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Iran: The Great Purge of Friday Prayer Leaders


By Kayvan Bozorgmehr, Rooz Online

Retirement for 60 Friday Prayer Leaders

One year after Iran's head of the Expediency Council Hashemi Rafsanjani delivered what became his last Friday prayer sermon - till today - 60 other Friday prayer leaders seem to be on their way out as well. According to seyyed Reza Taghavi, the head of the Friday Prayer Leaders' Policymaking Council, "More than 60 Friday prayer leaders are scheduled to go into retirement this summer." This would be the largest blanket change in the composition of Friday prayer leaders and supreme leader's representatives in provinces since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Taghavi, who is also a member of the conservative Jame Rohaniyat Mobarez group, also claimed in Tuesday that Hashemi Rafsanjani's absence from the Friday prayer gatherings was voluntary. According to Mehr news agency, the head of the Friday Prayer Leaders' Policymaking Council claimed that Rafsanjani made the voluntary decision not to appear at Friday prayers to prevent the "possible abuse of the event" and because of his "preference to preserve the Friday prayers' sanctity against political intrusions." But last year, only five weeks after Hashemi Rafsanjani's appearance at the Friday prayers, a pro-administration cleric, Kazem Seddighi, was appointed as Tehran's temporary Friday prayer leader. This appointment was regarded by many to signal the end of Hashemi Rafsanjani's participation at the weekly mass gathering.

Hashemi Rafsanjani during his last appearance in Friday Prayers in July 2009


The other important part of Taghavi's remarks related to the retirement of 60 Friday prayer leaders across the country this summer. A bulk retirement of this magnitude is unprecedented in the history of the Islamic republic, especially since retirement has never been the cause of such changes in individual cases. In addition, there is no law that governs the workings or age requirements of Friday prayer leaders.

The move seems to indicate again that the leader of the Islamic republic is in no moon to accept criticism from Friday prayer leaders. In the summer of 2007, during an interview with the hardline Kayhan daily, seyyed Taghavi had dismissed the claim that Friday prayer sermons were "dictated" to Friday prayer leaders, but said that "Friday prayer leaders were united in their policies and principles. We always insist and emphasize that the institution or network of Friday prayers must be coordinated with respect to principles."

Taghavi then said, "The Friday prayers institution derives its cultural and promotional policies from the leader of the Islamic republic."

Openly asserting that the "institution is dependent on the supreme leader," Taghavi concluded, "Friday prayer leaders deliver sermons as a proxy for the supreme leader. It is natural that they should follow the policies of the regime, as determined by the supreme leader. All sermons of the Friday prayer leaders are coordinated with the regime's policies as articulated by the supreme leader."

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