Religious Freedom Conditions in Saudi Arabia: Restriction on Freedom of Worship - 21 / 6 / 2009 - 3:18 pm

There is not any significant progress within the two past years in religious freedom conditions for religious minorities in Saudi Arabia; including the Shiite sect. Official authorities are still enforcing strict religious teachings that are in accordance with the radical Salafi trend which views the followers of other Islamic sects; including the Shiites, as non true Muslims; therefore, sectarian discrimination and official restrictions continued in several religious aspects.

Many reports show that there are dozens of Shiites in Qatif and Alahssa who were arrested without any justification, and several Mosques, Husainias and religious schools were closed for sectarian reasons. Moreover, official authorities continued depriving Shiites from practicing their rituals freely, and from giving official licenses for building religious schools.

Closing Mosques:
Authorities require registering new Shiite mosques with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs since a decade ago when it started granting official licenses to enable them of building their private mosques. However, it obligated the supervisors of those mosques with a set of condition; some of which are obligating the Shiite muezzins (callers for performing prayers) to perform the call to prayers on the Sunni way and not allowing them to perform any other Shiite rituals other than the five prayers. 

Official authorities are still dealing with Sunni and Shiite citizens in double standards. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, for example, pays all the expenditures for Sunni mosques whether electricity and water bills, wages for muezzins and Imams or building costs. On the contrary, it only gives official licenses for building new Shiite mosques without any financial support.

In the same regard, security authorities in Alahssa closed several mosques lately; one of them was AlSebtain mosque in Almahdoud district through cutting off the electricity since the beginning of 2009. Furthermore, electricity was cut off from Almuntadhar mosque in Almubaraz city, Alahssa, in November 2007 and it remained off for several months until the intervention of the Human Rights Commission.

In June 2008, the local authorities, also, sealed three Shiite mosques in AlKhobar; one of them was established more than forty years ago because it was established without an official license, and detained the Imams of the mosques for some time. The supervisors of those mosques indicated that the mosques were opened in last November with a verbal order issued by Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince, but the authorities closed them again and warned from reopening them through arresting the Imams of mosques; Sheikh Yousif Almazeni, Sayyed Hashim Ali Alnasir Alsalman and Sayyed Mohammad Baqir Alnasir.

Moreover, Sheikh Tawfiq Alamer, a prominent Imam in Alahssa, was imprisoned for more than ten days in September 2008 for his repetitive speeches and calls upon the Saudi authorities to guarantee religious freedom for Shiite citizens.

Husainias (Community Halls):
Unlike the mosques, Saudi authorities are still refusing to grant official licenses for building new Husainias which are considered significant religious centers for the Shiites. They, also, refrained from legitimizing thousands of Husianias in Shiites regions; Qatif, Alahssa and Madinah, to be capable of interfering or closing them whenever they wanted as what constantly happens in Alahssa for more than five years.

Authorities impose oppressive conditions on Husainias in major cities of Alahssa like not allowing them of using the near streets and squares to Husainias for listeners of lectures, and forbidding them from installing any loudspeakers outside the Husainias. The authorities, also, banned from laying any audio cables to nearby houses that are used for female listeners to religious lectures.

In the beginning of 2009, a record showed an escalating number in Husainias closures without any previous warnings. Authorities had closed various Husainias like Albady, Alkhawajah, Alshawwaf, Albu-zaid and Alali in Hufuf as well as unlimited number of other religious halls in different cities and towns in Alahssa.

Furthermore, Saudi authorities arrested the supervisors of the closed halls and Husainias for different periods that ranged between one and three months because they performed Shiite religious rituals in unlicensed places.

Shiites Religious Schools:
Reports did not record any significant progress in the Saudi authorities dealing with dozens and unlicensed Shiite religious schools in Alahssa and Qatif at which several thousands of religion students study. Authorities still refusing to grant official licenses for building Shiite religious schools without any clear justifications.

As in unlicensed mosques and Husainias religious schools practice their activities according to the policy adopted by the authorities which mostly disregard them but sometimes enforce oppressive procedures in closing those schools whenever they want.

In February 2008, authorities closed Alfatimiah Hawza (Religious School) in Albataliah village, Alahssa, which is supervised by Sheikh Ali Alammar who was subjected to security investigation. This school used to offer religious lessons to more than 500 female students.

In June 2008, authorities, also, closed Umm Albaneen Hawza in Alrabi'eiah town, in Qatif, which used to offer religious lesson to more than 200 female students. This school was supervised by Sheikh Ghalib Alhammad, the Judge of the Shiite Court in Qatif, who was warned by the authorities to not open this school again or else he would be arrested.

Since many decades, authorities did not allocate any lands for Shiites to establish new cemeteries in both Alahssa and Qatif disregarding urban expansion, multiplication of the population and the constitution of new districts that are far from the old cemeteries. Moreover, Shiite citizens in Dammam are still waiting for an official license for establishing a cemetery for burying their deceased instead of burying them in Alahssa which is about 150km from their residence. Even with the involvement of Human Rights Commission, authorities is still ignoring their demands of allocating them a land as a cemetery without offering justification to their refusal.

Prohibition and Destruction of Religious Ceremonies:
Throughout the two last years, official security members ruined several religious ceremonies. Police officers sabotaged all types of decors and welcome gates that were established for distributing sweets in most of Alahssa villages for celebrating the anniversary of Imam Almahdi birthday (the twelfth Imam to Shiites). The same situation happens again in the ceremony of the anniversary of Imam AlHasan (the second Imam to Shiites) in the 15th of Ramadan. The same security intervention happened in Qatif, in September 2008.

Many Shiite citizens were detained at that time because they were accused of supervising on such celebrations in Shiite villages in Alahssa. They imprisoned them for different periods of time; for about a month at least in most cases.

The Sectarian Campaign of Arrests:
Arbitrary sectarian arrests to Shiite citizens in Alahssa continued for five years consecutively. Some sources showed that the detainees are about five hundreds in Alahssa alone and they were detained for a weak to three months. In most cases, reasons of arresting were holding home lectures, supervising on religious festivals or hanging
religious slogans or black flags on houses as  grief manifestation.

Most of arrests orders were issued by Alahssa governor, Prince Badr bin Jalawi who is known for adopting sectarianism among Alahssa people because of his campaigns of arrests against Shiite citizens for more than five years.

Accordingly, this paper recommends that the Saudi authorities should take immediate and practical measures to end sectarian discrimination as well as restrictions of religious freedoms to religious minorities as for Shiite citizens in Qatif, Alahssa, Madinah and Najran. This can be conducted through the following:

1. Promoting religious freedom through providing equal support to common religious activities between various trends and minorities.
2. Granting official legitimacy to all Shiite mosques and supporting them financially as other mosques in Saudi Arabia, as well as reopening the closed ones and resupplying them with electricity.
3. Granting official legitimacy to Husainias which are considered significant religious centers among Shiites, and facilitating the grants of licenses for different construction works.
4. Granting official legitimacy to the Shiite religious studies and providing support through establishing institutions and official recognition of certificates.
5. Desisting prosecution and detention of sponsors of religious and social activities.
6. Offering religious minorities the opportunity of practicing their private religious rituals in burying their deceased individuals, and allocating them new lands to be used as cemeteries.