NewsSpecial WireClashes in Shiite shrine unnerves Iran’s holy city

Clashes in Shiite shrine unnerves Iran’s holy city

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Iran Focus: Qom, Iran, Aug. 11 – At noon, the streets are quiet in this dusty, hot, sprawling city of two million that is home to one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines. But near the home of the late Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Shirazi, a highly revered religious leader who was at odds with Iran’s ruling clerics, the eerie silence belies the simmering anger and grief that dominate the feelings among his followers, as a stream of visitors come to offer their sympathies and support to the ayatollah’s family and friends over what everyone here refers to as “the despicable incident”. Iran Focus

Qom, Iran, Aug. 11 – At noon, the streets are quiet in this dusty, hot, sprawling city of two million that is home to one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines. But near the home of the late Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Shirazi, a highly revered religious leader who was at odds with Iran’s ruling clerics, the eerie silence belies the simmering anger and grief that dominate the feelings among his followers, as a stream of visitors come to offer their sympathies and support to the ayatollah’s family and friends over what everyone here refers to as “the despicable incident”.

The incident they refer to occurred on Tuesday night, when a group of family members and women followers of the ayatollah, including Arab women from Iraq and the Persian Gulf countries, gathered at his grave in the holy Shiite shrine of Hazrat Massoumeh to honour his memory.

The gathering was seen by the shrine officials as a political statement, given Grand Ayatollah Shirazi’s well-known opposition to the ruling clerics. At about 10 pm, a group of men and women from the State Security Forces, armed with truncheons, attacked the mourning women and girls and beat them up.

The women protested and loudly cursed Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other leaders of the theocratic state for their “unjust and oppressive” treatment of the late ayatollah and his followers.

Eye-witnesses gave shocking accounts of the brutal assault and the insults and humiliation suffered by the dozens of women in the shrine.

“The women were being kicked, punched and beaten with clubs and sticks, while the security officers and the plainclothes intelligence officers who were watching the scene shouted obscenities against them”, Fatemeh, a young woman who was in the shrine at the time of the attack, said.

“They were heartless, those agents, just like Shemr, and they did evil things to those poor women”, said Azam, a sixty-year-old woman who was in the shrine with her son when the mayhem broke out. Shemr-bin-Zeljoshan is evil incarnate in the eyes of devout Shiites for his role in the murder of a revered seventh-century saint.

The office of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi said in a press release that security forces arrested a number of women during the memorial ceremony in the shrine. The statement said two clerics from the late ayatollah’s office, Seyyed Hossein Shirazi and Seyyed Kazem Fali, who tried to mediate and win the release of the detained women were themselves detained for several hours by the security forces.

“The women were beaten and injured savagely and in a beastly manner, and were taken to one of the rooms in the courtyard of the shrine”, the statement said. “They were then taken to Saheli Prison in Qom and were kept in jail until noon Wednesday”.

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Shirazi was born in Iraq in 1927 to a Persian family of highly respected Shiite scholars. His grandfather, Mirzaye Shirazi, was a leading figure in the movement that led to the fall of absolute monarchy in Iran in 1906. At the time when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini lived in exile in the Iraqi city of Najaf, Ayatollah Shirazi was a leading religious leader in Iraq. Acquaintances describe the relationship between the two men at the time as “frosty”.

Khomeini went on to become the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Ayatollah Shirazi moved to Qom to continue his teachings. He publicly distanced himself from Khomeini’s theory of placing all political powers in the hands of the Shiite religious leader.

“Human beings are neither children nor mentally incapacitated, and therefore they do not need a guardian to take care of them”, Shirazi wrote in his book, Azadi (Freedom), in renunciation of Khomeini’s concept of religious rule, which was called Guardianship of the Islamic Jurisprudent.

Shirazi’s views angered Iran’s ruling clerics and he was forced to live in isolation. But he maintained a sizeable following among Arabs in Iran, Iraq and some of the Persian Gulf states.

Some analysts see the crackdown on Shirazi’s followers as a sign of increasing nervousness in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s entourage. They note that the authorities in Qom have already tightened their security measures around the compound of the famous dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri.

“Khamenei has always been afraid of the senior ayatollahs in Qom, who dwarf him in terms of religious qualifications”, Ali Tavassoli, an Iranian financial analyst based in Dubai, said in a telephone interview. “But taking such drastic measures against women followers of a deceased ayatollah can only show how vulnerable he must be feeling right now. He just doesn’t want to take any chances”.

Analysts point to the relative reticence of Qom’s senior ayatollahs in recent weeks, particularly their lack of enthusiasm for the newly-installed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a warning sign for Khamenei.

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