The books appear to have been distributed on the behalf of the Iranian government, with information printed on the books identifying them as being published ‘in support of Organisations and Agencies, The Department to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, Khuzestan Province, in co-operation with the Municipality of Ahwaz City.”
The books mock Sunni Muslims and their beliefs, frequently referring to them as ‘Wahhabi’, a term widely used in a derogatory manner by the Iranian media in reference to practicing Sunni Muslims.
The books appear to be the latest attempt by the government of the Shia-majority Iran to prevent the rise of Sunni Islam among the Ahwazi Arabs in the Khuzestan province.Although the majority of the population in Khuzestan is Shia, a large number have converted to Sunni Islam in recent years, causing alarm in the Shia-led Iranian government about the growth of Sunni Islam in the area.
The Iranian authorities appear determined to prevent any open display of Sunni Islam within the province, arresting Sunni converts and detaining those who actively preach Sunni Islam.
Last week, Iranian security forces arrested seven Sunni converts after they held congregational Sunni Taraweeh prayers in the north of Ahwaz city.
A further nine Sunni men were arrested in Qal’eh Chan’an, Khuzestan province, at the beginning of this year for ‘religious activism’ after converting to Sunni Islam.
More than 20 Sunni converts were then arrested in February at a Qur’an and Arabic language study meeting in Koye Alawi (Hay al-Thawra district) in Ahwaz city. Numerous other Sunni converts have been arrested in the area since.
In a ruling illustrating Iran’s persecution of those who convert to Sunni Islam, four Sunni converts from the Ahwazi Arab minority were sentenced to imprisonment in May 2014, accused of “changing their religion and orienting towards Sunni Islam as well as the Wahhabi sect.”
According to the court indictment, the men were also sentenced to mandatory participation in Shia rituals, and “are required to attend Shia mosques and religious places, and to participate and actively engage in their [Shia] religious ceremonies.”
The shocking statement from the court, which attempts to force Sunni converts to leave their religion and practice Shia rituals, further highlights Iran’s persecution of the Sunni population.