Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sheikh Mohammed Al Arefe: For the Sake of the Syrian People…Or for the Demise of Shiites?

The Saudi Arabian Sheikh Mohammed Al Arefe, often known to many in the West as the Sheikh who teaches Muslim men how to “properly beat their Wives” (, and to many Bahrainis and Saudis of the Eastern province as the Shia hater ( now has a new identity among many Muslims, as the defender of the Syrian people.

The Sheikh gave a rather moving speech ( after his visits to the Syrian border to work with refugees. In the speech he called on the wealthy to put their money towards the Syrian people, called on Syrians to rebel against Bashar Al Assad, called on the Army to leave the regimes side and not to shed innocent blood, called on the men present in the Saudi Arabian mosque to join the Free Syrian Army, and called on Muslims to join and support the Syrian Believers in their Jihad against Assad, whom he loudly added “gets his support from the Persians, the Shia, the Villians and Hezbollah”
Al Arefe was never much of a supporter of the people of the Arab Spring, keeping much in line with the Saudi governments political positions. He kept mostly quiet during the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Libyan uprisings, and was clearly quick to denounce the Bahrain uprising (Bahrain having a Shia majority with a Sunni regime). Yet the Sheikh seemed to suddenly develop a “revolutionary” spirit in light of the Syrian situation. All the while, people in his own country, in the Eastern province of Qatif were being shot down by Saudi forces. The major question is how could a man with such a hateful discourse towards the oppressed Shia minority in his own nation, suddenly turn into a humanitarian?
Al Arefe assisted in raising a large sum of money for the Syrian people, estimated at around 66 million dollars. The Sheikh faced some problems, as Saudi regulations require a license for such types of donations.  When Al Arefe was brought in for questioning in Riyadh, it is said he was called a “Kharajite”, a term in today’s context meaning one who rebels against the rulers. In response to this remark the Sheikh responded (In his own explanation):
“Rafidites (a vulgar term used to refer to Shiites) send Khoms – millions of their assets into Qum (The Shia Religious center of Iran) and Najaf (Shia Religious Center of Iraq) to support Bashar and their training forces that are sent to them. And when we raise money we are called Kharajites?”
Later he explains:
“I told the investigator: if we do not support the Mujahideen in Syria so they can win…Bashar and Iranian Rafidites will attack us, and right now they are looking for your baby’s head, to tear it away.”
Al Arefe reveals his own intentions and worry through his own account of his interaction with the interrogator. His major fear and goal in Syria seems not to be that innocent Syrian lives are being slaughtered and killed by the thousands, but he fears that Shia and Iran will attack in some way, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to fight the Shia of whom he so scornfully despises; a face much more fitting of the man with the hateful discourse, than that of the humanitarian.
Take his money Syria, and do all you can to help your people. But dear people, don't be fooled once again by a little Saudi money, into praising this man and claiming he is a humanitarian.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Saudi Arabia, in Defense of Qatif

My heart could not go out to Qatif and their lost martyrs any more.

 There are some places in the world you just fall in love with - for many it's Paris or London or Dubai. For me, it's Qatif, Saihat, Al Hassa and those cities of the neglected Shia minority in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia.

 Although the geography of Saudi Arabia's Eastern province is nothing magical or special to me, and it is almost always referred to in writings and articles as the "oil-rich" Eastern province. I honestly couldn't give less of a fuck about the Eastern province being "oil-rich" and will never describe it as such, because when I think of this place, I see so much more than oil, I see the people there.

Despite what many in Saudi's believe about the people in the Eastern province, it was the people of the "oil-rich-Shia-majority" Eastern province that made me love Saudi Arabia and put Saudi and it's well-being so deep inside of my heart and soul that I often feel closer to Saudi than my own nation of birth. It was those people who showed me the love of family, hospitality, honesty, and dedication to justice, God, and the greater good of humanity, and made living in Saudi Arabia bearable when the injustice and frustration became over-whelming.

