Wednesday, 26 December 2007

A Letter

A Letter
Dear Udaba,

In February 2006, I wrote a detailed report to scholars who subscribe to this list about destruction of the Ni‘matullahi-Gunabadi Hosseiniyya ( Sufi Center or Khanaqah) in Qom , Iran . I described how on Feb. 13, 2006, a vigilante mob, abetted by the baton-wielding police of the Islamic Republic of Iran, seized, burned down and then bulldozed this Sufi prayer and meditation center, arresting hundreds of dervishes and wounding many demonstrators in the process. Unfortunately, that attack has proven to be but one in a series of ongoing attempted pogroms of Sufis in the Land of the Ayatollahs. The most recent attack took place a month ago in Borujerd, a city in the province of Loristan in the west of Iran, where some 1000 followers of the Gunabadi branch of the Ni‘matullahi Order currently live.

On November 4, 2007, an irregular armed, vigilante gang of thugs sponsored and funded by the fundamentalist, Islamicist regime, known as the Basij-i Mostaza‘fin (nicknamed ‘Basiji’), along with the state security services, attacked the center of this same group of Sufis in Borujerd. After pillaging all its possessions and furnishings, they burned it down. Some 70 people were injured and more than 150 dervishes or dervish sympathizers were imprisoned.

It may be useful to know something of the historical background to this event. Since 2005, several prominent exoteric clerics (‘ulama) in the city had been delivering sermons against Sufism, haranguing the populace about the evils of the Sufis, branding the Sufi mystical tradition in Islam as a dangerous heresy and aberration of faith. They incited their followers to destroy the Sufi Hosseiniyya (Khanaqah) there. In late October 2007, a conference on the greatest Muslim Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273) of Iran , sponsored by the Institute of Philosophy in Tehran , was held in Tehran and Tabriz . A week after the conference the influential fundamentalist ideologue Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani issued a statement describing Rumi’s poetry as being full of “perverted and misleading ideas and against our principles [i.e. of the fundamentalist brand of Shi‘ite Islam propounded by the religious ideologues of the Islamic Republic of Iran].” The Hamshahri newspaper in Tehran furthermore reported him as saying, “I condemn this conference and its organizers… Its content comprised much dangerous innovation (bid‘at), including things such as listening to music (sama‘) and dance… Everyone should feel shame before the Imam of the Age that such a conference has been convened [in Iran ].” Unfortunately, Ayatollah Safi belongs to that select group of mafioso clerics known as ‘Sources of Religious Emulation’, the pronouncements of whom, however outrageous, theologically biased and theosophically misinformed they may be, no one dares criticize, for to do so is to risk losing one’s job, or being blacklisted as an anti-revolutionary, or face imprisonment, or worse. I was in Tehran during the same week that Sign-of-God Safi’s comments were published so am a witness that none of the distraught organizers of the conference (friends of mine) dared raise their voice in the media to try to directly refute this mullah in order to expose the rank barrenness of literary and intellectual culture beneath his large turban. Safi ’s characterization of Rumi’s Sufi poetry as being “dangerous innovation,” of course, provided just the right ammunition that the ideological enemies of the Ni‘matullahi Sufis needed. A few days later after Safi attacked Rumi, the Ni‘matullahi-Gunabadi Sufi center in Borujerd was appropriately razed to the ground—without, of course, hardly a word of protest at this religious vigilantism being voiced in the media. The psychology of this behaviour Rumi had described quite well incidentally: "The passional soul carries a rosary and the Holy Scripture in its right hand, but has a dagger and a sword up its sleeve." (Nafs ra tasbih u mushaf dar yamin/ khanjar u shamshir andar asetin). (Mathnawi, III: 2554)

It should be emphasized that the Ni‘matullahi Order is the largest Sufi Order in Iran, with the members of all its various branches currently suffering persecution at the hands of the fundamentalist regime. The background, history and various details underlying this fresh assault on the Persian Sufi tradition, which are discussed and analysed by news-sites and other links in English and Persian, are provided below:

Dr. Leonard Lewisohn
Lecturer in Persian,

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