SHAFAQNA| by Leila Yazdani: The deprivation of Shia Muslims of their rights in Saudi Arabia has deep historical roots, but Shia Muslims are still very deprived in Saudi society.
Although estimates of the Shia population in Saudi Arabia ranged from 5 to 20 percent, more reliable statistics put the figure at 10 to 15 percent. Shia Muslims are concentrated primarily in the Eastern Province, where they constituted perhaps 33 percent of the population, being concentrated in the oases of Qatif and Al-Ahsa.
Shia is a little-known minority in a position of otherness in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the history of Shia as citizens is characterized by otherness. They suffer from religious, socio-economic, and institutional discrimination and are excluded from the national identity and official narratives. This clearly shows that they forced to balance national and religious identities.
Saudi religious authorities have been allowed to spread anti-Shia rhetoric and even insert it into school curricula. As a result, anti-Shia attitudes among the general population are widespread and have led in the past to various attacks on the community. What is also noticeable is the general contempt of Shia Muslims in the Kingdom is by no means a hidden phenomenon, Gulfinstitute.org mentioned.
The Saudi Arabian government has allowed officials and religious scholars to belittle Shia Muslims and their beliefs. This is not only concerning because of the harmful language used, but also because these officials and scholars have influence over both the government and the general public, and thus play significant roles in shaping policy and public opinion.
Shia Muslims face various restrictions on religious
They face various restrictions on religious worship; permits for building Shia Mosques are often denied and, consequently, in places like the city of Dammam, there is only one mosque for the hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims living there. Processions during Ashura, the day commemorating the death of Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) grandson, Imam Hussain (A.S) in the battle of Karbala, were banned until 2005 and today are still curbed in various ways, Aljazeera told.
Shia Muslims are not allowed to hold key posts
They are not allowed to hold key posts within the ministries of defence and interior, the National Guard, and the royal court. Shia faced significant employment discrimination in the public and private sector. A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.
Stark poverty in Eastern Province
Most importantly, although the majority of Saudi oil reserves fall within the territory of the Eastern Province, the Shia minority hardly benefits from the country’s massive oil revenues. Nearly all of Saudi Arabia’s oil — about one fifth of the global supply — comes from the Eastern Province. The first thing everyone noticed when he visited Al-Awamiya, a Shia town in oil-rich eastern Saudi Arabia, was its utter isolation and stark poverty. Ringed by date groves, it is a tableau of drab buildings, car-repair shops, and restless young men that stands in sharp contrast to the gleaming wealth that most people imagine when they think of Saudi Arabia, Foreignpolicy reported.
The Saudi Shia Muslims, like many other Saudi citizens, want their human rights to be respected, to have equal opportunity and access to the massive national wealth. They also want religious freedom and protection against hate crimes.