- - Sunday, August 10, 2014

Blaming the Saudi government for exporting extremism around the Muslim world, a cluster of American Muslim groups joined a protest at the Saudi Embassy this week. Organized by the Chicago-based Al Baqee Organization, the rally was held in remembrance of a multitude of Islamic heritage sites that were destroyed by the Saudi Royal family upon assuming power nine decades ago.

Chief among them was the first-ever Islamic cemetery, personally founded by Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, named “Jannat ul Baqee” (literally “Garden of Baqee”). The cemetery contains numerous relatives of Muhammad, as well a large number of “Sahaba” (companions) of the Prophet.

Amongst the chants were condemnations of terrorism, and calls for restoration of destroyed holy sites. Protesters attempted to hand deliver a letter to the embassy, voicing their complaints; however, guards for the building refused to accept the document, and forbade entry into the building to do so. Muslims from approximately 15 different states attended, attempting to make a show of solidarity in opposing violent extremism.

Without comment, the embassy closed its offices for the duration of the protest.

The Saudi Royal family, and most of the Saudi government, belong to the Salafi sect (sometimes called the “Wahabi” sect), which believes that all structures, monuments, and historical artifacts are blasphemous. Special focus is given by the Salafis on cemeteries, believing any tombstones or shrines to be particularly heinous.

Prior to the formation of Saudi Arabia, numerous Sunni dynasties and caliphates felt otherwise, and constructed a number of shrines, tombs, and cemeteries over the course of centuries. The Saudi government strenuously restricts access to most popular cemeteries, oftentimes arresting individuals found to be praying near gravesites. There are no exceptions for family members.

It is the same Salafi ideology that is followed by the “Islamic State” (formerly ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, and is the reason the group has burned down historic mosques, as well as churches, temples, and other religious buildings. When the House of Saud came into power in the early 20th century, they embarked on a campaign of demolishing numerous historic Islamic locations. The campaign is ongoing, and Muslims fear that the Saudi government has its eyes set on Masjid ul Nabi (The Mosque of the Prophet), which contains the grave of Prophet Muhammad.

The internet was set ablaze earlier this summer, when reports emerged that ISIS (before its most recent name change) intended to invade Saudi Arabia and burn the Kaaba to the ground. According to reports, ISIS members were quoted to have said “If Allah wills, we will kill those who worship stones in Mecca and destroy the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the Islam’s holiest mosque, and all Muslims are obligated to visit it at least once if their lifetimes (if possible). It is located in the city of Mecca, firmly within Saudi Arabia’s borders. When Muslim groups around the world raised an outcry, the group quickly backtracked and denounced the statement as a rumor.

Speakers at the rally urged solidarity with a variety of groups, denouncing the burning of churches and synagogues, and tying such acts to the brand of Islam espoused by the Saudi royal family and its government. Rally goers made special note of the destruction of the Jonah’s tomb in Iraq, pointing out that Jonah plays a special role in the beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Saudi government is widely accused of exporting a radical version of Salafi ideology throughout the Middle East, and using oil proceeds to do so.

In a statement released by the Al Baqee Organization, the group announced “August 5th marks the anniversary of the demolition of the shrines in Baqee, a cemetery in Saudi Arabia where Prophet Mohammed’s children, wives, companions and other relatives are buried. Since the destruction of Baqee in 1925, the cemetery has become a symbol of atrocities and brutality committed by Saudi Arabia.

“Cultures, civilization and religions are proud of their heritage sites. These sites are an integral part of Islam and are required for a Muslims’ spirituality.”

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