I. Introduction

II. Government Control of Religious Institutions: MosquesHusainyatQudayh TragedyReligious Landmarks and HeritageClericsPerson of the Year

III. Government Control of Education and Culture: EducationReligious EducationReligious UniversitiesSchool TextbooksEndowment and PrizesNames Books Music MediaReligious Holidays

IV. Special Focus

Religious Apartheid in Najran

V. Discriminatory Laws and Legal Practices:

PrisonersJudges EmploymentEducationTravel BanReligious Killing and ViolenceCollective Punishment Internet

VI. Minorities, an Overview:

Sunni Sects: The Official Salafi (Wahhabi) SectThe Shafei SectThe Maliki SectThe Hanafi Sect Shia Sects:Ismaili SectJafari SectZaidi SectHidden Shia US Actions Recommendations

I. Introduction:

Saudi population adheres to at least seven religious minorities from Sunni and Shia Islam.  Religious Freedom doesn’t exits for most Saudis belonging to the seven Islamic denominations.  The country witnessed increasing systematic government campaign of intolerance, oppression against the Ismaili minority in Najran. Senior officials engineered unparallel campaign of transfer and ethnic mutilation against Ismailis and Yam tribe.  Over 20 religious leaders, mostly Shia Ismailis and Jafaris remain in prison without trial, in addition to 200 religious prisoners. The longest held prisoner is a Wahhabi religious leader, and the oldest prisoner was a Shia cleric. Both were arrested for their opinions and religious beliefs.  17 religious prisoners face execution or life sentences.  Millions of religious books have been confiscated and burnt by the government.Several official cleric issued edicts and statements calling of violence against Shia minorities. The incitements materialized into acts of violence and murder against a numbers of the Shia citizens. The acts were perpetrated by the government and some religious extremists.

All media outlets restrict its religious coverage to the Wahhabi understanding of Islam. Other understandings of Islam are barred from all government and private media outlets.  The permanent destruction of Islamic landmarks and historical mosques by the government has continued. The destruction also targeted cultural attributes and social traditions of religious minorities.

II. Government Control of Religious Institutions
Mosques:The country has over 38,000 mosques, according to the ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments. The government builds most mosques, but those built by private citizens must be handed over to government control. The government has also directly financed the construction of over 2000 mosques around the world, including the United States, and donated to build thousands more (1).The government appoints the Imams in all Sunni mosques and controls most of their activities. All sermons in Sunni mosques and the two holy mosques (Al-Haramain AShareefain), must be approved by ministry of Islamic Affairs (2).Although Syed Mohamed Alawi is the most prominent religious leader for the majority of Hijazi Sunni Muslims, he is not allowed to lead prayers or built his own mosque (3).The government and members of the royal family fund the construction of Salafi (Wahhabi) mosques only, but not Shia or Sunni Hijazi mosques. To the contrary, the government confiscated the lone Shia mosque in Madina over 40 years ago. They maintain an underground prayer hall. It also confiscated at least two mosques in Qateef city in past years, and hasn’t returned any of the mosques to their owners. Another confiscated mosque belonged to Ismailis in Bader Al-Janoub. Abu-Rasheed Shia mosque in Dammam was razed in the 1986 and remain an empty plot. (4)Shia mosques are usually tiny and constructed illegally. Shia Ismaili mosques in the Eastern province are homes used for prayers, or halls constructed in farms outside cities. Government forces attacked the main Ismaili mosque, Al-Mansoorah, April 23, 2000, and arrested a religious leader. In 1998, Al-Nizha mosque in Al-Hafouf was not granted permission, or electric hookup. The generators used to light the mosque were confiscated. Al-Hussain mosque in Al-Batalia remains closed since last year.

In Assallaam Palace in Jeddah on 30 September 1993. King Fahd promised leaders of “The Reform Movement,” the main Shia Jafari opposition organization, to allow Shia the building of all the mosques they need. The promise was part of the accord reached between the government and Shia Jafari minority (5).

