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  • Date :
  • 2/28/2009

Stop the anti-Shiia prejudice, cleric tells Saudi king



A Shia cleric has appealed to the Saudi king to bring a halt to "insults" by the kingdom’s Sunni religious police against the Shias.


The clashes between Shiia pilgrims and Saudi police began on Friday evening after the kingdom’s religious police filmed female Shiia pilgrims outside the al-Baqi Cemetery in Medina, which contains the graves of revered Shiia Imams.

When five male relatives of the women demanded the police turn over the tapes, there was a scuffle and the men were arrested, according to a witness who requested anonymity.

The same witness said that 3,000-4,000 pilgrims gathered outside the cemetery, demanding their release. But riot police used batons to disperse the crowd. Sunni onlookers also joined the fray, attacking Shiia pilgrims.

Shias, who are a minority of Saudi Arabia’s 22 million people, are considered infidels under the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and experience discrimination at the hands of the religious police. Shias regularly complain they have been banned from working as officers of the religious police, teaching classes on religion, and a number of other jobs. Outspoken Shia critics have even been jailed.

The clashes spurred Shiia cleric Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar to appeal to the king to put an immediate stop to the anti-Shiia insults and discrimination of the religious police. He said the treatment of Shias at the cemetery violates "Islamic morals and human rights" and the tolerance called for by an interfaith conference the king attended a few months ago.

He went on to say that Shiia "visitors are generally harshly treated... and holy books are confiscated," which makes pilgrimages and religious visits "subject to sectarian tensions."

Meanwhile, Medina police say the five were arrested and charged with causing a disturbance at the cemetery gate after being told visitation hours were over. In Saudi Arabia, all women are banned from visiting cemeteries and special viewing areas are created for them.

On Tuesday, another nine were taken into custody after police again attacked the pilgrims who were visiting the cemetery to mark the anniversary of the death of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him and his family).

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