Iranian Friday Prayer Leaders Need Not Hold Rifles, Cleric Says

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, most Friday prayer leaders in Iran hold a rifle while delivering their weekly sermons. Recent studies, however, have shown that there is no historical and religious basis for the practice, even though it has become an Iranian tradition in the past 40 years.

“Is the gun used for protecting a Friday prayer leader, or does it symbolize Islamic solidarity and readiness to wage jihad? Alternatively, does it signify power coupled with logic?” Hojatoleslam Mohammad Soroush Mahallati, a senior seminary lecturer, asked in an opinion piece titled “Why Does a Prayer Leader Hold a Weapon?” which he recently posted on his Telegram channel.


“A thorough study of Islamic sources has shown that these questions result from inaccurate guesswork and assumptions. We must find the answers somewhere else, notably in the writings of prominent Islamic scholars,” Mr. Mahallati said. “There is no mention of a Friday prayer leader ever delivering a sermon while holding a sword in ancient texts. However, various sources point out that an Imam can hold on to or lean on an object while delivering sermons. So the issue is not a weapon, but a source of support and trust. Therefore, all fatwas [religious decrees] on this issue revolve around support and trust.”

Mahallati added: “The practice of holding a weapon during a sermon cannot be traced to any Islamic Hadith [Islamic tradition of recording words, speeches, and action]. There is also no credible account of the Prophet Mohammad ever holding a sword while delivering a sermon. Holding a sword or a cane has no political significance. It does not symbolize the prayer leader’s readiness for battle.”

“According to Shaykh Tusi [995-1067 AD, a prominent Iranian Shia scholar], the Prophet Mohammad leaned on a cane, or held on to a sword or a longbow during his sermons. However, there is no mention of the Prophet holding a sword during sermons in any reliable historical text,” Mahallati explained. “The [sixth Shia] Imam [Jaffar ibn Mohammad] al-Sadegh [700-765 AD] also said that a prayer leader could lean on a cane or a bow. Other scholars have written that Prophet Mohammad used a wooden stick during his sermons, but none ever mentioned him holding a weapon during a sermon.”

In one of his religious essays, the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Araki (1894-1994), a Shia Marja (source of emulation) wrote: “A Friday prayer leader can lean on a cane or a similar object during his sermons.”

There is, however, no consensus among senior clerics in Iran over the meaning and significance of Friday prayers leaders holding a cane, a sword or a rifle.

Abbasali Soleimani, the former Friday prayers leader of Zahedan, capital of the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, famously said: “A Friday prayer leader must hold a cane that signifies power!”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]