Only two mosques were allowed to be constructed since the accord. In June 8, 2001, followers of the lone Saudi Grand Ayatollah Shaikh Mohamed Al-Hajri opened Arrassol mosque in Al-Mubarez city. The mosque is the first Shia mosque to receive a government permit in Saudi history. The event was reported by Al-Watan newspaper, a historical step (6). Another is Al-Kawther mosque in Safwa, which is still under construction.On the other hand, Al-Badryah mosque in Safwa started construction over 20 years ago, but hasn’t opened or received permission for utilities. The construction was stopped several times due to arrests of mosque mangers, and multiple demolitions of the building. Saif Al-Saif is the director of ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in the Eastern Province, responsible for such permissions (7).There are many mosques and historical landmarks in Madina city, but many have been either permanently destroyed, or shut down. The Seven Mosques in Madina is a group of historical mosques usually frequented by Muslims visitors wishing to pray at mosques where Prophet Mohamed worshiped. Al-Fadeekh, and Fatima historical mosques frequented by Shia visitors to the city have been razed and closed respectively. Al-Fadeekh was razed July end by the ministry of Islamic affairs and endowments (8).HusainyatThe husainya is a century-old religious and social institution that performs the function of a community center for Shia Jafari Muslims. Religious sermons, weddings and funerals are usually held at the husainya. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that doesn’t give permission for building husainyat. There are no husainyat for Shia Jafari population in Madina, Dammam, Khober and Jeddah. There are dozens of husainyat in the Eastern Province, but they are registered as homes. In some cases several joining homes will be built and their inner walls will be removed to connect them into a large husainya (9).There are many husainyat who have stopped construction or were shut down for year by the interior ministry. In Al-Mubarez city, Syed Nasir Al-Mawsawi was arrested in December 25th after he refused to shutdown his home-husainya in Al-Meshrfah neighborhood. Syed Abdullah Al-Mawsawi, Nasir’s brother was arrested after he started using the husainya to hold daily prayers. This year, several husainyat were closed in Dammam, and Qateef. Others remained closed for years, but others were allowed to reopen. Local government officials attend some events held in husainyat such the memorial for the late Shaikh AbdulHamid Al-Khuti, a prominent Shia cleric who died August 4. Some patrons of home-based sermons in Dammam, were arrested for a month on the orders of Prince Saud Ben Naif, deputy governor of the Eastern Province (10)

Qudayh TragedyWedding halls are widespread in Saudi cities and towns except in Qateef city and surrounding Shia areas. Prince Naif imposed a ban over 15 years ago on building hotels or wedding halls in Qateef to prevent Shia from using them to organize religious and communal gatherings, such as weddings.The increasing population and dwindling number of husainyat made large tents the only available option for wedding parties, which resulted in the largest tragedy in Saudi Arabia in several years.

On 28 July 1999, fire engulfed a wedding tent killing 80 women and young girls and injuring dozens at Qudayh city in Qateef region. Immediately Crown Prince Abdullah sent a message of condolences to the families of the victims, and called them martyrs. He then overruled Prince Naif’s ban on wedding halls in Qateef, and ordered the construction of an elaborate wedding hall that cost $16 million. The hall, which was called Al-Qudyah Wedding Hall, is due to open this Spring (11).

Religious Landmarks and Heritage The country had many landmarks at the beginning of the 20th century, but most if not all have been demolished since the foundation of Saudi Arabia. The official religious instituting dislikes historical landmarks and considers them a road of polytheism. A fatwa on June 4, 1994 by the Senior Council of Uluma stated that preserving historical buildings might lead to polytheism (12).In 1925, government forces demolished the Baqee cemetery in Madina, which holds the graves of many historical Islamic figures and is holy to most Muslim sects. Also, several Islamic sites were destroyed including the houses of Prophet Mohamed in Madina. In Makkah the shrine of the Prophet’s first wife was also demolished. According to a knowledgeable source more than 95 % of millennium-old Islamic landmarks were destroyed in the pats 20 years (13).In early January the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments razed two historical landmarks, a Dar-Alarqam (a house used by Prophet Mohamed to meet his followers during the early years of his message), and Ajyad historical fort.During the night of July 30, 2001, again the office of the ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Madina permanently bulldozed and destroyed Al-Fadeekh historical mosque, which was built during Prophet Mohamed’s life, and is located in Al-Awali, a Shia area in Madina. Fatima historical mosque, one of the Seven Mosques, has been shut down for years. Several reports warned of pending demolition of Al-Fatih mosques another historical mosques in Madina. Banat Al-Najjar mosque was also completely razed several years ago. Prince Meqren is the governor of Madina.Also several columns in the Grand Mosque dating back to the 7th century were destroyed years ago. Also demolished was the shrine of Prophet Elisha in Al-Awjam west of Qateef decades ago.

Al-Kou historical mosque in Taif was burnet and then razed but is now rebuilt by Pakistani workers in the city (14). The house of Imam Zain AlABdeen, a grandson of Prophet Mohamed , in Madina was also destroyed.

