At about 5am this morning UK time I received a text from my dear friend Ali Khalkhali informing me that Sheikh Usama Al Attar had been involved in an incident in Medina outside the Baqi (Grave yard opposite Prophet Mohammed Mosque) At the time I thought S.Usama would be released immediately or within a couple of hours.
So it is to my surprise that I write this and news emerges that he has been charged with assault and awaiting a court hearing tomorrow morning. This is something unusual and takes me onto my own personal experience with the Saudi religious police and their twisted tactics.
It was 2005 and I was part of a group of young individuals who had travelled to Saudi for the Umraa it was my first time visiting Medina and Mecca as a Muslim you hear and are taught of all the stories that took place in these cities, when you actually arrive you remember the stories and remember the individuals that once walked and lived here.
Medina was special, Medina was unique it brought ease to ones soul and even as I walked I felt at peace however one aspect of Medina that exists until today is the oppression of Shia pilgrims. As a Shia Muslim living in UK I had always read and listened to the oppression that took place against the household of the Prophet of Muhammad (pbuh) but practically I had never experienced it myself nor did I understand what the oppression felt like until I my first visit to Medina.
Fajr prayers had just finished and it is recommended to visit the graveyard after the prayers and so the Baqi is opened and visitors are allowed to enter. As part of the visitation to the grave yard the Majority of Muslims declare that sending ones peace and greetings to the dead is recommended. The version of Islam practiced in Medina places strict rules on this matter, so much so that there exist Saudi Religious police, their job is to stand and lecture the pilgrims telling them that sending peace and greetings is forbidden and not a practice of the Prophet, these individuals are like robots they repeat what they are saying every now and again as if they have been instructed to do so. The atmosphere is busy and it is packed with pilgrims walking in and out of the grave yard.
As our group headed towards the graveyard we huddled together and began sending our peace and greetings to those buried as a Shia Muslim we have a book that contains recommended supplications to recite when sending our greetings to the buried. The individuals buried here are people of manners, of knowledge and understanding they brought light to this world and are descendants of the greatest of men according to Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Thus when we recited the supplications we bear testament to what they achieved and are to us a sign of respect that their message lives on and is both relevant and real today.
Relevant and Real.
That day I understood what these words meant our leader who was reciting the supplication had the book confiscated from him for the reason that according to their understanding this book went against Islamic teaches. If they had merely read the words of Dua Kumail or that of Abu Hamza I am sure their hearts would shake in emotion although no emotion lies in their hearts. As I mentioned the Saudi religious police are robots they are individuals who are nurtured and taught to spew out hatred and fear. Their own citizens are afraid a mere search of Google brings about a host of stories here is one I picked out.
In Saudi Arabia, the police of the Religion of Peace arbitrarily arrested a young man because he had long hair. After they tried the man and cut his hair, he suddenly and unexpectedly died. Of course he wasn’t tortured, rather he unfortunately fell in an attempt to flee.
So as our visitation of the graveyard continued we all felt uneasy and nervous for we were used to freedom of speech and this is no doubt one of the greatest feats of living in the west that we exercise the ability to practice our religion freely. As we were leaving the graveyard one of the youth recited a short supplication which when translated means “May Allah send his peace and blessings on Muhammad and his family”. You see the Saudi religious police had known through our supplication that we were Shia and paid special attention to us. This youth was then subject to an arrest by the police who then took him to their holding area below ground. Upon seeing this myself and the group could not contain our shock and anger and so created a barrier in front of the gates demanding the release of our peer.
Had he committed a crime? Had he stolen from another pilgrim? He had simply said the phrase above and so here is when the oppression of the family of Muhammad struck me hard. I began to think of their lives and how they must have felt the loneliness of Imam Ali, the abandonment of Muslim ibin Aqeel the messenger of Imam Hussain and the imprisonment of Imam Zain Al Abadeen to mention a few examples.
After some time the Saudi religious police lost patience with us and began to order us out the graveyard and so we walked outside but remained at the gates refusing to move until we at least heard what was happening to our peer. They refused to answer and began to forcefully push us, one of them held on to my arm and so in reaction I moved my arm away. Suddenly I found myself surround by 5 to 10 of the police dragging me away and so I was taken downstairs to the holding area.
The Saudi Religious Police ‘Game’
In the holding area was ordered to the corner and told to face the wall like a school kid I cannot explain the fear in my mind I didn’t know what they would do to me and stood there thinking that my only hope was that I was a foreign pilgrim from the UK. Moments later I was asked to turn around to the look of a angry policemen who gestured with his hands at a gun pointing to his head and said “we will teach you the meaning of manners”
Honestly that this moment I was riddled in fear but somehow managed to utter the words in Arabic “I am from a group from the UK and hold a British passport”. I had known that they treat western pilgrims differently to others in fear of the consequences. After this I was ordered to walk into another room where I was met by our group leader and the head of the Saudi religious police for the graveyard. It felt like cold water being poured that a bad nightmare had come to an end. The head of the police was gentle and kind his words were friendly and he even offered me tea I was so taken back that I could not find the words to speak to him in a proper manner. The contrast between good cop and bad cop was instant so much so that the head of the Saudi religious police asked about life in the UK and engaged in a light hearted discussion with my group leader.
Having being released I found out that my peer who was originally taken was also released and I realised that they wanted to instil some fear in me and then release me. The experience stuck with me that day and sticks with me today, hearing that Sheikh Usama was arrested goes to show that the oppression most certainly lives on I can imagine how he must be feeling perhaps even feeling lonely as he is held and god forbid even being abused. Sheikh Usama is a great individual who loves to helps others, his life and ethos is based on helping others and it is this that drives him to perfect his lectures and input year in year out.
Being accused of breaking the Saudi religious police arms is a new tactic and opens up further scenarios that they may use to prosecute Sheikh Usama, I am in contact with Ali Khalkhali from Medina and he tells me that he will be held for 24 hours before appearing in court tomorrow to be charged. An online campaign has kicked off and certain news outlets have already picked up this news. I have emailed the Canadian embassy here and left them a voicemail.
Sheikh Usama recently gave us call to a show that I present and produce for Ahlulbayt TV he discussed his feelings about Hajj and its benefits and so I pray for his well being and safety and ask all to do so for the oppression that exists 1400 years ago lived on in 2005 and remains real today.