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Eid prayer

Ray Toh / Doha News

Standing in prayer

The ongoing blockade of Qatar by its neighbors has sparked an ugly war of words online and in the media. Among the worst consequences has been a recent increase in sectarian rhetoric in the region, argues Mohammed Al-Jufairi in this opinion piece.

Until recently, the Arabian Gulf was considered an area of relative stability and peace in the world.

However, the recent blockade of Qatar is now threatening the region’s social fabric, pitting families against families, and sect against sect.

This was brought home to me last week after the death of the legendary Kuwaiti King of Comedy Abdulhussain Abdulretha.

KUNA / Twitter

Abdulhussain Abdulredha

Abdulretha was hugely popular in Qatar.

A larger-than-life figure, he spent his life entertaining the masses while promoting religious unity and love.

Despite his hopes for unity, however, there are many in the region who have sought to use his death to reignite sectarian divisions.

That’s because he was a Shia Muslim.

Since he died, there has been a huge increase in anti-Shia rhetoric on social-media.

I believe that much of it has been effectively “sponsored” by the countries currently carrying out the blockade of Qatar – Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

Online backlash

Following his death, for example, the infamous Saudi cleric Dr. Ali Al Rabieei sent out a tweet that people should stop praying to God for Abdulretha because he was “an Iranian Shia, and died in darkness and in vain.”

He deleted the tweet following an online backlash, but many agreed with him, too.

Tim D/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Additionally, prominent Saudi newspaper Riyadh published several articles of “condolences” for the late actor.

But it deleted the prefix Abdul from the comedian’s name, instead calling him Hussein.

Abdul means “servant of,” so the name literally translates into “servant of Hussein.”

Saudi newspapers opted not to recognize that Hussein, a Muslim who Shias extol, could have such ardent followers.

This action is of course an insult to the late singer’s vision for religious unity.

But sadly, this sort of thing is not a new or strange coming from the Saudi government.

Discrimination against Shias

The backlash against the memory of a man known simply for making people laugh may seem baffling to outsiders.

But for those of us who’ve grown up in this region, it is unfortunately not surprising.

Shias are a minority religious population in Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and the majority Muslim population in Bahrain (although Bahrain’s rulers are Sunni).

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And while Shias are not widely discriminated against in Qatar and the UAE, the same cannot be said about Saudi and Bahrain.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a recent rise in the persecution of Shias in the country is likely to only continue under the new Saudi leadership.

HRW condemned the Saudi regime for sentencing 14 young Shia men to death for protest-related crimes following what they deemed to be unfair trials.

These trials came just after Saudi forces had demolished the Shia-majority Saudi town of Awamiya.

Its citizens were forced to flee, and shops were either closed or burned.

Nashira Usef

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Meanwhile, Shiaa-majority Bahrain is now all-too familiar with sectarian violence.

In its recent Religious Freedoms report, the US State Department issued a stern condemnation of the (majority Sunni) Bahraini government.

It accused them of “questioning, detaining, and arresting Shia clerics, community members and opposition politicians.”

The Bahraini regime has repeatedly been accused of killing peaceful Shia protesters, raiding homes of clerics, and rescinding citizenship of Shia figures, including prominent Bahraini Cleric Sheikh Issa Qassim.

Acknowledging other faiths

And yet while Saudi Arabia and its allies continue to promote sectarianism, Qatar has chosen another path.

Qatar already houses the Middle East’s largest complex of churches, allowing the country’s hundreds of thousands of Christians to worship openly.

Navin Sam / Doha News

Qatar’s Catholic church, Our Lady of the Rosary

And recently, the US State Department noted Qatar’s apparent openness to build new places of worship for Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists.

In the same report, the US criticized Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for failing to protect religious freedoms.

In particular, it pointed to Saudi’s refusal to allow non-Muslims to practice their faiths in the country, leaving them open to possible persecution and deportation for their beliefs.

Divisive clerics

Even in the UAE, home to churches and temples belonging to a number of faiths, there are signs of sectarianism.

A recent resurfacing of a video of the Jordanian-born UAE naturalized cleric, Wasim Yousef, showed him expressing anti-Shia views.

Chantelle D'mello

Ramadan qiyaam at QFIS

In it, he called Muslims of the Shia community non-believers because “they worship a being in addition to Allah,” which is untrue.

Since the video was made, Yousef has been promoted to Imam of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the UAE’s largest Muslim place of worship.

Yousef has also recently used profanity and curses on UAE National Television and social media to take aim against Qatar’s rulers following the blockade.

