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Religious curbs in Saudi Arabia – Report
By: Special Reporter
[Dear Admin Jafariyanews
During the last few days you published a news regarding Ismailis in Saudi Arabia through which the world came to know at least this that Ismailis are sufferings imprisonments and jail there. I’m living in a western country after emigrating from Saudi Arabia. My parents and kith & kin were put to pain in the kingdom and I don’t have their exact whereabouts. Saudi Arabia is “hell” for us. I’m sending you a report prepared and maintained by http://www.saudiinstitute.org. Please putting it on your esteemed publication tell the world how worse the situation is in Saudi Arabia. Atrocities are higher than written in the report
Religious curbs in Saudi Arabia
Report until 30 January, 2001
I. Minorities, an Overview:
Official Hanbali Sect
II. Government Control of Religious Institutions:
III. Government Control of Education and Culture:
IV. Discriminatory Laws and Legal Practices:
Saudi Arabia this year witnessed many acts of religious intolerance by the government and several religious figures. The most prominent event was the attack on the main Ismaili mosque in the southern city of Najran, the closure of several Shia mosques and community halls (husayniahs), the arrest of several Shia clerics, and the proliferation of hateful religious web sites that promote sectarian hatred. This report discusses the situation of Sunni and Shia religious minorities in Saudi Arabia and the limitations placed by the government on the free expression and exercise of their beliefs.
I. Minorities, an Overview:
Saudi Arabia has several religious minorities. The Hanbali sect, the official sect endorsed by the state, is dominant only in the Central region. The Shafey, Maliki and Hanafi sects dominate in the Western region of the country. The Shia Jafaris dominate the Eastern region with some Shafeis and Hanbalis. The Southern region has a mix of Shia Ismailis, Shia Zaidis and some Hanbalis.
Official Hanbali Sect:
The Shafey Sect:
Shafey religious institutions have been slowly wiped out by the Najdi-dominated Hanbali sect. In the past, renowned Shafey clerics such as Zaini Dahlan attracted followers from around the Muslim world (2). Nowadays Hanbali zealots refer to Shafeis as Sufis. Sufism is banned in the country. Their numbers, especially in the Eastern province, have been diminished over the past years. Shafeis are not allowed to lead prayers in Makkah and Madina as they historically were. One of the Shafey prominent figures is the former information minister Dr. Mohamed Abdu Yamani.
The Maliki Sect:
When AlMaliki attempted to teach at the Grand Mosque in Makkah like his father and grandfather, the Council of Senior Ulma barred him (5). He doesn't have a mosque to pray and has to publish his books abroad, mainly in Egypt. Malikis are not allowed to lead prayers or give sermons in the Grand Mosque or the Prophet's Mosque in Madina as they historically were. One of the Maliki prominent figures is the former oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani.
The Hanafi Sect:
Many Shia from Madina Asir and Najran live in Jeddah and other cities and don't declare their faith. This environment led to some conversions to the Sunni sect. There were also many reports of Sunnis converting to Shiasm secretly (7). A member of the royal family has secretly adopted Shiasm recently (8).
II. Government Control of Religious Institutions
Shia Ismailis, Jafaris, and Zaidis are not allowed to build mosques. Most of their existing mosques date back to the Turkish rule and are privately constructed. There are no Zaidi mosques. There are also no exclusively Shafey or Maliki mosques.
The government appoints the Imams in all Sunni mosques and controls most of their activities. It's believed that all sermons (kutbah) in Sunni mosques come from the ministry of Islamic affairs. The sermons in the two holy mosques (AlHaramain ASharefain) in Makkah and Madina also must be pre-approved by the Ministry of Islamic affairs (10).
Shaikh Saud AlShuraim, one of the Grand Mosque speakers, was suspended from delivering sermons after he criticized efforts to broaden tourism in the country. Also, Imams in Sunni mosques are obliged to pray for the king (11). This year a ban was enforced on Qonoot, lifting the hands during prayers, after many Imams were praying for Chechen victory against Russia.
Shia Jafaris in Madina, a substantial minority in the city, have no mosques. The government destroyed their mosque and husayniah (community center) decades ago. They maintain underground mosque(s)in the forest outside the city or pray in the basements of private homes (12).
Imam AlHussain mosque in AlBattalia in the Eastern Province was shut down in April. It's believed the mosque was built using a home permit. Most Shia mosques built since the foundation of Saudi Arabia were built as homes but slowly converted to mosques (13).
Shia Ismaili mosques are closed by police on Eid day whenever the Ismaili Eid differs from the government Eid. Ismailis use different methods than the official religious institution to determine Eid.
