New research conducted by Iran’s National Police indicates that Saudi Arabia has been successful in its propaganda campaign to promote Salafism and Wahhabism, the official branch of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia, among the inhabitants of Razavi Khorasan, a northeastern Iranian province bordering Afghanistan.
The results of the study are set out in an article, “The Standing of Wahhabism’s Salafist and Takfiri Thinking among Border Dwellers of Razavi Khorasan Province,” published in the latest issue of Border Research and Studies. Takfiri is an Arabic word that describes a Muslim who declares other Muslims to be infidels or non-believers. Access to the report from outside Iran is blocked, as is the website of the Iranian national police.
In the unprecedented report, 290 Razavi Khorasan officials, military and border guards’ commanders, members of the judiciary, and political and security experts announce that Saudi Arabia’s campaign to promote its brand of Islam has been a success in the border areas. According to them, Saudi Arabia and Salafi-Takfiri activists have used economic, political, cultural and media “levers” to achieve their goals among the border population.
They point to “shared religion and ethnicity and marriages between Sunnis with the border dwellers on the other side” —meaning Afghans — as a factor in this success. The report says that “Saudi Arabia’s organized financial and propaganda” activities among the Sunnis of Razavi Khorasan has “prepared the ground for the promotion of Salafist thinking.”
The report claims that organized “proselytization” groups are active in the province “to push young people toward Salafism and Wahhabism in a gentle and very smart manner.” It also claims that 90 percent of the Sunni youth in the province have participated in Salafist “proselytizing courses.”
The study also states that media “directly or indirectly” controlled by the Wahhabis has played a significant role in the infiltration of Takfiri groups among border dwellers.
Lessons in Proselytizing
According to the report, another factor in the spread of Salafism in the province has been “the dispatch of Sunni seminary students from Khvaf County to [seminaries] in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia without any supervision or limitations.” But, it adds, other groups besides seminary students are also being sent to other parts of Iran, or to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to take courses in how to proselytize Wahhabism. It says these activities have influenced the “hearts and minds” of the people “in a calm and creeping manner.”
According to the report, one result of these efforts has been certain beliefs being “weakened" among the people the campaign targets. This deterioration in people following key tenets of Shia Islam includes falling attendance at ceremonies marking the martyrdoms of Shia Imams in the holy months of Moharram and Safar, individuals “refusing to eat food distributed in such ceremonies,” as well as refusing to appeal to Shia saints. At the same time, the report cites an increase in belief in the “House of Prophet,” and the Sunni ritual of shouting “Only God!”
“The proselytizing groups,” the report continues, “invite all adults to their mosques or, as they put it, invite them ‘to God’. But they also have special programs for attracting groups like university and high school students, former prisoners, and various [groups of] retired people, in particular those from the armed forces and the retired teachers.”
The Campaign to Increase the Sunni Population
The report also emphasizes that the Saudi-led campaign has encouraged “an increase in the [Sunni] population of the province of Razavi Khorasan to change the ratio of the population.” It asserts that “they have been very successful” in this regard.
The national police report also points to another factor in Saudi Arabia’s successful promotion of Wahhabism: “poverty and discrimination in certain Sunni- or even Shia-majority areas of the country” have made it possible for Saudi propaganda to infiltrate people in these communities, it says. And it blames the “negligence” of government institutions in meeting people’s social and political demands.
The report concludes that the Salafist-Takfiri movement has plunged the region into “insecurity” and fostered “distrust toward political officials and security agencies by exploiting military and non-military methods to attract border dwellers,” including the practice of sending young Sunnis to “study in Wahhabi schools in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”
The National Police study further advises provincial and national officials to surveil “activities by Salafi-Takfiri groups on the borders of Razavi Khorasan Province, especially their military, media and economic activities.” This, it says, must include the “constant surveillance of the traffic of Salafist-Takfiri individuals in border areas and their interactions with border dwellers.”
And, in a more radical set of advice to the government, the National Police also recommends that “management jobs at the provincial and city levels should be distributed in a just manner among the Sunnis and the Shi’ites.” If taken up, these measures could have an immediate impact in the border province. In effect, the police are advising a halt to discriminatory practices against the Sunni population before the situation worsens to an even greater degree.