Thursday, March 03, 2005
Religious Freedom in East Arabia - or - The Saudis are Jerks
"Saud Shiites, Long Kept Down, Look to Iraq and Assert Rights," by Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/02/international/middleeast/02shiites.html, 2 March 2005 (from Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog).
A post about religious persecution in Wahabi-occupied East Arabia and the "pagan" nature of Shia Islam.
The images are from various websites, dealing mainly with the three generations of martyrs: Ali, Hussein, and Hussein's infant son.
The Shiite Muslim minority in this kingdom once marked their Ashura holy day furtively in darkened, illegal community centers out of fear of stirring the powerful wrath of the religious establishment.
But this year Ashura fell on the eve of the 10-day campaign for municipal council elections, to be held here on Thursday, and a bolder mood was readily apparent. Thousands thronged sprawling, sandy lots for hours to watch warriors on horseback re-enact the battlefield decapitation of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, in 680.
A few young men even dared perform a gory, controversial ritual no one can remember seeing here in public - beating their scalps with swords until they drew blood to mirror Hussein's suffering.
"Maybe now, after all that has happened in Iraq, we will take something political from the story of Hussein," Mr. Ibrahim added, echoing a common sentiment. "Now the issue will take another route, because Shiites have started the growth of their political culture."
Saudi Arabia's religious establishment, which is dominated by the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, still damns such rites as pagan orgies. But the fact that Shiites, at least in this city, their main center, no longer feel the need to hide reflects a combination of important changes here and elsewhere in the Middle East.
But the little that has changed outside Qatif raises questions in the community about the government's commitment to tolerance. Ashura celebrations are banned in Dammam, a neighboring city of some 600,000, including 150,000 Shiites.
There is only one officially sanctioned Shiite mosque there, and no functioning Shiite cemetery. The distinctive Shiite call to prayer is banned, and even the small clay pucks that Shiites are supposed to rest their foreheads on during prayer are outlawed.
Saudi textbooks contain passages that describe Shiite beliefs as outside Islam - the original split emerging because Shiites supported the claim of Muhammad's heirs to control the faith. Wahhabis believe that Shiite veneration of the Prophet's family, including worshipping at tombs in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf, incorporates all manner of sins, including polytheism.
Such practices prompt some to revile Shiites as a lower order of infidel than even Christians or Jews.
Now, some might note the suspiciously Catholic nature of the iconography, passion plays, and holy family-veneration. Some might observe there is no strong evidence of these celebrations before the 16th century. Others might opine that the early 16th century saw a large influx of Spanish Jews into the Muslims lands, and that many of these had been employed in traveling passion play companies. But heh, if fellow "Christians" can call Catholic-rites pagan, I'll give the House of Saud a pass.
Wahabist Arabia is not our friend. It is a retrograde nightmare whose people attack us and whose "virtue police" attack their fellow subjects. The least we can do after liberating the Iraqi Shia is to encourage the self-liberation of the Shia of East Arabia.