authorities, I used to recommend them to take care of minorities’ rights, especially Shia brothers. Because we know what minorities endure.
The response of the Iranian leader to your letter has been published recently. Keeping in mind this letter, how do you see the future of the Sunni community?
I have presented two problems in my letter to the leader; removal of discrimination and ensuring of Sunnis’ religious freedom. Because they are Iranians and they love their motherland. During Iran-Iraq war they defended their country and were killed. The Supreme Leader responded well that got a huge reflection in the country as well as outside of the country. He termed any kind of discrimination outlawed among ethnic and religious sects. The content of the leader’s letter was a big consolation and appeasing. We thanked, too. Although he did not respond to the second demand, but I think by removal of discriminations and inequalities, the problems about religious freedoms will be resolved automatically.
We are hopeful about the future of Iranian Sunnis. We believe their problems will be resolved by dialogue. We have been pursuing our demands and rights by negotiation and dialogue. We follow up our issues through this channel and we do not believe in violence, conflict and killing. In any condition we keep presenting our legal demands by peaceful methods. Iran is our country and we do not have any other place; we need these rights and never give up. Our human, Islamic and national rights should be provided and the slogans of fraternity and equality should reach to the stage of act. We want all Muslims around the world to be united and resolve their problems by dialogue and sitting around the table of negotiation. We consider the only way to get rid of all disputes and contentions in the world the table of negotiation.
Has the order of the leader been welcomed by official bureaus and governmental offices?
It is up to future to see how the offices welcome it. In the past, the leader of the Revolution had a clear order forbidding insult and affront of the Mothers of the Believers, particularly Ayesha Seddiqah, may Allah be pleased with them; this order was not welcomed much inside the country that analysts present analyses and discussions on it and the parliament legitimate it. We are afraid the same may happen with the historical and clear order of the leader and it would not be welcomed. However, this order is historical and deciding. If the government, judiciary, armed forces, parliament and all elements of the state welcome it warmly and take it seriously by act, it will be beneficial for Iran and whole Muslim world. It will also leave effects in the world and it will affect relations of Muslim states and Muslim masses positively. As well as, the execution of that order helps national unity and durable peace and removes the anxiety of the Sunnis.
How do you see the crises of the Middle East? What’s your assessment about the role of Turkey and Iran in these crises?
There are dangerous problems in the Middle East. The insecurities and conflicts are the fruits of inequality, discrimination and depriving people from their rights. If the people of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and other countries where people of different religions, sects and ethnicities live, come forward for negotiation and agree upon a comprehensive government giving all of them their due share in power, the disputes and contentions will be ended.
Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia can play an effective role in the Middle East. By unity and solidarity, these three countries can resolve the problems of Middle East and remove the disputes in the region.