A conservative student union staged a rally in Tehran on Friday to protest an apparent ban on imams making corruption allegations against named individuals.
Members of the union, from two of Tehran's major universities gathered outside Tehran University where Friday prayers are held, carrying posters with slogans against Mohammad-Javad Hajali-Akbari, who chairs the Friday Prayer Policy-Making Council and who has suggested prayer leaders stick to ‘religious’ matters.
"Friday prayers will be pointless if the problems of people and the state are not discussed at Friday prayer gatherings and the sermons are dictated," one of the students’ posters read.
Another slogan urged Friday imams "to rise against poverty, corruption, and discrimination." The activists chanted "Friday prayers are not the place for conservatism" in reference to a recent remark by Hajali-Akbari, who has said Friday prayers were not an appropriate forum for "whistle-blowing."
The students accuse the council and Hajali-Akbari of "prudent silence against corruption" and a favoring a "neutral view" in sermons.
"Friday prayer will turn into grounds for sterilization of the Revolution if a person who is responsible for dictating policies to imams does not tailor their role to meet the fundamentals of the Revolution and its ideals," the union opined in a statement Friday.
Friday Prayer Policymaking Council (Showra-ye Siyasatgozari-ye A’emmeh-ye Jom‘eh) draws general guidelines, religious and political, for sermons delivered in more than 600 Friday congregations across Iran every week.
The government-funded council has a budget of 295 billion rials (nearly $7 million) for this year. Council members are appointed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,who ordered the body established in 1993.
Members of the Justice-Seeking Student Movement (Jonbesh-e Edalatkhah-e Daneshjouei) generally back Khamenei but say they are not attached to any political faction. They hold meetings and rallies in and outside universities, generally attend official rallies, and criticize authorities over various issues, including corruption.
The students' protest was rooted in opposition to the council sacking Saeed Hosseini-Lavasani, the Friday imam of Lavasan near Tehran, for making accusations over alleged landgrabs to build luxury holiday houses.
In a speech to imams in South Khorasan province Tuesday, Hajali-Akbari indirectly accused the imam of Lavasan and supporters of "staging a justice-seeking show and calling it rectitude.”
"This kind of behavior has nothing to do with the duties of Friday prayer imams," Hajali-Akbari noted, adding that both Iranian leaders, Ruhollah Khomeini and Khamenei, had banned corruption allegations against named individuals from Friday sermons.
"Thanks to Mr Hajali-Akbari who transparently and honestly said particulars of economic and financial corruption cases should not be discussed in Friday sermons and candidly stated the red lines,” Mahdi Dezfuli, filmmaker and supporter of the students, tweeted Friday. “It has now become clear that [claims of] fighting corruption were only meant to deceive the public and there is no will for that.”