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Death Threats Updated
Discrimination against Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia: The Old and New Reality
May, 23, 2002
Dr. Mohamed J. Al-Hassan (King Saud University)
Talking about discrimination against Shia in Saudi Arabia is a really sensitive issue, and not many want to discuss it publicly, because there is no clear governmental policy regarding this sensitive issue. Another way of saying it, Books that insult Shia are published by government agencies and distributed every where in the country. In addition, religious books that are been taught in universities insult Shia and using demeaning and derogatory words when decribing them, and calling them “Rafida” which means “rejectionists of religion”. It is equal to the word Nigger to the black people. Decrees that come out from government religious agencies insult Shia and promote hatred, violence and discrimination against them. These decrees are made available via prints and audio cassettes and promoted on the internet sites. Some of these decrees ask not to have Shia teachers in schools, on the basis of being “Shia” non Muslims. These decrees are not new, they were years ago, and still new decrees come out every now and then.
There are many decrees describing Shia sect of Islam as unlawful, and its followers as non Muslims and claim Shiasm to be a Jewish conspiracy against Islam. World Muslim Youth Association (WAMY) publishes anti-Shia books in several languages that claim Shiasm to be a Jewish conspiracy against Islam and distributed for free. Details are at this link (Book No. 22). WAMY is financed by the Saudi government. Other decrees describe Shia as infringement on Islam, and distorting the real truth of Islam and call them “mushriks” which means polytheists, and are “Dhaal” meaning deviants, and should not be allowed to promote their faith, and there can not be any type of harmony between Shia and other Muslims from other sects, as it cannot happen between “Sunni Muslims and Jews and Christians”. These decrees are many, and the government had done nothing to stop them, may be promoting them, since decrees are from government scholars and published by government agencies. One government scholar (Abdulqader Shaibat Alhamd) few months ago was on Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Radio saying about Shia “we should not eat their food, marry from them, or burry their dead in Muslims’ graveyards”, even though Islam says marrying from peoples of faith (Christianity and Judaism) is OK, and even eating from their food. The most sickening decree is made available by a government scholar named Abdulla Ibn Jabreen calling to fight Shia to stop them from showing their “ill faith” and call that as “Jihad.”
No wonder, this status queue continues all over the country, and what I have mentioned above is nothing new. However, new graduates from such colleges and universities are becoming the teachers of our kids, males and females. And over the years of “brain washing” those teachers were reared with hatred, and disgust to everyone different from them, and the calling of “atheist” to all Shia, it became a main stream for those teachers to preach their teaching and pass them to kids. It became obvious and normal that every Shia's Muslim suffer from this attitude, wherever he lives in the country, since those graduates are the only ones allowed to teach religious subjects in schools, as long as the government has no objection to sectarian discrimination.
One issue of discrimination, as example, the girls presidency does not allow establishing girls private schools in the Shia majority areas (Qateef, Saihat, Safwa) in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. In fact, not even having day care is allowed to be established by private sector, while it is allowed in all other areas without restriction. And even more, girls presidency never allows a Shia's to be a principal in any girls school even in the Shia majority areas. Details in Arabic are at this link. There are many examples regarding discrimination and hatred and insult against Shia. I remember in 1997, I went to a seminar about the internet in King Abduaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) and the lecturer was Dr. Bader Hmood Albader. The attendees were around 300, and he was explaining the benefits of the internet (before internet was introduced to Saudi Arabia) and said there were many bad sites in disguised as Muslims, like Shia sites. Even after my objection, and talking to the Chairman of KACST (Dr. Al Athel) regarding the issue and its impact on the unity of the country, nothing happened to Dr. Albader. Why? He insulted Shia, and that was not something deserves punishment!
For the reasons above, and more, Shias in different part of the country are hiding their faith fearing on their lives by those radicals. As a matter of fact, a Shia's student who’s from Madina came by my office and apologized to me. When I asked why? His answer was that he was walking with friends from Sunni sect and they insulted me. So, to show he was Sunni and go along with them, he insulted me with them, even though I have never known those students and did not teach them any course, just for being a Shia's. It did not stop there, but more than one occasion, I have seen writing on my office’s door insulting me and Shias as a whole. Two years ago, thousands of brochures were distributed all over King Saud University campus insulting Shia, and saying that their “Shia” danger on Islam is greater than Jews and Christians. This type of discrimination and hatred reached to the internet, and sites that promote sectarian hatred, discrimination and violence against Shia are on the rise and promoting destruction of sites via viruses and other means, without being blocked by KACST, the only gateway to the internet from Saudi Arabia, where it has firewall blocking all unlawful and pornography sites. However, Shia sites are being blocked so fast, even though they preach peace, unity and understanding between all Muslims. Some Shia sites were destroyed or hijacked by the same radical groups. Details are at this link.
