Beirut – The Islamic world stood still on January 2, as one its most prominent and revered clerics was struck down by al-Saud regime. Sacrificed for he dared challenge al-Saud’s despotism against religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was brutally killed by the authorities to silence a growing pro-democracy movement at the heart of Monarchical Arabia.
A long-standing critic of the regime, Sheikh-al-Nimr came from a long line of human rights defenders – very much a voice of hope and compassion in the dark. While Sheikh al-Nimr was a cleric of the highest caliber, his message transcended religious beliefs, rooting itself in men’s eternal struggle against tyranny – this yearning for political self-determination which so many times in history, allowed for nations to rise a tide against despotism.
Very much a modern Renaissance man, in the same line as Voltaire, Rousseau and Robespierre, since he valued Liberty and Freedom as the expression of men’ God given right, Sheikh al-Nimr was a thorn in the thigh of al-Saud regime – a constant reminder that while fear still very much reign in the kingdom, defiance is nevertheless rising , a quiet promise that for every bow, and every injustice, the people would have their day under the sun: Free.
In July 2012, the State-run Saudi Press Agency confirmed that Sheikh Nimr had been arrested and charged with instigating unrest. Shot several times during his apprehension by the authorities even though he carried no weapons, and thus presented no real threat to police, Sheikh al-Nimr was brutally assaulted, to be then held incommunicado. Sheikh al-Nimr faced a series of serious charges, including “disobeying the ruler” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations”, allegations that human rights groups including Amnesty International claimed violated free speech protections. The group went on to describe Sheikh al-Nimr’s arrest as part of a campaign by the Saudi authorities to quash all dissent.
Following his arrest, this one powerful cleric was labelled a Shia dissident by both mainstream media, and the Saudi authorities – an attempt observers have warned, to reduce his message to a sectarian debate, rather than recognize the cry of a nation for political emancipation.
A man of peace and tolerance Sheikh al-Nimr offered from his pulpit a future in multi-colours – rooted not in exclusion and ostracization, but pluralism, respect and social justice. A son of Qatif (Eastern province of Saudi Arabia), Sheikh al-Nimr was a devout Muslim – a follower of Ahlul Bayt, the House of Prophet Muhammad. Shunned by Wahhabist Saudi Arabia for his faith was not in alignment with Salafis’ commands, Sheikh al-Nimr was in fact a traditional Muslim. His Islam was that practiced by the prophets, his message was that inscribed in the Quran and his allegiance was that given to the Prophet Mohammed and his progeny.
“It is because he spoke Islam’s true message: justice, tolerance, and compassion in rectitude that the regime in Riyadh tried to sully his name, and then ended his life. Riyadh stands terrified of the truths he spoke, of the future he offered the Hijaz [former name for Saudi Arabia]”, said professor of comparative religion Hassan al-Zubeyri. “Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia state religion, has a long history of repression against traditional Islam … today this battle manifested in the execution of an Islamic scholar. Wahhabis ambition to establish their interpretation of Islam by annihilating all other schools of thoughts. To understand this is to understand the persecution Shia Muslims have suffered in Saudi Arabia and across the Islamic world. Little is known that Shia Islam is in fact the purest, most traditional practice of Islam, as it is based on the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad and his progeny – the keepers of the Word”, professor al-Zubeyri added.
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