The Iranian Sunnis

Iran is a country in Middle East region which has always battled for regional superpower position with the larger and more powerful Saudi Arabia. The country consists of largely a plateau that lies between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf (Global Finance, 34). This region was prehistorically, occupied by Indo-Europeans who had migrated from Central Asia. Presently, migrations and conquests in the region have placed the Arabs and Caucasians as the main people who can claim Iranian cultural identity and most of them still reside inside the civilization borders of the modern Iran (Stempel, 1238). As expected, Iran is an Islamic state with over 99% of the citizens being Muslims. The country has also been linked with incidences of religious intolerance in the past although the situation is slowly changing with the era of globalization. Although the country is largely Islamic, the population of Iran is overwhelmingly Shias with the Sunni occupying only around 5% of the total Muslim population. This means that despite their Islamic religion, the Sunni are a minority group in Iran (Ameli and Molaei, 38). This paper is an exploration of the history and cultural background of the Sunni in Iran. The paper will explore how the Sunni relate with the larger society and the challenges they face. The paper is guided by the thesis that the Sunni in Iran experiences similar levels of hostility and marginalization as the non-Muslims in the country.

More than 1400 years ago, a rift emerged in the Muslim religion. Prophet Mohammed died without having appointed a successor. Consequently, the rapidly growing religion divisions emerged over the selection of the successor to the Prophet. Some of the Muslims believed that only a blood relative to Prophet Mohammed could rule while others believed that a democratic process should help select a leader. This is the division that resulted in the split of Islam into the Sunni and the Shia. Each of the division believes that they follow the Sunnah and in both, there are the moderate believers and the extremists, hence the tension in these countries (Primer and Con, 142-145).

Incidentally, the vast majority of Muslims in the world are Sunnis and are spread all over Asia and North Africa. In Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain, the Shia are the majority and the Sunni in these countries are marginalized. In Iran, the Sunnis do not have an ethnic problem relating with the rest of the Iranians; open ethnic discriminations are not common, and all people relate well to business and social events (Ameli and Molaei, 33). Being mainly nomadic pastoralists, these people are often in groups of themselves are have very little relationship with the outside world.  However, religiously, they are believed to be ardent followers of Islam and believe in the teachings of Quran in the power of Allah and his abilities in the physical world. This significantly contrasts the Shias inclination to the value of martyrdom, and the two groups are consistently arguing about the differences (Van Gorder, 329). However, even with the open condemnation, the Shia majority do not openly rebuke or discriminate the Sunni either due to brotherhood respect or the fear of a revolution.

The Sunni in Iran can economically engage with the rest of the community including the Shias and even the few Christians in Iran. It is documented that Christians have an easier time relating to a Sunni than a Shia (Abdo, 65). This has been associated with both groups being minorities and having close to similar beliefs on God and his physical power. Business partnerships and even intermarriages have been seen among these minority groups in the past. In addition, this interaction has recently increased the push for Islamic revolution with the exposed young Muslims especially from Sunni attempting to have Islam liberalize the strict religious rules and have a balanced religion and secularism. Politically, the Sunni are also allowed to go into elections like the rest of the Iranians and air their views and opinions on governance and politics. This is a privilege that the rest of the minority communities do not enjoy in Iran (Stempel, 1237).

Traditionally, the minority relating to the wider society is characterized by understanding, fear, and compulsion. Consequently, most minority groups within a population are directly or indirectly marginalized and denied some of their rights and freedoms. The Sunnis in Iran have been victims of this discrimination and alienation despite their being Muslims (Van Gorder, 329). The fact that they can relate better to other minority groups than their Muslim brothers, the Shia, is evidence enough. However, religiously, the two groups tend to work together to promote Islam, although each professing diverse ideologies. The quest for unity in the region has however kept them in peace despite their minority nature, and their worldwide population has protected them from hostility.



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