A woman has attacked a cleric in the Shiite holy city of Qom, which hosts seminars and is home to Iran’s influential ayatollahs. The woman removed the cleric’s turban from his head and stepped on him, as it is believed that he warned her about the head covering. The video of the incident went viral last year. Some have congratulated the woman and have not expressed any support for the cleric. Others have said he deserved the treatment.
The incident – which resulted in the woman’s arrest – has highlighted anger against the clerics, who came to power after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In a sign of the growing anger, physical attacks against clerics appear to be on the rise in Iran, as some religious officials have said they do not wear their turbans in public to avoid attacks.
Others have talked about reducing their influence in society.
Tehran-based dissident cleric Abolfazl Najafi-Tehrani told RFE/RL that the poor performance of Iran’s clerical leadership, the impact on everyday Iranians and the clerics’ failure to respond to modern needs, are among of the reasons why the differences between the clergy and the population are widening since the revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“In recent years, we have witnessed people’s hatred and anger towards some clerics who follow state policies”, said Najafi-Tehrani. According to him, the anger has resulted in attacks on clerics, who impose “their lifestyle on others”.
In recent months, many other physical attacks on clerics have been reported, including in June when the representative of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reported to have been attacked by a man who tried to attack him with a knife.
In an interview after the attack, Ayatollah Yusef Tabataeinejad, who leads Friday prayers in the city of Isfahan, said that the attacker was a young man who “appears to have been troubled”, while adding that the motives of the attack are being investigated.
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In early July, a cleric was wounded in what was said to be an assassination attempt, while on July 28, a religious cleric was wounded several times in Karaj, near the Iranian capital, while preaching at a shrine.
In April, two Iranian clerics were stabbed and another wounded at a holy site in the city of Mashhad.
Officials have described the latter as a terrorist attack.
The attacker – who has been identified as a 21-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Afghanistan, was a Sunni with a radical approach.
He was later executed.
Many of the recent attacks have targeted clerics who have tried to enforce codes of behavior in public – according to Islam – including the wearing of the veil.
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In April, the Iranian news agency FARS published the names of dozens of clerics who have been attacked in the past decade.
Three of them died after the attacks, and two lost an eye.
In the early years after the Islamic Revolution, groups such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) carried out many assassination attempts against senior clerics.
However, most of these attacks, which have targeted little or no well-known clerics, do not seem to be organized.
State media have blamed “bandits” for some of these attacks.
Senior officials, on the other hand, do not publicly comment on these attacks.
Khamenei, who has the final say in the Islamic Republic, claimed in a speech in June that people’s “inclination” towards religion and the clergy had increased since the start of the revolution, citing “millions” of people who had suffered the assassination of general, Qassem Soleimani with an American drone in 2020.
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The attacks on the clerics come at a time of growing backlash against the leadership and when the economy has been decimated by US sanctions.
Najafi-Tehrani said that people blame the clergy for the difficult life they lead.
“They want the removal of the clergy, and that there is no imposition of religion in the state,” he said, adding that “43 years after the revolution, people are witnessing the lack of efficiency in the leadership chain, as well as in the structure based on religion”.
He has mentioned that many people are angry because the state budget is being spent on seminars, especially at a time when many Iranians barely cover their monthly expenses.
Earlier this month, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Nurelahian, warned of big divisions between the people and the clergy, as he blamed the clergy for something like that.
“Today, we witness clerics issuing statements regarding official and state ceremonies, but rarely raising their voices in the face of many injustices, inequalities, mistakes and ill-treatment of people,” said Nourelahian, a former seminary leader in Iran. .
In January, Mohammad Taghi Fazel Meibodi, a member of the Assembly of Seminaries in Qom, said that many people view clerics negatively, adding that in Qom, many of those who have studied in seminaries refuse to wear clerical clothes. in public, “because people curse and curse them”.
Anger has grown since the start of the 1979 revolution, when many Iranians have made fun of the clerics and portrayed them as incompetent and ignorant.
Many taxi drivers even refuse to drive them.
In recent years, at the time of increasing economic difficulties, the anger towards the clergy is increasing and many of them are protesting, calling on them to “disappear”.
During the violent protests of 2019 – over the sudden increase in gas prices – nine seminars and other offices of the leaders were targeted by angry protesters who chanted against Iranian leaders, including Khamenei.
“People ask ‘why are the clergy silent about the problems.’ The silence means that they are satisfied with the system and I think this is the biggest part of the problem”, said cleric Abdolhamid Massumi Tehrani – a critic of the leadership – in an interview for Radio Free Europe.
Hackers aim to reveal the face of the Iranian regime
“People see the difference between those who implement the policies of the senior leadership, and those who do not,” said Massumi from Tehran, adding that he personally has not faced bad treatment in public.
He agrees that much of the anger is centered on clerics who are close to state leaders.
However, he has said he avoids wearing clerical robes whenever possible, as many people cannot tell the difference between who is with the leaders and who is not.
“I cannot write on my clothes that I am a critic of the current situation”, he said.