Gonabadi Dervishes have staged a resistance protest around the residence of their leader in an area known as “Golestan-e-Haftom” to prevent armed security forces from entering and arresting their leader. In an escalation of force and violence, several motorcycles were reportedly destroyed as they tried to approach the private residence of Dr. Nourali Tabandeh.
We have witnessed an increased number of clashes between the Dervishes and security forces in the recent weeks. Following last month’s protests, many of the Dervishes were arrested and held at Evin prison. A fifteen year-old juvenile was among those detained. In an expression of solidarity and resistance, their friends and families staged a multi-day sit-in outside the notorious prison, demanding their release. In response, security forces, arrested some other protesters; any still remain in custody.
Gonabadi Dervishes are Shia Muslims who practice Sufism. They are strong proponents of nonviolence and religious tolerance. Many Westerners are familiar with the work of Rumi, the world-renowned Sufi poet and mystic. Rumi’s peaceful message has influenced cultural and political expressions beyond Iranian borders. His poetry remains among the most popular and possibly bestselling poetry publications in the US.
Although the Gonabadi Dervishes drew many followers and expanded their religious practice in the 60s and 70s, they have faced significant persecution since the 1979 revolution. Sufis in general and Gonabadi Dervishes in particular, encounter systematic discrimination under the Islamic Republic and are frequently arrested on “national security” charges. Their persecution intensified since the Ahmadinejad’s presidency, following several fatwas by government-affiliated clerics which called for isolation of the Sufis by forbidding any relationship with them.
Most institutions in Iran require applicants to disclose their religious affiliation in their application process. These disclosure can lead to faith-based discrimination against certain religious groups, particularly Baha’is and the Gonabadi Dervishes. These groups experience ongoing challenges in finding employment and accessing higher education.
For example, recently, Sepideh Moradi, a computer science major was expelled from university. Moradi and her family have been a targets of harassment and violence by security forces. As the daughter of a communal leader and director of a Dervish websites, Moradi was previously beaten and taken to custody.
Reports of recent clashes between the Gonabadi Dervishes and security forces continue to emerge from the streets of Iran. The situation is best described as fluid and rapidly changing. As of last reports from the Dervishes’ news site, Mazjooban-e-Noor, there are signs of possible negotiations with the security forces. Emerging reports demonstrate that Dervishes are committed to protecting their religious leader, regardless of government opposition.