A top Sunni Muslim cleric in Iran has talked about love among all peoples and the importance of women’s rights, in an unprecedented sermon opposing the Shiite regime’s policies.
Several cities in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan, where most Sunni Baluch people live, were scenes of protests against the Islamic Republic on Friday while the regime also organized pro-government rallies in many cities across the country.
This was the 13th consecutive Friday that people in the Sunni-majority cities such as the provincial capital Zahedan and Khash held gatherings and chanted slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard. As usual people poured into streets following Friday prayers.
Mowlavi Abdolhamid, the top religious leader of the Sunni Baluch, led the Friday prayer in Zahedan, and during his sermon criticized the regime’s arrest, sentencing and killing of children.
Elsewhere in his sermons, Abdolhamid debunked the Islamic Republic’s accusation of separatists among the protesters in Sistan and Baluchistan, saying that "We are staunch opponents of separatism. Baluch, Kurd, Arab, Persian, Turk, Turkmen, Lor, Gilak and all other ethnic groups are against separatism.” “All Iranians are one and together. Today, Iran smells of love," he added.
"We sympathize with all Iranians and all Iranians are dear to us; Muslims and non-Muslims, we must respect human rights and humanity. Jews, Christians, Baha'is and others should enjoy human rights. The law has not taken away the nationality of any person; even if he does not accept God," he said.
Pointing out that Baha'is are being persecuted by the Islamic Republic, Abdolhamid called for respect for the rights of "all Iranian citizens." Touching on the issue of apostasy verdicts for the Baha'is, he said that "The new generation of Baha’is were not Muslims who wanted to divert from Islam. They were born non-Muslims so they cannot be sentenced to apostasy."
Fereydun Vahman, Professor Emeritus at Copenhagen University, in an interview with International Friday praised Abdolhamid’s remarks and said he is a rare unifying force among Iran’s religious figures. He also hailed his ideas about equality of women and men as well as the equal rights for Baha’is.
Contrary to the Sunni cleric, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representatives who led Friday prayers across the country, tried to focus on the pro-government commemorations, known in the state media as the occasion of “Day 9 Epic”, the ninth day of the Persian calendar month of Day, which falls on December 30.
Another issue discussed by Khamenei’s representatives – the so-called Friday prayer leaders – was the third death anniversary of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the former commander IRGC’s extraterritorial Quds Force. On January 3, 2020, the United States killed Soleimani, as well as the deputy commander of Iraq's popular mobilization units, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, in a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport.
The contents of Friday Prayer sermons delivered by clerics appointed by Khamenei in various cities are dictated by two state bodies reporting to his office, officially known as "The Policy-making Council for Friday Prayer Imams" and the "Friday Prayer Headquarters," both dominated by hardliner clerics.
Firebrand Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Guardian Council, claimed that the Islamic Republic is “invincible,” saying that “dictators want to achieve their goals under the guise of democracy and the defense of women's rights and freedom." He added that the US’ intention to liberate women is to enslave them.
He also described the current wave of protests – which he calls riots – as the deepest conspiracy facing the regime. "In the events, for the first time, the Supreme Leader was insulted, which is actually insulting religion.” Khatami was referring to derogatory slogans chanted by protesters against Khamenei, that anger his religious followers.