Thursday, February 23, 2023

"How Iran’s religious classes are turning increasingly secular" 

Mohsen, who spoke to on the condition that his surname be withheld, has led Shiite mourning rituals in the city for two decades. In his assessment, “Around 90% of Shiite ceremonies in Mashhad have turned secular.” In a stark example of the shifting sentiments, he elaborated, “At the ceremonies, we usually invite a cleric to speak about the ordeals and martyrdoms of the [Shiite] Imams, but any cleric who speaks politically and in favor of the Islamic Republic will be kicked out. And this is happening in most of the Shiite ceremonies in the city.”

Mohsen insisted that he and other religious Iranians “are fed up with our religion [being] damaged by the establishment, and we do not want our Shiite ceremonies to be seen as a propaganda tool and representative of the establishment.”

Clashes over the politicization of mourning ceremonies date back to the monarchy. Prior to 1979, supporters of Khomeini held Shiite rituals in which they mostly addressed political issues. In contrast, several groups close to quietist grand ayatollahs who avoided criticizing the Shah’s regime kept their rituals strictly apolitical.

The disagreements reached a peak in July 1978, when Khomeini called for a boycott of religious ceremonies to mark the birthday of the “Hidden Imam.” Against his wishes, groups like the Hojjatieh Society went ahead and commemorated the occasion.

The current Islamist ruling class is aware of the danger that such rituals can pose to their grip on power. For instance, in 2017, Nasser Rafiei—a hardline cleric and supporter of the establishment—emphasized the need for religious ceremonies to be political. In his view, it was “the enemy,” in reference to the west, that wants to keep politics away from Shiite religious ceremonies.

More recently, Ayatollah Rahim Tavakol, a member of the Assembly of Experts—a top council tasked with electing the next supreme leader—last year stated that apolitical ceremonies had negative impacts. These impacts, in the view of Tavakol, include “[supporting] the oppressor, remaining silent in the face of oppression, and being on the false path.”  He further claimed, “Young people go to these ceremonies and are deceived, and after some time, they become indifferent towards the daily issues of society and politics,” whereas non-secular rituals “strengthen the revolutionary spirit of the people." 

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