SHAFAQNA –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.
A charismatic figure, Sheikh al-Nimr came to embody Saudi Arabia’s democratic aspirations: his words were that of his people, his cries those of freedom and his stand that of justice. And because his name shone a light of hope under the darkened sky of Saudi oppression, Riyadh sought to forever silence his voice, imagining that the movement he awoken would die with his last breath.
But if Arabia lost in fact one of its most brilliant teachers, its message has found a new echo in the voice of his son: Mohammed al-Nimr, the Sheikh’s eldest son.
Following is an excerpt of an interview conducted with Mohammed al-Nimr:
CATHERINE SHAKDAM – A lot has been said and written about your father, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, yet few media have bothered to look beyond Saudi Arabia’s narrative to see the man, and the message he stood for: peace, tolerance and democracy. Can you please tell our readers about those ideals your father fought for so passionately?
Mohammed al-Nimr – Let me quote you my father: “Words are more powerful than the roar of bullets.” My father was an advocate for peace, his message to the people was one of quiet resistance against tyranny, for there can never be justice while there is dikat: whether political or religious.
People in Qatif have suffered systematic oppression for many decades. Religious minorities in Saudi Arabia are looked down on … It is actually part of the education system. Children are taught in school that Shia Islam is evil, that all Shiites are apostate and should be therefore treated harshly. This is the kind of prejudices my father was trying to combat.
My father never once called for violence … He was the one telling people to resist peacefully, he was the one telling people to exert restraint and endure, rather than lash out. The regime in Riyadh has argued he was calling for violence but that’s simply not true.
CATHERINE SHAKDAM: Riyadh has always painted Qatif’s calls for justice and political self-determination under a sectarian light, but is not true that sectarianism, this divide the regime has claimed exist in between Islam’s communities is but a ploy to distract from the tyranny officials have perpetrated against a people on account of their stand against tyranny?
Mohammed al-Nimr – Shia Islam, actually Islam in general rejects tyranny and injustice.Those are the values my father defended, those are universal values – people have rights, it is as simple as that. But there will always be people and powers that will attempt to deny such rights in the name of control. Sectarianism is a fabrication! It is the regime in Riyadh which created those divides in between people, using religion to justify hatred.
CATHERINE SHAKDAM: Your cousin I believe, Ali Mohammed remains incarcerated … What can we do, us, the public, the media to help towards his unconditional and immediate release?
Mohammed al-Nimr -I would say speak up! We kept silent with my dad and it did not get us anywhere … they killed him anyway. the authorities even denied us his body … so far they have refused us a proper burial. This is the type of regime we are coming up against. And so we are resigned to our fate, but it does not mean that we will be silent.
The best way to honour my father is now to live by his words and ensure that his name is remembered for the person he was.
By Catherine Shakdam