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A Shia in Saudi Arabia

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A shopping mall in Saudi ArabiaBut for a little while I understood, and could feel, how much of a struggle it can be for the Shias in Saudi. Such a huge part of our belief system relies on the remembrance and the cycle of education that happens in the month of Muharram – I could never fathom not being able to openly express my mourning for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and his family as we do in the West

A shopping mall in Saudi ArabiaI had always heard stories about living in Saudi Arabia as the Shia minority, stories of praying in the manner of our Sunni brothers so that the government didn’t arrest you, stories about how the month of Muharram would be spent, going from each other’s homes in secret in order to attend Majalis. I always pictured this “secretive” life living as a Shia in Saudi Arabia, but thanks to the plans of Allah, I am currently in Saudi Arabia and can now say for myself how it feels. Although I have not spent Muharram or Ramadan here, there is a more sacred feeling knowing that you are a minority, living so close to the graves of our beloved Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon him).

I came to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, almost one month ago. My thoughts of the “secretive” life have changed. Although there is nothing here like an “Islamic center” which we find in abundance in the West, there is still a fairly large Shia community, or I should say, network that thrives in the homes and businesses of Jeddah. I came to Saudi Arabia with all thanks to Allah for my marriage – a plan which was made almost a year ago that my Nikah would take place on the floors of the Holy Ka’ba itself. Alhamdulillah, what an experience it was! We arrived after afternoon prayers, completed our Tawaf, and quickly gathered in our group to have our Nikah. My husband’s family has lived for over 15 years in Saudi Arabia. They explained that we could only have a limited amount of people come, due to the fact that any large group will cause suspicion, which is the problem of holding Majalis in the month of Muharram. I felt rushed. I felt a little nervous – not sure why, as we were in the House of Allah. But for a little while I understood, and could feel, how much of a struggle it can be for the Shias in Saudi. Such a huge part of our belief system relies on the remembrance and the cycle of education that happens in the month of Muharram – I could never fathom not being able to openly express my mourning for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and his family as we do in the West – large processions parading through downtowns, speeches being given from loudspeakers, the daily rush in so many centers.

Although there is no way to safely have a Shia center or Shia-run mosque here, there is definitely much better networking and supporting of fellow Shias here. Everyone feels for each other. My sister-in-law and I had to go to a women’s beauty salon. The owner runs a very successful chain of salons throughout the city. It was time to pray when we were there, and she asked us to quietly go into one of the booths and pray with the door closed. She said her workers would have a problem if they found out. We specifically went to that salon because of this strong Shia network. She knew my husband’s family, and they knew her, so you help a sister out. Compared to what I see in the States, there is a lot more support.

Friday prayers are done at different people’s homes every week. And small things like satellite TV bringing you live video from Karbala, Najaf, and Mashhad are what give that strength to live here. A few days ago, I was just thinking to myself how much I was missing going every Tuesday and Thursday to the center to recite Dua Tawassul and Kumayl with the community members, and then my mother-in-law told me about the channel Al-Anwar. Continuous ziyarats, du’as, and we got to hear and recite Dua Kumayl as it played on TV. Not bad.

I was also blessed to spend a weekend in Medina, which is about four hours away from Jeddah. It really is such a peaceful city, especially to think that you are walking the same streets that our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) walked. We went to visit Shaikh Amri’s Masjid. As we arrived, we all looked from the outside – a small, pale pink building with a side entrance. We went through the doors and the amazing thing is that it was a small village – shops, benches, fountains, and people. Shaikh Amri’s Masjid, or I should say village, is a small Shia area – every Shia who visits Medina, goes there. I felt right at home when I stepped into the ladies’ prayer area – signs on the wall, banners outside, food served after every prayer, people of all ethnicities. It was quite an experience!

I have now realized how blessed I am, and how for granted I take the place where I live. How much more I can be making a difference, and I am not. How much more of a struggle others have, and we so easily leave our centers, forget to read our du’as, or support our people, just because we really don’t have to. Sometimes having it tough is what it takes. I really do wish we took our belief system more seriously and valued it for what it is worth, so that insha’Allah one day, when we have a group of strong, committed Shias who value our history, when we all visit the graves of our Holy Prophet, or our dear Ahlul Bayt in Jannat al-Baqi, we can easily and without tension connect and pray in these holy places without being harassed and pushed away.

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