SHAFAQNA – An attack against a Christian mission in the seaport city of Aden earlier this March put an interesting spotlight onto a religious oppression few media have dared put in focus, let alone report on. There, in the most southern tip of Southern Arabia, religious minorities have lived in fear – oppressed for their beliefs, ostracized from others on account of their faith.
Under an almost absolute media blackout Yemen’s Christians, Hindus and Shia Muslims have lived under the brutal boot of the Wahhabi clergy, occupied by the very military forces which claimed they would liberate Yemen from its tyrants. There, under the watch of Saudi Arabia, and its grand coalition, Christians, Hindus and Shia Muslims have had to endure the infamy of sectarianism – of their fate little has been known so far.
This March Shafaqna ran a story in which it warned that Wahhabi militias, armed and financed by the powerful Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have patrolled the streets of Aden, drawing lists and keeping tabs on religious minorities as part of a broad Wahhabization campaign. Under their influence Imams have been forced to redact their sermons, harshening their tones vis a vis religious communities – thus slowly bringing South Yemen to abide by Wahhabi’s reactionary religious ideology of Takfir. Takfirism is a concept which all faiths as an apostasy, allowing for the persecution of all those who do not accept Wahhabism as their religious matrix.
Caught in the middle of a violent and brutal indoctrination campaign reminiscent of that carried by ISIL in Iraq and Syria many Christians, Hindus and Shia Muslims long decided to leave Aden, fearful they would become scape goats for a self-righteous clergy. But if many indeed left, some did chose to stay; mainly out of financial necessity, and a lack of means.
For those Aden has become a prison. For those left to the mercy of an increasingly vindictive Wahhabi clergy life has become intolerable … and ever so dangerous.
Ever since Saudi Arabia assumed charge of the war against Yemen, ever since its military and its paid mercenaries disembarked in Aden, the city has witnessed rising sectarian violence. Christian cemeteries have been defiled, churches and missions have been burnt down, temples have been looted and destroyed, Shia Imams have been arrested and tried for apostasy or treason … the list goes on and on. Of those crimes you will not hear! Of those crimes you will not hear because they paint an image of the kingdom world powers would much rather the public does not know anything about.
But one story deserves to be told! One story in particular needs to be relayed and passed on as it speaks of a people resilience against theofascism, tyranny and oppression. While many have been those who, out of religious bigotry or self-promotion sided with Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, others have resisted indoctrination – determined not to define their faith in the rejection of that of others.
Following is the beautiful and awe inspiring tale of a resistance rooted in Islam’s most treasured tenets: tolerance and compassion. (to protect all parties involved names and certain details have been changed).
This is the story of Zachariah:
“They came in the middle of the night pounding at our door, demanding to be let in. As I gathered my wife, and three daughters in the living room, I grabbed my only gun and gave it to my wife. “Do not let them take you I said …do not let them take our girls,” I told her. As I opened the door 5 armed men burst into the room, screaming insults. I recall little of what happened next … The next time I would open my eyes would be in a prison cell, with several other men. I would soon find out that many were like me, Christians.
“Your wife and daughters are dead,” the guards told me … others said they had been married off to militants, after their conversion to Islam. For weeks I was told the most horrid and disgusting stories … Alone, with no money and no recourse I waited, and waited. With every new guard coming to our cell I expected to be shot, or beaten. After a while I just stopped expecting anything but pain and misery. There in the dark, we all waited for death.
We all sat in a cramped cell, in almost absolute darkness … almost no food, and very little water. Every day we would be randomly brutalized and insulted … every day the guars would come and say we would soon be executed for our heresy. In their eyes we were less than dogs, in their eyes our death would mean Heaven for them.
Every day we were told that the only Islam, the only faith is Wahhabism. Every day they mocked us the Ancient and New Testament … every day they called Shia Muslims prisoners Rafidah … heretics, reformers … every day they would tell us God would not look upon us on the Last Day.
When left alone we would pray together … in our own fashion, and our own ways, but together.
I never imagined I would one day walk out alive!
Then an Imam came to visit the prison. He had come to pay one of the prisoners’ ransom. His nephew … His name was Mohsen. Mohsen knew my story, he knew I was a Christian … he knew of my wife and daughters … he knew prison would be my final resting place. As Mohsen was allowed out, he promised he would come back and help.
I smiled but for the life of me I never expected he would …. He did! Some days later Mohsen and the Imam came back with money. They bribed the guards and argued that no one would miss a Christian prisoner. As wads of cash were quickly exchanged I was let out.
Mohsen and his uncle then took me to their house … there, I found out that my wife and daughters had managed to escape thanks to anti-Saudi tribesmen.
As I was being carried away, they attacked my captors, allowing for my wife and daughters to run away. My family was safe, and they were near.
We waited for night to come … I knew then that my only chance at survival would be to leave Aden, and leave Yemen for Oman … the way to Africa was much too dangerous to attempt with al-Qaeda pirates roaming the sea.
Mohsen, who I found out was a Shia Muslim from Hadhramawt (eastern province of Yemen) explained he had managed to arrange for all of our safe passage out of the city through a friend of his.
After I was reunited with wife, Samarra, and my daughters: Hana, Maryam, and Sahar – they had been hiding at an old friend’s house, hiding in the basement, we prepared for our journey out of Aden.
You need to understand that this is not an easy task …there are checkpoints at every corner! Outside the city it does not get any easier as tribesmen patrol the areas, sometimes looting, sometimes killing! And if there are no tribesmen, then you stand the risk of running into al-Qaeda militants …. South Yemen has become an impossible place to live in.
But we had no choice, and by staying we were endangering our new friends.
Mohsen said he would come with us to Oman … he too, could no longer stay in Aden. If his uncle had managed to get him out this time, there was no guarantee he would be able to do it again. I later found out that Mohsen’s uncle was a Sunni Imam … but nothing to do with Wahhabis!
We were smuggled out of Aden in a water tanker, pulled by a donkey … There was just enough water in the tank so that if the guards asked for their bottles to be filled we could … My wife who doesn’t swim was terrified!
But we made it out alive.
Once outside the city, Mohsen had tribesmen from Hadhramawt pick us up, and on we travelled through old dirt roads, towards Oman.
I can’t say how we crossed onto Oman because it would endanger the many people, who, without knowing who I was, without owing me anything at all, risked their very lives to save that of my family.
From Aden to Hadhramawt, we were looked after, fed and clothed by strangers … when I asked Mohsen why he had been so willing to help me he answered: “Because it was the right thing to do. You and me are brothers before God. Our Imam taught us that true honour, and piety are best served in opposition of tyranny. You are being persecuted for you chose to follow Jesus, and I, as a Muslim have a duty of care towards you.”
I saw true faith in this man’s eyes. I saw God in this man’s actions.
Today I’m safe in India … Mohsen is safe too! We made it!
Hundreds have not … maybe thousands, I don’t really know.
What I do know is that without Mohsen I would be dead! Without him, and his uncle and dozen other kind strangers Wahhabism would have claimed my life and my family’s life. I am safe today because of the courage of true Muslims. I am safe today because men and women chose love and tolerance over hate and injustice.
Once the war is over I will go back to Aden, I will rebuild our church, and next to it I hope Mohsen will build his Mosque, so that together we can offer our prayers to the Almighty … together again, under maybe not the same roof, but the same sky.”
By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna