Molavi Abdol-Hamid, a Sunni theologian and the spiritual leader of the Sunni community in Iran. (RFE/RL)

January 23, 2019

Almost four decades after the Islamic Revolution heralded an era of equality for all Iranians, Sunnis are still suffering from discrimination, says the Friday Prayer Leader of the city of Zahedan, Molavi Abdol-Hamid.

Forty years ago, the Shi’a leaders of the Islamic Revolution promised equal treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, but their promises never materialized, Abdol-Hamid said in an exclusive interview with Radio Farda’s Elahe Ravanshed.

The 72-year-old Abdol-Hamid, who is regarded as the spiritual leader of Iran’s Sunni population, bitterly criticized the lack of equal rights for religious and ethnic minorities in Iran. He said Iran’s own constitution stipulates those rights, and insisted Sunnis be allowed to hold public office and public-sector jobs, especially in the country’s majority-Sunni provinces.

He has noted that in the mainly Sunni populated province of Sistan&Baluchestan in southeast Iran, only six to 12 percent of the public employees are Sunnis.

“There are Shi’ites [leaders] who promote discrimination against Sunnis as a necessity, as well as others who use their influence to deprive Sunnis of the right to serve in high public positions,” Abdol-Hamid said. “The Islamic Republic’s high authorities are well informed of these facts. They frequently receive reports on the discrimination, but the necessary steps toward addressing the problem have not been taken.”

The prominent Sunni leader also maintained that President Hassan Rouhani has not taken any step toward eliminating the inequality Sunnis suffer from. Nevertheless, he said he was still hopeful change would come.

Abdol-Hamid has repeatedly written to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to intervene on behalf of the Sunnis and ensure their rights are respected. His letters were ignored until September 2017, when Khamenei unexpectedly issued a response, saying that “the pillars of the Islamic Republic” are “duty bound” to refrain from discrimination against Iranian citizen.

In the unprecedented letter, published in state-run Iran Students News Agency, Khamenei wrote that Iran’s constitution forbids ethnic or religious discrimination.

However, according to Article 12 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution, the official denomination of the country is Twelver Imams’ Shi’a. Furthermore, Article 115 stipulates that high positions in the Islamic Republic ruling system, i.e. the Supreme Leadership and presidency, are exclusive to the Shi’a, therefore Sunnis, as well as followers of other religions and denominations cannot hold such high positions.

Deeply institutionalized discrimination in the Islamic Republic’s laws and practices has led to the marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities in the public sphere.

Along with Sunnis, other officially recognized religious minorities, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, are also deprived of the right to serve in high state positions in Iran. Bahais, whose faith is not recognized by the Islamic Republic, are under constant pressure from authorities, and are denied higher education.

RFE/RL

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.