ClericsThe government closely monitors religious clerics, their speeches and writings. The government religious institutions don’t hire Shia clerics for any position. Almost all government clerics are Wahhabis, and they occupy almost all of the following positions; the Senior Council of Uluma (clerics), Council of Justice and Council of Edicts. The only non-Wahhabi cleric is AbdulWahab Abu Suliman, a Hijazi and a member of the Senior Council of Uluma. Syed Mohamed Alawi was fired in 1982 from his job in the university of Um-Alqura in Makkah because of his religious views, and hasn’t been allowed back since. Access to government television and radio, and local media is restricted to the Wahhabi clerics (15).There are over 20 clerics in prisons form different denominations. The majority of them are Shia Jafaris, followed by Shia Ismailis, and two Wahhabi clerics. The longest held cleric in prison is Shaikh Saeed Al-Zuair, a Hanbali (Wahhabi) cleric from Riyadh, who is held at Al-Hair maximum-security prison outside Riyadh. (See person of the year).Shia clerics are a main target of government abuse, arrest and torture, and they constituted the majority of jailed clerics over the past 20 years. Shaikh Mohamed Ali Al-Amri, 94, a prominent Shia Jafari cleric from Madina was arrested March 9, 2001 for two weeks after several Lebanese Shia visitors to the city prayed with him at his farm. The arrest orders apparently came from Riyadh, which warned Al-Amri to stop receiving guests as his farm. A high-ranking security official from the office of Prince Naif told Al-Amri’s relatives that the Shaikh is a sorcerer. Al-Amri is the oldest known person in the world to be arrested (16).

Shaikh Mohamed Mishkas Al-Makrami, 75, was arrested following the April 2000 government attack on Al-Mansoorah mosque in Najran. He is considered to be the third most-high ranking religious leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims in Saudi Arabia. He remains in Al-Hair prison in Riyadh with no charges.

