The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have been imposing their own ideology on the population of Yemen by taking over mosques and appointing orators, Yemeni imams and an activist told Al-Mashareq.
With these moves, the Houthis are seeking to steer Yemenis towards accepting the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, they said.
Acceptance of this doctrine serves Iran's expansionist interests, they added.
The Houthis torched a mosque in Dhamar province on October 19th after the residents of the village of Bani Falah in Jahran district objected to the militia's forceful appointment of a mosque orator.
According to local media reports, the militia placed explosives throughout the mosque and detonated them, destroying all the building's contents, including Qur'ans, equipment and furniture.
This sparked official and public outrage, with the Yemeni Ministry of Endowments condemning the incident in an October 22nd statement.
"This is a criminal act that aims to bring residents to their knees and force them to accept Houthi orators who incite and fuel racism and disseminate Iran’s sectarian ideas that are alien to Yemenis," the statement said.
Replacement of imams, orators
The Houthis have uprooted orators and imams from some mosques in order to install those who subscribe to the militia's own ideology, which upholds the Wilayat al-Faqih doctrine, lawyer and activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.
Their goal is to control what is taught and preached in mosques, he said, and to make it difficult for people to find orators and imams outside this tradition.
"The high illiteracy rate leaves many [Yemenis] unable to find a source for religious teaching other than the Friday sermon or lectures held in mosques, which helps the Houthis achieve their objectives," he said.
"The process of propagating their ideas starts with the replacement of imams and preachers in mosques with those who subscribe to their ideology and methodology," Barman said.
These ideas are then repeated in mosques "week after week", he said.
Some people, especially those with limited access to education, "soak up those ideas as being part of the teachings of sharia, because the source is an imam or a Friday sermon orator", he said.
Meanwhile, "many people refrain from going to mosques even on Friday because they are unconvinced of what the Houthi orators are saying", he said.
Prescribed sermon topics
Sheikh Abdo Ali, imam and orator of a mosque in Ibb province, told Al-Mashareq the Houthis forced him to attend courses promoting their own ideology in order for him to be able to continue to serve in that position.
The Qur'anic interpretations promoted during the courses differed from those used by the majority of Sunni scholars, he said.
The militia then furnished him "with a list of topics that I had to talk about in sermons and guidance lectures between prayers at the mosque", he added.
But even though the mosque accepted the directive, he said, "I was stunned last year by their appointment of an orator to the mosque, while keeping me as its imam".
"Nonetheless, I agreed in order to retain the residence in the mosque that is reserved for the mosque’s imam and in which we have spent more than 10 years," he added.
"About a month later, I was surprised when a Houthi force came to evict my wife and children from the mosque’s residence, saying it had to be vacated for the mosque’s new orator," Ali said.
Mandatory courses for orators
Mohammad Ali, a former imam and orator at a mosque in Sanaa, told Al-Mashareq he had worked to balance the directives he had received on disseminating the Houthis' ideology and the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih.
Ali underwent three compulsory educational courses that promoted Wilayat al-Faqih and glorified Khamenei.
"I used to talk about them in my Friday sermon, but in my own way and not exactly as they wanted, and that is why I was dismissed from the mosque to which I was appointed as orator 20 years ago," he said.
The Houthis disseminate the Friday sermons via a mobile app "and force orators to read them verbatim, and I did not comply with that", Ali said.
"The Houthis used to send observers and supervisors to assess the extent of orators' compliance with the instructions," he said. "Yet they still replaced them, even those who complied, because they only trust religious guidance counselors and orators who belong to the group and the [Houthi] dynasty."