Treatment by the government of believers in Sufism; whether public worship is permitted; and number of Sufi mosques in Iran [IRN30938.E]

The following information was provided during a 7 January 1999 telephone interview with a PhD candidate in Islamic Studies at McGill University whose research focuses on Sufi practice. He stated that there is a theoretical disposition by the Iranian clerical class, which came to political power as a result of the 1979 revolution, to regard believers in Sufism as "potential" challengers to the hierarchy of Shiism. This is because of the mysticism that is integral to Sufism and the fact that believers come together in "brotherhoods" or "orders" that are not completely open. As such, they present a different interpretation of Islam that by its very nature as an alternative, suggests a circumvention of the authority of the clerics. However, the PhD candidate was unable to comment on whether this theoretical disposition has resulted in any specific cases of discrimination or persecution.

The following information was provided during a 5 January 1999 telephone interview with a member of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies (CAIS). The Centre "is a London-based research institution that gathers and analyses information on the Middle East, with a special emphasis on Iran" and has published The Iranian Ethnic and Religious Minorities, "an in-depth study of the origins, cultures and present circumstances of minority groups inside Iran" (30 Mar. 1998). According to the member, for the last eight or nine years the majority of believers in Sufism have not experienced problems with the Iranian government and some are on "good terms" with the government. He said that Sufi believers do not act in an anti-Islamic fashion and therefore the government is tolerant of them. He stated that public worship is not only possible but regularly occurs and that there are about twelve large Sufi mosques in Tehran. Other smaller groups of believers in Sufism choose to worship privately in their homes which is not prohibited by the government. The member stated that if Sufi believers did experience persecution by the authorities it would be because of their involvement in the political opposition and not because of their religious beliefs. He said that his information is derived from regular contact with people in Iran.

The member identified the major Sufi sect in Iran as Ghonabadi, with a large presence in Tehran, eastern Iran near the Afghanistan border, as well as in Shiraz and in the Azerbaijan area. Another large Sufi group is known as Shaovaisi, again with a presence in Tehran, as well as in the northern province of Gilan. He also mentioned the Norbakhsh that is also present in Tehran, as well as in the southern region around Kerman.

The following information was provided during a 4 January 1999 telephone interview with the Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, a non-profit organization which monitors human rights in Iran and is affiliated with elements of the Iranian opposition. While the Director stated that some religious minorities do experience persecution in Iran, he was unaware of any incidents involving believers in Sufism. He was unable to indicate whether they are prohibited from engaging in public worship but stated that the government was "generally not tolerant of sects which are offshoots of Islam."

According to the information available to the Advocacy Director of the Middle East Division of Human Rights Watch "there are two religious groups, at least as I see it, that have come in for persecution as opposed to discrimination. Those are the Baha'is, number one, and number two, evangelical Christians" (VOA 1 Aug. 1998). He stated his belief that these groups experience "persecution" as a result of "a perception at least on the part of the authorities and perhaps among the population" that persons within these two groups are involved in proselytization (ibid.).

Further information on the number and location of Sufi mosques could not be found in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies (CAIS), London. 5 January 1999. Telephone interview with a member.

Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI), Kensington, Maryland. 4 January 1999. Telephone interview with the Director.

McGill University, Montreal. 7 January 1999. Telephone interview with PhD candidate in Islamic Studies.

Voice of America (VOA). 1 August 1998. Robert Reilly. "Religious Persecution in Iran." [Internet] gopher:// [Accessed 31 July 1998]

Additional Sources Consulted

The Europa World Year Book 1998. 1998.

The Middle East [London]. 1998.

Middle East International [London]. 1998.

Middle East Report [Washington, DC]. 1998.

Resource Centre. Iran country file. 1998.

_____. Iran: Amnesty International country file. 1998.

United Nations, Commission on Human Rights. 11 February 1997. "Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Prepared by the Special Representative on the Commission on Human Rights."

_____. 9 February 1997. "Implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief."

Electronic sources: IRB Databases, LEXIS/NEXIS, Internet, REFWORLD, World News Connection (WNC).

Six non-documentary sources contacted did not provide information on the requested subject.