This year, seven husayniahs were closed in AlAhsa region during Muhharam commemorations. They include AlQaim and AlMojtaba in AlMubaraz, AlRassol Al-Adam in AlBatalia, AlMortada and Azzahhra in AlGarn, and AlAskari in AlAndalus (14). There were also several closures of home-based sermons in AlAhsa and AlJesh, and several homeowners were jailed for several months for holding these sermons at their homes. One example is Naser AlMorey from AlAhsa.
Wedding Halls and the Qudayh Tragedy
The increasing population and dwindling number of husayniahs made large tents the only option available for wedding parties. This resulted in the largest tragedy in Saudi Arabia in the past several years, the tragedy of Qudayh.
On 28 July 1999, fire engulfed a wedding tent killing 76 women and children and injuring dozens at Qudayh city in Qateef region (15). Prince Mohamed Bin Fahd, the governor of the province who lives 20 minutes away did not visit the site of the tragedy or the families of the victims, as common around the world. In contrast, Prince Naïf visited the survivors and the site of an accidental explosion near Jeddah that killed four children on 29 July 2000(16). On the other hand, Crown Prince Abdullah sent a message of condolences to the families of the Qudayh victims. It was reported that he donated a plot of land to build the first wedding hall in Qateef.
In 1925, government forces demolished the Baqee cemetery in Madina, which holds the graves of many historical Islamic figures and is holy to Shafey, Maliki and Shia sects. Late King Hussain visited the Baqee cemetery during his last trip to the city. Also, several Islamic sites were destroyed including the houses of Prophet Mohamed in Madina. In Makkah the shrine of the Prophet's first wife was also demolished.
Several columns in the Grand Mosque dating back to the 7th century were also removed. The government demolished the shrine of Prophet Elisha in AlAwjam west of Qateef decades ago.
Shaikah Mohamed AlKhayat, an Ismaili cleric was arrested while teaching in AlMansorah mosque in Najran 23 April 2000, and accused of sorcery. His arrest triggered clashes between the Ismaili community and security forces that left at least six dead and 600 jailed. A report suggested that Shaikh AlKhayat was forced into confessing on tape to sorcery after his arrest (17).
Shaikh Hassan AlKhawildi, 40, a well-known Shia cleric from Safwa, was suspended in May after mentioning in his sermon the reprimand of some Shia women teachers who wore black to school on Ashura day. Traditionally, Shia women wear black during the months of Muhharam and Safar.
Other clerics who remain on suspension are Shaikh Ayed AlQarni, a Hanbali cleric from Riyadh who has been barred for several years. Shaikh Ali AbdulKarim AlAwwa, a Shia cleric from Awamia has been barred from any religious activities for more than 10 years. Also Shaikh Jafar AlMobarak from Safwa was banned from leading prayers or teaching religion to children and became a fisherman three years ago after his release from prison (18).
On 9 July 2000, Shaikh Safar AlHawali and Naser AlOmar, both Hanbalis, were allowed to start teaching purely religious texts again. Both were released from prison last year after five years of imprisonment for their political opinions. Naser AlOmar is the author of the anti-Shia memo (Waqe AlRafidah fe Belad Attawheed), the Rejectionists in the Land of Unitarianism. The memo was written in 1992 to the Council of Senior Ulma calling on the government to destroy all Shia husayniahs, arrest Shia clerics, and fire all Shia government employees (19).
III. Government Control of Education and Culture
Ahmed Al-Zahrani, a Sunni teacher at Yarmook boy elementary school in Safwa told Shia 5th and 6th graders that they worship stones instead of God. Parents called the principal but the teacher was not admonished. In April 2000, the department of education in the Shia-dominated Eastern Province nominated 47 guidance counselors, none where Shia.
King Endowment and Prizes:
King Fahd donates money to Hanbali religious institutions and mosques only. The king donated several million dollars this year to several religious projects and institutions inside and outside the country, like a religious university in Pakistan. There is no evidence of the king giving money to Shafey, Maliki or Shia religious institutions or projects ever. (22)
The most prestigious prize in the country is the King Faisal Prize, which is awarded annually in several categories like service to Islam, medicine and literature. It has been awarded since 1979 to over 110 people from 31 countries, including the United States. There were no Shia winners ever in any category (23). There was only one Shia nominee, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the famed Islamic philosopher and professor at George Washington University in USA. He was notified of winning the prize in 1979 but later the prize was withdrawn with no explanation.
