Molavi Abdolhamid, a prominent Sunni religious leader and the Friday prayer leader in Zahedan, welcomed the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, which surprised many in Iranian society and provoked various reactions.
Afshin Shahi, a senior lecturer in Middle Eastern politics and International Relations at Bradford University, discussed with Mvoices the possible impact of Molavi Abdolhamid’s Taliban support on Iran’s Sunni community: “First and foremost, we have to remember that there is no such thing as a singular Sunni community in Iran. The Sunni population of Iran is very diverse. They are made of different ethnicities. They speak distinct languages and dialects and are geographically scarred. This reality is reflected through the diverse leaders of the Sunni population in Iran. Abdulhamid is an important religio-political leader, mainly in the Sistan-Baluchestan area.”
He added, “his endorsement of the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan shoots two birds with one stone. First, he reflects the views of the Shia hardliners in Tehran. Second, he expresses his own opinion and preferences for the religio-political geography of the region. Although there were some divisions among the political elite in Tehran, in the end, the most powerful faction was in favor of the Taliban. This was a rare opportunity for him to synchronize himself with the hardliners in Tehran with free will. Yet this is a very divisive issue, and I am sure many of his Sunni followers disagreed with him.”
“First and foremost, we have to remember that there is no such thing as a singular Sunni community in Iran. The Sunni population of Iran is very diverse. They are made of different ethnicities. They speak distinct languages and dialects and are geographically scarred.”Afshin Shahi, senior lecturer in Middle Eastern politics and International Relations at Bradford University
Mvoices interviewed Nasser Boladai, spokesperson for Balochistan People’s Party, to learn more about the Baloch society’s reaction to this Taliban support and the possible outcome within Baloch society.
How significant is Molavi Abdulhamid’s welcome to the Taliban’s return within Iran’s Sunnis community, especially among Iran’s Balochs, and why did he rush to make such a comment?
In Iran, all kinds of other Civil Society organizations and independent political parties are banned, as far as the Baloch society and the Sunni Community is concerned. Molavi Abdulhamid is perhaps the most vocal figure within the framework of Islamic republic policies and political norms and culture, and he has sought to represent a large population of the Baloch and Sunni community in Iran. While previously some of his policies and statements were appreciated by liberal and democratic groups, his decision to support Ibrahim Raisi as the presidential candidate changed many people’s minds. There was a collapse of the good feelings toward him among liberal and democratic and secular sections of society, particularly among Balochs.
Can such a reaction create a real divide between secular and religious Sunnis, especially within the Baloch community, and weaken their community strength in the struggle for equality and social justice?
“Molavi Abdulhamid’s support for the Taliban has created division among Baloch society between those who adhere to principles of religious freedom and tolerance, and those who support fundamentalist religious rule..” Nasser Boladai, spokesperson for Balochistan People’s Party
His support of the Taliban showed that political Islam in all its versions, Shiite, Sunni and Sunnis in different sects like Salafi or Deobandi, are alike in terms of religious freedom, freedom of thought, and gender equality.
How do you evaluate Baloch organizations and personalities’ reaction to Molavi Abdulhamid’s taking position regarding the Taliban’s return?
The Baloch democratic and liberal personalities in Balochistan published a joint letter and distanced themselves from both of Abdulhamid’s statements regarding support for Ebrahim Raisi and support for the Taliban. Balochistan has only one Baloch mainstream and serious political party with a political vision, and the Balochistan People’s party was the only party that took a position against Molavi. Smaller parties and organizations either tacitly supported Molavi Abdulhamid’s stand or have been silent on the subject.
Molavi Abdulhamid’s support for Raisi and the Taliban, in my opinion, was a blessing for the Baloch liberal democratic and secular people, preventing them from making the same mistake as many democratic liberal and leftist groups who supported Khomeini and Islamic takeover in Iran. This made the political lines clearer and will create more support for the policy of the Balochistan People’s Party, which from the beginning has had a secular vision and has always emphasized that political Islam should not be part of state-building and political development anywhere. It has also given Baloch societies experience in Iran and neighboring countries, particularly in Afghanistan, and with the Taliban government between 1996 to 2001. The current attempt to build a government shows that political Islam does not provide a solution to societies’ problems. In fact, political Islam, in all versions including the ISIS Salafi version, Taliban’s Deobandi version, and Khomienie’s Shiite version, creates more problems and divisions within society without providing any practical solution.
Can we expect radical Sunnis’ religious groups within Iran to be empowered by the Taliban’s return?
The Taliban’s return has empowered and emboldened them, and they see a divine hand in the power of Islam to stand against Soviet occupation and the US. They believe that, as they helped to break up the Soviet Socialist Republic, they can do the same to the US. They are currently in celebratory mode; however, their enthusiasm in my opinion will be short-lived.
People will observe that they are using religion as an instrument for their own sectarian gains and clerical rule. Any time they have come into power, it has led to more political-economical problems indicative of corruption and a corrupt regime. The Taliban rule in 1996 was messy, brutal, and problematic both for the Afghanistan region and international parties, and this time it began again as unorganized and problematic as it could be. A state with clerical rule and Shirai Law according to their fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia, which is not acceptable for the Afghanistan people or for the international community, will create more disadvantages for the Afghan people than solutions. Therefore, this will be another demonstration that theocracy and political Islam don’t work as a state-building and connotational drafting mechanism in the modern age.