We, adults, passed through tons of hatred propaganda, but our kids who are in schools should not, at least if we think right. Unfortunately, those radical teachers are subjecting our kids to all types of demeaning words against Shia and other non Muslims, without being “teachers” punished or even being warned. These are not individual incidents that happen on rare occasions, but it happens systematically in almost all schools and almost every kid (male or female) has a story.
In 1998, a female teacher who teaches religion subject in Dar Alsalam School (private school) described Shia as the ones that do not follow the right path of Islam in front of my kid in the fourth grade, and I talked to the teacher “her name is A’esha” and told her that it is not appropriate to talk to the kids with this type of information. Her answer was that is her believes, and will not change it. I sent a fax to the principal and talked to her regarding the promotion of sectarian hatred and the only thing happened to the teacher was “telling her not to talk about anything out of the book” and I was promised that such incidence will never happen again. That’s it. Punishment! No way!
In the year 2000 when my kid was in the sixth grade in the same school, same thing again, but with different teacher “Her name Fawziya”, and this time my kid stood to her and said “what you are saying is not true. I talked to the principal, sent fax, and asked for firing the teacher from school. Of course nothing happened even though, I was promised by the owner of the school, Princess Munira AlFaisal, that this issue will never happen again. Why? Firing a teacher for insulting Shias! No way! She might be promoted instead! Two years later, this year, 2002, same problem happened with teacher Nora Al-Qahtani.
This time I got sick, and could not tolerate what happened to my daughter. I asked my daughter not to attend her class as an objection to what she said. I sent a fax with harsh words to the school asking for an apology to my kid in front of her classmates or firing the teacher. I then faxed the details of this occurrence to the Girls Presidency Chairman, Dr. Khudr AlQurashi, a new in his office, asking for a stand to get things straight. I also sent a telegram to Prince Sulman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh regarding the same issue. I was surprised that Dr. AlQurashi called me back and we talked about the issue of discrimination, promotion of hatred in schools and his words were that he is really concerned about the issue and will do an investigation. It happened, and the teacher was asked to apologize to my daughter in front of the principal. Instead of apologizing, the teacher, Nora AlQahtani, insulted the Shias again with harsher words than before, and said apologizing to my daughter will make her “the teacher” atheist. She said that she can not consider the Shias as Muslims since government scholars said so. My daughter came back with tears, instead of being happy, as I thought the issue will be resolved.
I called the principal and Dr. Khudr AlQurashi’s office saying if the teacher is not fired, I will publish the whole issue on the internet. I was promised that the issue would be resolved soon, but, no way. Firing a teacher described Shias as non Muslims or atheists in front of school kids! This never meets the minimum requirements for punishments! Of course it is not the fault of the teacher, but what is behind the whole issue, no government decree against insulting, demeaning or calling Shias as atheist. Because of that the decrees that come out of government scholars that promote what the teacher had said. So, when a kid is subjected for twelve years of sectarian hatred, discrimination against whomever is different, and then subjected to extra four years of college books full with the same propaganda against others, the result will be clear, as I have seen it, my kid has seen it, and most Shias have seen it too.
It is more that a month since the above tragedy, but nothing has come out of it to give my daughter back her right, as being a Muslim citizen. The decision might not be in the hand of Dr. AlQurashi, even though I have great respect for him. I believe that Dr. AlQurashi is genuine and sincere regarding the issue, but without a clear government law regarding the issue, a man, even in a position of a minister, can not do anything. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many radicals consider Dr. AlQurashi as a liberal “not a good word”, and his views are not Islamic views or pro western views. It is easy to read all about those radical statements on the internet forums, as mentioned, most of them are not blocked. So, Dr. AlQurashi is already considered a liberal, and if he fires the teacher, he might be considered an atheist. Those radicals will view things differently, in a way, the teacher did not do much to be punished, but did less than it should have done. Radicals consider Shias are more dangerous to Islam that other non Muslims, and decrees of fighting and killing them already available.
Even if the teacher was fired “which is almost impossible”, what is going to happen to Dr. Albader? Or any one insult Shias? Is the government going to ban publishing all books that promote sectarian hatred or considering Shias as non Muslims? Does the government going to Fire any government scholar who insults Shias? Is there going to be a decree from the government office of Fatwa “religious decrees” considering Shias as Muslim citizens and none should say otherwise? Is there going to be government decree punishing anyone who insults other sects or group of citizens or try to promote any type of action that endanger the unity of the country?
After all what I have mentioned, can any one say that Saudi citizens have similar obligations and rights? Obligations! Might be true, but rights! It is almost a joke.
Dr. Mohamed J. Al-Hassan
King Saud University