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Muharram Rituals Organizers Threatened By Bahraini Authorities

Muharram Rituals Organizers Threatened By Bahraini Authorities
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By Press TV

In 680 AD, on Ashura- the tenth day of the holy month of Muharram- Imam Husain Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad [PBUT] and the third Imam of Shia Muslims, was martyred in the desert of Karbala, located in contemporary Iraq.

Since then, Shia Muslims commemorate his martyrdom every year.

This year, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, governments and health authorities everywhere are cautioning people to commemorate the event with strict health guidelines in mind.

In Bahrain, however, Shia Muslims have not been cautioned but banned from holding Muharram mourning rituals, ostensibly, to battle the pandemic but critics say the truth is far beneath the surface.

Restrictive measures increased in Bahrain in the run-up to Muharram this year, some of them, under the pretext of preventing COVID-19 from spreading.

The major organizers of mourning rituals in Bahrain have reportedly been summoned and threatened by the authorities.

Some religious centers have been warned that should they host Muharram rituals they would be fined and shut down for three years.

The security apparatus has also had some local media outlets publish articles against organizing mourning ceremonies.

Bahrain's most prominent Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, has condemned Manama's decision to ban mourning ceremonies in Muharram, deploring the double standard that the ban has been introduced while business centers, markets, pools and sports clubs have reopened in Bahrain.

The discrepancy between policies shows how Manama is using the pandemic as an excuse to target Shia rituals during Muharram.

The Al Khalifa regime is accused of systematically discriminating against the country’s Shiite community, which accounts for the majority of Bahrain’s population.

Discriminatory practices affect Shia Muslims across a vast array of issues, including employment, freedom of expression, and political rights.

The Shia community faces exclusion from the military and security apparatuses, the arbitrary revocation of Bahraini citizenship, and the denial of medical care for prisoners.

The Bahraini monarchy has historically used alleged ties between Shia opposition groups and Iran to justify the systematic denial of political rights.

As demonstrated by the “Bandargate” scandal [the public revelation of a report on the regime’s plan to marginalize the Shiite community], the Al Khalifa have also pursued a policy of ‘Sunnization’ of the Bahraini population.

In a nutshell, Shia identity has proved to be the prime target of the Al Khalifa regime.

While holding Shia festivals and rituals is technically permitted in Bahrain, police forces have consistently harassed Shia Muslims during these events.

Last year, during the month of Muharram, “at least 20 religious leaders were summoned regarding the content of their sermons and prayers, and it restricted Ashura ritual processions.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has recently contributed to new limitations on religious freedom.

On 26 August 2020, a few days before Ashura, the Jaffaria Endowment Directorate imposed restrictions specifically aimed at targeting Shia worshipers and their congregation halls, the matams.

ACLED-Religion data shed light on the long-term consequences of these restrictions and the repression of Shia religious practices.

Between January and March 2021, ACLED-Religion records six judicial harassment events targeting various Shia practices including Ashura-related celebrations, the call to prayer [adhan], and other unspecified rituals.

Another major anti-Shia trend is the repression of Shia religious practices and beliefs in prisons.

Targeting Shia clerics in prison reflects the systematic “sectarian discrimination” that Shia prisoners experience in Bahrain, a trend exemplified by the attack on Sheikh Zuhair Ashour in Jau Prison on 14 March and by the medical mistreatment of Sayed Kamel Hashemi on 30 March.

In August 2020, around 500 political prisoners in Buildings 13 and 14 of Jau Prison went on a hunger strike to protest the Bahraini regime's ban on religious rituals, in particular, the Ashura rituals.

Every year, discrimination against Shia Muslims in Bahrain increases during Muharram. However, the discrimination and suppression of religious events have taken on a new form over the past two years, because the authorities can use the pandemic as an excuse for their actions.

Some even say that Manama will intentionally increase PCR testing - as it did last year- so that the number of cases would be higher after Muharram, in order to use the ceremonies as a scapegoat.