Prince Mohamed Bin Fahd, the governor of the Eastern Province awarded Dr. Manea Al-Jehani his first prize for charitable work. Dr. Al-Jehani is the head of World Muslim Youth Association (WAMY) and a member of the consultative council. WAMY publishes anti-Shia books that claim Shiasm to be a Jewish conspiracy against Islam. These books are published in several languages and distributed for free. (24) WAMY is financed by government funds and maintains an office in Washington.
Many Shia citizens were forced to change their names, especially in the past few years. Names used exclusively by Shia, such as AbduliNabi, AbdulRassol, AbdulHussain, are all banned. Saudi Media also don't use these names such as the name of famous Kuwaiti comedian AbdulHussain AbdulReda, whose name is changed to Hussain Redah.
In 1992 a new directive was issued restricting more names. This directive banned names derived from the Koran such as Iman and Sura and are commonly used by Shafey, Maliki, and Shia citizens (25).
Descendents of the Prophet Mohamed (SAW) commonly referred to as Sada or Ashraaf are banned from using their titles in identification cards or official documents. All neighboring countries allow them usage of these titles.
Libraries of Saudi universities do not contain Shia books or books by Maliki clerics, like Sheikh Mohamed Alawi AlMaliki. He publishes his books secretly in the country or in Egypt or Lebanon, and distributes them himself because bookstores cannot legally sell them.
In contrast, anti-Shia books are available in the country and are sold legally and freely. Some are even printed by government institutions and distributed for free. All Saudi libraries stock anti-Shia books. Shaikh Hassan AlSaffar, a leading Shia cleric, was able to publish only one book. He also maintains a web site (26).
Shia holidays like Ashura and others commemorating the death of Prophet Mohamed (SAW), his daughter Fatima (SA) and her husband Ali (AS) are all officially banned. Skipping work or school to attend religious activities can lead to discipline or termination. Shia teachers are not allowed to take the day off work during Shia religious holidays. In Safwa, several teachers at the Fourth Middle School for girls (AlMatwasta AlRabiah) were reprimanded by the principal for wearing black and sent home to change (29) Also several boys were beaten by a teacher in Deraar Elementary School in Safwa, and were sent home to change. (30)
Ismailis are prevented from attending Eid prayers when their Eid day differs from the state-declared days. Police cars in Najran prevent the opining of any Ismaili mosques if the official Eid day was before or after the official Eid day. Shia Ismailis and Jafaris independently decide their own Eid days. Ismailis use astronomical calculations to determine their Eid day, while the official religious institution use moon sighting to decide the Eid.
Also banned is the traditional festivity known as (Grayqaan) and celebrated by both Shia and Sunnis in all Gulf countries. During the festival children knock on doors and collect treats while singing traditional songs and wearing traditional clothes.
They also propagate accusations that Shiasm is a Jewish conspiracy.
Following a fatwa by the Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz AlShaikh permitting hacking "suspicious" web sites, a flurry of hackers attacked and disabled many Shia sites. (31) This has been referred to as "Cyber Jihad."
IV. Discriminatory Laws and Legal Practices
Shaikh Jafar AlMobarak who was released in 1997 abandoned his religious role and became a fisherman due to repeated imprisonment. Discrimination against Shia was also obvious in prison. A former Shia prisoner said, "Sunni political prisoners were treated like guests and were not tortured, unlike Shia" (32).
On April 23, 2000, Najran witnessed the most violent attack on a religious minority this year. According to several Ismaili witnesses and news reports the incident started with an attack by the religious and secret police (Mabahith) supported by the religious police (Hay'a) on AlMansoorah mosque, the main Ismaili mosque in the city.
The attack was made to arrest Shaikh Mohamed AlKhayat, an Ismaili cleric from Yemen who was teaching some Ismaili citizens at the mosque. An exchange of fire occurred in front of the Holiday Inn after the local governor, Prince Mishael Bin Saud, refused to meet with the protesters who were demanding the release of Shaikh AlKhayat(36).
Four Ismaili citizens and two soldiers died in the clashes that lasted 30 hours. An army unit was deployed 10 hours after the incident and withdrew five days later. A teenage boy, Ibn Shqaih, and a deaf man, Ibn Natash were identified among the victims. Over 600 Ismailis were arrested following the clashes and 500 remain in jail (37).
In another incident, the body of Shia prayer caller Ali AlMalblab, 70, was returned to his family and buried one year after his death. AlMalblab was killed by religious police inside their headquarters November 1998 in AlJaffer (Eastern Province). His family wrote to Prince Naïf and Crown Prince Abdullah and got no response or compensation. The killers of AlMalblab were transferred to AlOyoon headquarters as punishment for the killing.
Interview with a Shafey doctor (2000), May.