The Saudi Factor: Latest Raid on Shia Gathering in Malaysia

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Last week, the Justice for Malay Shia website posted an alert notifying of an ongoing raid against a Shia gathering commemorating the birth anniversary of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (peace be upon her). A frantic text message sent out at 2:57PM local time cried out: “Happening now! Police, JAIS, and local council are raiding a gathering remembering the birth of Lady Fatima Zahra (daughter of the Prophet Muhammad). Four arrested including Kamil Zuhairi Abd Aziz.”

Details about the raid still remain sketchy, but the events of the last few hours come on the heels of a notable upsurge in sectarian rhetoric against Shia Muslims in Malaysia. Ever since the December raid on the Hauzah Imam Ali ar-Ridha centre in Selangor province, the predicament on the ground has teetered on a knife’s edge. Subsequent to that raid, more than 120 members of the community were arrested and still await trial. The farcical nature of the allegations and trial has been further exposed by regular postponements to the dates of court proceedings.

Although there exist systemic flaws on the local Malaysian scene that allow for such instances of clear discrimination against Shia Muslims, the emergence of clear regional interference in the shape of intervention from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has served to further exacerbate the simmering crisis. Shortly after the December raid, the International Islamic University of Malaysia and the Islamic University of Medina signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing on the importance of safeguarding students from Shia Islam. The MoU also proceeded to urge strict measures against educators and lecturers who show a leniency towards Shiism.

In recent weeks, details of a sinister collusion between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have come to the fore. On Sunday, May 15, the international secretary of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Liew Chin Tong lifted the veil on a joint project between the two countries that would entail the dispatch of Malaysian troops to silence the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. The Saudi regime has also embarked on similar schemes with Pakistan through the Bahria and Fauji foundations, with recruitment concentrated in the Baloch region which constitutes the historical breeding ground for anti-Shia terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jundullah.

Speaking about these developments, veteran journalist Amir Mateen noted: “All the religious parties have interests, economic and personal, with Saudi Arabia … the religious parties, along with everyone else, have yet again been exposed when it comes to principled politics.” A former ambassador minced less into his words when he observed: “The Saudis have bought everyone on the religious right. And remember, they have that massive Madressah network in Pakistan. They (the Saudis) can create problems for any government in Pakistan.”

The recent provocations in Malaysia should be viewed within the wider context of a Saudi counter-revolution that is most apparent in Bahrain and Syria. The counter-revolution is premised on fomenting sectarian tensions in a bid to arrest the wave of change sweeping through the Muslim world. To this end, the Saudi Kingdom seeks to suppress the overwhelming spirit of unity and solidarity between Muslims. On its part, the United States has provided a silent nod of approval to the insidious sectarian agenda led by Saudi Arabia with obvious geopolitical stakes in mind, including the “security” of the Zionist state.

The raid earlier today has once again underlined the entanglement of grave legal and constitutional flaws on the local Malaysian scene – e.g. the prohibition of involvement in learning or propagating Shia Islam in provinces such as Selangor – and a sinister web of regional power-politics and connivance in aggravating the sorry fate of Shia Muslims.

It is eminently clear to observers and analysts that the Malaysian government needs to make a stark choice in the face of these unsustainable escalatory developments. The government can either choose to provide recognition and basic freedoms to Malay Shias as it does with all other religious denominations, or instead persist with its archaic approach, thereby pulling the mask on the façade of a tolerant, open, and democratic image. The free peoples of the world and more particularly the oppressed Islamic Ummah hope that the leadership in Malaysia rise up to their responsibilities and select the right choice.

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