The Jews of Yemen – Surviving Saudi Arabia’s grand religious cleanse

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SHAFAQNA – A gem hidden deep in Arabia, Yemen’s history still echoes of the footsteps of some of the world’s most prominent historical, and religious figures. The land time forgot, a land made red and gold by the intensity of its Sun, Yemen’s religious history has been unfairly portrayed – redacted even, so that the world would only know of it, what certain powers aim to project.

A majority Muslim country it may be, Yemen is also home … or at least was home, to thriving Jewish and Christian communities. It is this history, this rich and vibrant heritage the likes of Saudi Arabia – the world’s most violent, and reactionary theocracy, has worked to obliterate to better erect itself absolute in its fanatic repression.

If many have chosen not to speak against the aberration that is Wahhabism I must warn that such silence will be the death of us all. Silence has been our greatest downfall … that of course and our propensity to ignore the pain of others on account it afflicts not our kin.

But oppression anywhere is an affront on all our freedoms – might it be against our enemies or our friends, injustices need to be spoken against if we ever ambition to claim justice our own.

Yemen’s war today has been brushed under the infamous Shia-Sunni divide, this old schism western capitals have claimed has plagued the Islamic world and bathed a region in fires and in wars for 14 long centuries.

But there is no sectarianism in Islam – not in its tenets, not in its traditions, not in its legal system and certainly not on the lips of its clerics. Sectarianism you see was spoken on and from Riyadh’s pulpits so that a region would learn to speak oppression and isolation, apostasy and self-righteous bloodshed.

But those tenets are not those of Islam, they are those of Wahhabism. The same Wahhabism western capitals have insisted on calling friend for its clergy wields many great riches … how fickle indeed those who claim to fly Liberty’s flag.

Before the sound of your silence Yemen’s religious pluralism has been exploded and communities as old as time itself sit on the verge of complete annihilation. How much of our collective History will the Kingdom of al-Saud claim before you realise that your future was literally stolen from under you?

For several decades now – since 1962, if one wants to be precise – the kingdom has run a vengeful campaign against Yemen’s religious pluralism, reshaping this once proud, and tolerant nation of Arabia to its own vengeful image. Of this war you most likely have never heard anything about … you most probably remain under the impression that Yemen was only ever a Muslim state … that no other faith before that ever graced its shores and populated its mountains.

May I kindly remind readers that Yemen’s first encounter with monotheism was by way of Shem, one of Noah’s sons, a man God blessed with many heirs so that they could repopulate the Earth. It was Shem several millennia ago who architected Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city. To this very day, and despite Riyadh’s best efforts, Sana’a Old City still stands a testament to its Biblical past.

I say Biblical because no one in Yemen will ever reject any of God’s Books, and any of God’s prophets. In Yemen, those very names you hold most dear – those names you whisper in your prayers and beseech in your worship, Yemen reveres just as hard.

Yemen is where all faiths exist, unburdened by hatred, or sectarian bigotry … Yemen remains forever link to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and everything in between. But for how long?

How long can a people hold on to their traditions and their religious rights when the world is denying them the courtesy of their resistance movement?

Where are your bleeding hearts before the religious genocide taking place in Yemen?

Where were you with your outrage and burning fury when Yemen’s churches, synagogues, temples and mosques were exploded on account they speak a truth Wahhabism deems an apostasy?

Where were you indeed?

Yemen long ago pledged itself to the God of Abraham … never once did its people look back, never once did they turn away – and together they always stood. Will you deny such a stand?

Will you still sit on your political exceptionalism and lecture Yemen on the tragedy you made manifest?

Radicalism today has come to unfairly tear communities apart, raiding and looting what was Yemen’s glorious testament to religious tolerance. You most likely believe that Christianity and Judaism live not in Yemen, that Christians and Jews are not in fact welcome in Yemen.

Yemen has many sons and daughters and their faiths are many and great. Who are you to tell them how they should offer their prayers, what matters of kneeling or bending is most adequate?

Who will speak for those souls which have burned under the fire of Wahhabism? Who will speak for those communities and those families who were denied help for Christianity and Judaism failed to recognize their brethren, and instead allowed for prejudice to blind their gaze?

But Yemen’s Jews and Christians are not without friends … not completely!

Those very forces the Western world has labelled as rebellious and illegitimate have risen a tide against Wahhabism religious crusade, determined to protect those they call brothers and sisters. Regardless of what many have said of Yemen, and on Yemen, no harm will ever come to those who follow the words of Jesus, Son of Mary, or Moses son of Amran.

For several decades already Saudi Arabia has exerted its suffocating influence onto Yemen, breeding hate and intolerance where there was once brotherhood and respect. Thanks to a covert campaign of Wahhabization Yemen has been turned into a hotbed for extremism, where violent radicals’ understanding of the Scriptures is limited to bloodshed.

THIS is the reality Yemen has had to grapple with and resist against!

And still you refuse to see …

But how is this for a reality check:

The most down-trodden and destitute nation in the world still can master more courage than all of us put together. While it would be easier to hate and essentially gave in to Saudi Arabia’s narrative of exclusion and Wahhabist fanaticism, activists have braved air raids and death squads to offer cover to the oppressed.

The Jews of Yemen have found refuge with the Mona Relief Organization, a Yemeni-based independent NGO whose dedication to helping others remains awe-inspiring.

Hailed by al-Arabiya and other mainstream media as Yemen’s blockade runners, the Mona Relief has stepped into Yemen’s humanitarian vacuum hoping to offer hope to all religious communities.

Why you may ask?

Because who are we to decide whose faith or manner of being is worthier?

What will you say when they ask where you stood as Yemen’s religious communities burnt in the fire of Wahhabism?

Islam, you would do well to remember, that spoken by the Prophet Muhammad and al-Muhammad can never be an enemy of Christianity or Judaism, not without forfeiting its own prophets, and that of course it will never do.

 By Catherine Shakdam – Director of Programs for the Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies
This article appeared first in the Huffington Post

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