For example, in this tweet he has a picture of Qatar’s Emir, Father Emir, and Hamad bin Jassim and tweets “May God kill you” and publicly advocates for a regime change in Qatar in his religious programs and sermons.

Call for tolerance

I believe that all of the countries currently blockading Qatar should follow its example.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Like Qatar, they should immediately put an end to all forms of religious prosecution, preference, and threats.

Instead, they should focus on unity, spread objectivity, and promote one strong, unified and safe GCC.

Which, incidentally, is very much the message Abdulhussain Abdulreza spent his life promoting.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.

Zakir Naik

Islamic Research Foundation

Zakir Naik

One of the world’s most influential Muslims Dr. Zakir Naik will return to Qatar this week to give a lecture titled, “Does God exist?”

Naik, a popular Islamic scholar who has memorized the Qur’an, as well as parts of the Bible and Hindu scriptures, is known for his ability to easily recall religious knowledge and juxtapose it with pop culture references.

His lecture, titled as “Does God Exist?” will be held on May 26 at the Katara Cultural Village amphitheater at 8pm and is open to all.

The scholar has previously visited Qatar many times, including in 2010 and 2011.

Biography

Naik, who has over 13 million Facebook fans, hails from Mumbai, India, and began practicing da’wah, or the “preaching of Islam,” in 1991.

The 51-year-old obtained his bachelor’s in Medicine and Surgery and has since utilized his medical background to stress the compatibility of the Quran and modern science, authoring a book on the subject.

Since 2011, Naik has consistently been ranked among the “500 Most Influential Muslims in the World” in an annual report produced by the Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, in conjunction with Georgetown University.

He is also the founder of the Islamic Research Foundation and Peace TV, which reportedly has an English-speaking audience of 100 million people.

Last year, he was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in the Service to Islam category, one of only a few non-Arabs to win the honor.

Controversy

Qatar has been criticized in the past for inviting controversial Islamic scholars to speak in the country, especially those who advocate violence against non-Muslims.

Naik’s views are not so extreme, but his remarks have sometimes put him at odds with others, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

For example, he has previously said the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York were an “inside job,” and suggested that revealing clothes worn by Western women make them more susceptible to rape.

In 2010, he was barred from entering the UK for allegedly supporting terrorism. A week later, he was also barred from entering Canada.

Since then, Naik has given several lectures on misunderstandings about Islam in the media.

Thoughts?

Holding up one finger to signify one God.

Qatar Guest Center/Facebook

Holding up one finger to signify one God.

Some 615 expats in Qatar became Muslim during the fasting month of Ramadan, QNA reports, citing figures released by the Qatar Guest Center and Sheikh Eid Charity Association.

Of the new converts, some 417 are men and 144 are women, and the vast majority (517 people) hail from the Philippines. There were also 32 Sri Lankans, 26 Indians, 15 Nepalis and 25 people from the United Kingdom.

Qatar regularly announces conversions to Islam, which can number in the thousands annually.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Alan Pix/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The numerous conversions have to do in part with easy access to information about the state religion.

But many expats who move to Muslim countries may also be motivated to convert because of the social and economic benefits, according to some groups.

In 2009, a Nepali trade union called on its government to investigate conversions of nationals who traveled to the Gulf and Malaysia, fearing migrants were being pressured into accepting a new faith.

However, speaking to several expats in the Gulf, Asia News reported many as saying they willingly converted to improve their overall situations. The publication quoted Manoj Karki, who left Kathmandu to work on an oil rig in Qatar, as saying:

“I was hardly managing to save money from my salary, but since I have changed my religion to Islam, I am now more safe, comfortable, and with easy access to jobs.” His wife, who works as a maid in Doha, followed her husband’s example: “My husband converted to Islam and he advised me to do the same, so I did.”

Outside Islam

Converting to faiths other than Islam can be a tricky endeavor in Qatar.

According to a 2013 US State Department report on religion in Qatar, it is illegal for non-Muslims to proselytize here, and anyone caught doing so can face up to 10 years in jail.

Christmas 2014 at Qatar's church complex

Navin Sam / Doha News

Christmas 2014 at Qatar’s church complex

The report added, however, that the government typically deports suspected proselytizers instead of initiating legal proceedings.

The law also stipulates two years imprisonment and a fine of up to QR10,000 ($2,746) for anyone possessing written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity.

Additionally, converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is a capital offense, but the report said that since the country gained independence in 1971, there have been no recorded punishments for this.

Thoughts?