- - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A coalition of more than two dozen American Muslim groups sent a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking for the protection of religious freedoms for Muslims that travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic pilgrimage called “Hajj.” The letter comes almost a year after American Muslims were singled out and attacked with knives and blades after being insulted with slurs during the 2013 Hajj. Victims of the assault claim that not only did Saudi police refuse to assist; the U.S. Embassy ignored them as well. The letter comes at a critical time, as American Muslims will leave for this year’s Hajj in late September.

The effort is sponsored by California based Muslim Advocates, and in a press release the group said “[This] comes a year after a group of American Muslims from Dearborn, Michigan, was attacked during the Hajj because the group belonged to the Shia denomination of Muslims. The Americans were viciously attacked, including men being strangled and women threatened with rape.  When these individuals reached out to the U.S. Embassy for help, their calls were not returned.”

During the October 2013 incident, members of an American travel group were engaged in the practices of Hajj when they were accosted by a group of English-speaking extremists, who questioned the group members about what country they came from and what sect they followed.

When individuals in the group responded that they were not only American but also Shiite Muslims, they were threatened and attacked by the extremists, resulting in injuries to the travelers.

According to accounts, “During the attack, the men reportedly shouted ‘Our [holy pilgrimage] will be complete once we have killed you, ripped out your hearts and eaten them, and [then] raped your women.’

“In continuing the assault, the men also shouted ‘We’re going to do Karbala all over again,’ referring to an important historical event to Shiite Muslims, wherein the grandson of the Prophet, named Imam Husain, was brutally attacked and killed, after he was forced to witness the killing of many of his family members. The survivors of the incident, mostly women and children, were immediately imprisoned in circumstances that resulted in the deaths of some of the prisoners.

“The Americans fled the tent area, which the Saudi government had specifically designated for American and European pilgrims. During the escape, many of the group, almost entirely U.S. citizens and mostly hailing from Dearborn, Michigan suffered bruises (in one case, due to an attempted strangulation), concussions, broken bones, and black eyes.”

Victims of the attack stated that Saudi police refused to help the pilgrims, and one officer even deleted cell phone footage of the incident, destroying evidence. When the Americans called the U.S. embassy for assistance, they claim that they were ignored and no assistance would be offered “unless someone died.”

Some members of the group turned to Twitter:

@seyedmg wrote: “They attacked screaming kill them like Hussien and take there women as captives like Zaynab… We have people bleeding and women terrified.” Read it here.

However, the appeal to social media had unexpected results, as group members then began receiving death threats on their Twitter accounts for talking about the incident.

The letter from the Muslim groups references not only this act of violence, but other attacks against American and Western participants in the Hajj in previous years, including an incident in 2007 that shocked the American Muslim community.

“It is critical that our government protects all citizens and supports them when their rights are violated — both here and abroad,” said Mohamed Sabur, a director at Muslim Advocates. “We are asking Secretary Kerry to use his diplomatic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to protect American citizens, and to ensure that if Americans are in jeopardy, they can rely on the U.S. Embassy for immediate assistance.”

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