The majority group, the group in power, the group of whom life is made much simpler for in Saudi Arabia is inarguably the Male, Sunni Saudi nationals. However, all over the Muslim-majority nations it is apparent that there is a general dis-regard for Shia, it differs from Morroco and Bahrain to Malaysia, but it exists in some form in every Muslim nation. (Iran being the exception - as it is a Shia state - also important to note that the Sunni minority in Iran are also very oppressed, which is so wrong, but this is another story)

The point is - the clear under-dog in the Muslim-majority region are the Shia. This situation being much more complex and frustrated in the case of Shia in Saudi Arabia, mostly due to the discourse of Ibn Wahhab, and his ideology being adopted as "Saudi Arabia's Islam" and it's impact on the general public.  However, it is so important for the people of Saudi Arabia- Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Salafi, Atheist, Agnostic and the likes - to understand the difficulties that years of oppression can put on a minority group. The very recognition that there are particular prejudices and discrimination against the Shia in Saudi Arabia - can create a different and better Saudi Arabia. Those who deny the problem exists, only make the problem and division in the nation stronger.

My Post-Graduate research was on the situation of the Shia in Saudi Arabia. I had the opportunity through gracious and helpful friends - to sit down and interview a number of Shia in Qatif, Hassa and Saihat, and through their connections I was able to correspond with many more. The results of those interviews are tragic, but what was shocking was how such tragic and sad myths and beliefs about the Shia flow out of their very mouthes, with such normality that it is clear that it is not just one generation that has been impacted by such oppression.

Humans all have the desire to be understood and empathized with. Anyone from the majority-power group (in this case the Sunni in Saudi Arabia) who honestly desires to see a better Saudi Arabia, to see less of a divide between Shia and Sunni MUST make a major effort to understand the position of the minority group (the Shia) and make an effort to see the Shias situation from a Shia perspective, not as told from people on the outside. Then and ONLY then, will progress come. Allow a Shia to tell you their situation - dont let a Sunni cleric on television or a statement from the very government who has kept them silent and away from power for generations to tell you about the situation, beliefs or sentiments of Shia in Saudi Arabia - go directly to the source.

What does the source have to say? My research showed that 100% of those Saudi Shia I interviewed in 2011 and early 2012 said they had experienced discrimination from Saudis based on the fact that they were Shia, 100% of Saudi Shia responded that there was not equal access to jobs for Shia and Sunni in Saudi Arabia, 100% of Saudi Shia responded that they didn't have quality public services (Universities, Mosques, Hospitals, etc) in comparison to other Sunni majority cities in Saudi Arabia, almost 96% responded saying that they believed the majority of Saudis didn't consider them to be Muslims, they listed myths and myths that they had heard Saudis say about Shias beliefs and practices, they had countless numbers of tragic stories of discrimination.

Whether or not one believes their difficulties are true is secondary - the fact of the matter is you have a population that feels isolated and discriminated against, and that many of them are dealing with this feeling on a day to day basis.

The untrue myths about Shia in Saudi Arabia are amazing, and so sad. From they pee in your food, to they will lie to you and stab you in the back (which could be true for any human being), they all serve Iran, they have bizarre forbidden sexual practices and orgies, they have a different Quran, they have tails and on and on and's all bullshit, and it just takes a simple effort to learn or understand that can kill these myths. It must be done, and I honestly believe that one who humbly seeks knowledge walks in the light of God and can inspire, and even save lives.

I beg of the Saudi majority to make an effort to understand and humanize the Saudi minority in the Eastern Province; learn their history, their beliefs, their practices, and their general sentiment and feelings. You will find no two people of any nation, or religion are exactly alike - so keep in mind talking to one Shia is not enough, and they should not be homogenized as they are just as diverse in belief and practice as any other religious group - make an effort to understand.

To me, land belongs to no one person, we didn't create the Earth or its land - and almost all borders and nations were created through murder and oppression - the nation-states we know today mostly manipulated and created by corrupt colonial forces. No one government has a God-given RIGHT to land, or to control their population and what they say or do. I pray for freedom of the people from the USA to Iran to Syria to China to Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to Japan and everywhere in-between. At the end of the day - we are more similar than we like to believe, and in understanding these similarities and respecting these differences, we can avoid wars and unnecessary deaths of innocent people.

In the end, God be with those in Qatif; those going out to demand justice and their basic rights my heart and prayers are with you, and soon inshallah I will be standing next to you. To those being sent to Qatif as security forces - I pray that you will try to understand that you are the one with the gun, and that those standing on the other end of your guns are human beings - brave and courageous ones at that.