Feb. 20, 2018 - According to State news media the police arrested more than 300 protesters, most of the members of the Gonabadi dervishes, a mystical Sufi strain of Islam that the clerical government has designated a challenge to mainstream Shiite theology.
The confrontation started Monday night when the dervishes, recognizable by the thick mustaches they wear by religious decree, gathered in front of a police station to demand the release of some members who had been arrested. Violence broke out when security officers arrived.
Photographs posted on social media showed several dervishes who had been severely beaten, though the authenticity of the images could not be independently verified. The clashes were also captured on a murky video spread on social media and broadcast by the semiofficial Fars news agency, which has links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The Gonabadi dervishes are the most affluent and influential religious order among Iran’s Sufi Muslims. They believe in a mystic interpretation of Sharia, which sets them apart from Iran’s Shiite clerics, who reserve for themselves the right to interpret the law.
The dervishes have not always been at odds with the Shiite clerics who rule the country. After the Islamic revolution of 1979, they gained in followers, influence, and power, to the point that where one of their leaders, Nour Ali Tabandeh, became a deputy culture minister. He was even appointed the head of the group organizing the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
In 2008, graves considered sacred by the order were bulldozed by hard-liners, and there have been attacks on their religious centers in different cities.
The unrest on Monday was deepened by rumors of an arrest warrant for Mr. Tabandeh, who is 90 years old and lives in the area where the violence occurred.
Source: extracted from a NYT report, Feb. 20