Shaikh Mohamed Al-Saadi, 71, a Shia Ismaili cleric was arrested in May 2000 and released from Riyadh in September, but rearrested in December. He remains in Najran hospital prison due his heart condition (17).Shaikh Ali Al-Ghanim Shia Jafari, 36, from Safwa was arrested August 11, 2000 from Saudi-Jordanian borders. He was interrogated in Dammam Mabahith headquarters and tortured severely on daily bases for 5 months. An interior ministry official sentenced him to 5 years in a 10-minute kangaroo court. The institute contacted Dr. Saleh Al-Hujailan, a prominent Saudi lawyer to represent Al-Ghanim but he declined the case.Shaikh Mahdi Theeb Al-Mahaan, 50, was arrested prior to the April attack along with his brother Ali, who served one year in prison. Mahdi was sentenced for three years and 3000 lashes on charges of sorcery. He was released in early January from Al-Malaz prison in Riyadh (18).Shaikh Mohamed Al-Khayat, Ismaili cleric from Yemen, was arrested in Najran 23 April 2000 from Al-Mansorah mosque, which triggered clashes between the Ismaili community and security forces. Al-Khayat was forced into confessing on tape to sorcery after his arrest, but he was released late November 2000 after the intervention of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (19).Shaikh Ghalib Al-Hammaad, a Shia Jafari was arrested July 1999 after his return from his studies in Qum, Iran. He was released shortly afterwards, but banned from travel to continue his studies. Syed Hassan Al-Yousif, from Al-Hafouf was arrested four years and was released in August. Shaikh AbduLatif Mohamed Ali, Shaikh Saeed Al-Bahaar, and Shaikh Habeeb Hamdah are some Shia clerics from the Eastern Province who have been in jail for years without charge.Clerics from the Wahhabi denomination are arrested for their political views. Shaikh AbdulAziz Al-Jarbou, 35, was arrested January 27, 2002 in Buraydah. He was detained several times after he issued several controversial fatwas.Clerics from different denominations are banned from speaking, teaching, working or leading prayers. Some of the clerics that are banned are Shaikh AbdulWahab Al-Turarai from Riyadh, Shaikh Salman Al-Odeh from Qaseem, Shaikh Safar Al-Hawali from Makkah, Shaikh Saad Saleh Al-Turki from Qaseem, Shaikh Ehsan Al-Badri from Riyadh was detained and released, Shaikh Yousef Al-Deeni was detained and released in Jeddah, and Farouq Bernawi from Jeddah was also questioned. Also Shaikh Hammod AlOqla, died since, Shaikh Saud Al-Sarahan Al-Otatbi were questioned and detained for short periods.Shaikh Mohamed Ibrahim Al-Saihaani from Tabouk was fired in September from his job at the Prince Sultan base for his political views (20).The 9 -year suspension of Shaikh Ayed Al-Qerni from Riyadh was lifted in March. He was allowed to continue his PhD and give sermons. He has been featured on television and radio programs in past months. He was said to have received an access of $ 1 million from Prince AbdulAziz Ben Fahd.Shaikh Saud Al-Shuraim, one of the Grand Mosque speakers, who was suspended from delivering sermons after he criticized efforts to broaden tourism in the country was allowed back in September.Person of the YearDr. Shaikh Saeed Al-Zuair, 47, Salafy (Wahabi), was the dean of college of communication and propagation in Imam Mohamed Ben Saud University in Riyadh, and a featured speaker in government media outlets. There are no formal charges against him, according to many sources, but he remains in Al-Hair maximum-security prison outside Riyadh. He apparently was arrested for his political views, but remain in jail for his refusal to write an apology to the government. The family and friends of Al-Zuair blame Prince Naif for his prolonged detention, because there is no legal ground for detention. The interior minister has the power to hold anyone in jail at his desecration.III. Special Focus: Najran, the Untold Story.These events were reconstructed through numerous interviews with Ismailis citizens and some government officials, who didn’t wish to be named Najran is a southern Saudi city near the Yemeni border. The city enjoys a long history in Islam and Christianity. It was a center of Christianity until 1100 years ago, and holds the famous trench (Al-Akhdood), mentioned in the Koran. The trench according to Koran holds the charred bodies of Christian believers who were burnt for their faith.  Najran now is the main center of Shia Ismaili Muslims in Saudi Arabia. The history of Shiasm in Najran is1400 years old. Most Ismailis are from tribes of Yam and Hamadan, who fought alongside Imam Ali Ben Aby Talib, the first Shia Imam and cousin of Prophet Mohamed.  Historically the Yam tribes enjoyed excellent relationship with the government, and generally were comfortable until the arrival of Prince Mishael Ben Saud, the current governor. Since then government officials have embarked on a campaign of dismembering the Ismaili body in the Kingdom.Several officials publicly stated their desire to convert all Ismailis to Wahhabism. An official told James Dorsey of the Wall Street Journal, on January 9th that Ismailis are infidels and should convert to Wahhabism.  “These people are infidels because they do not follow the Sunna,” or the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, says Sheik Ali Khursan, a bearded Dawa official. “They don’t believe that the Koran is complete and they hate the Sunnis.” “We don’t eat their food, we don’t intermarry with them, we should not pray for their dead or allow them to be buried in our cemeteries.”  Another official Shikah AbdulAziz Ahmed Al-Mushaiqeh, the director of Ministry of Islamic Affairs told Al-Watan newspaper that the new his new office was opened to further the Salafi (Wahhabi) message in Njaran. (21). Mishale Ben Saud approved the office, according the Al-Watan.  The campaign against Ismailis commenced with arrival of Mishael as governor in 1997. In Ramadan of that year he sent military armors and police cars to prevent Ismailis from performing Eid prayers. That year Ismailis celebrated Eid one day ahead of the government, because they use their own calculations to decide Eid, and reach different results. Ismailis then were instructed to preformed Eid prayers at homes by their leader, the Dayee.  Later Mishael ordered the arrests of Shaikh Mahdi Theab Al-Mahaan and his brother Shaikh Ali on sorcery charges. Shaikh Mahdi was arrested for three years and flogged 3000 times. He was released in January form his prison in Riyadh.  Another figure that played a role in the anti-Ismaili campaign was Shaikh Mohamed Al-Askary, the highest-ranking judge in Najran. Al-Askri is believed to have encouraged the attack on Al-Mansoorah main mosque.

The Attack

Shortly after 3 p.m. on April 23, 2000 when several Mabahith jeeps and cars of the religious police approached Al-Mansoorah mosque and stormed it without warning. Inside, there was about five Ismailis who were attending a religious class given by a Yemeni Ismaili, Shaikh Mohamed Al-Khayat.   The troops arrested Al-Khayat and confiscated religious manuscripts and locked four Ismailis inside the mosque, then shot one Ismaili who tried to follow them. The unprovoked attack on the mosque and arrest of Al-Khayat sent scores of Ismailis to the residence of the governor at the Holiday Inn.   Over 60 Ismailis gathered outside the hotels demanding Al-Khayat release. Few hours passed with tension rising due to the presence of truck mounted machine guns outside the hotel and the refusal of Mishael to release the cleric.

During arguments a member of police threatened to use the truck mounted machine gun to disperse the crowed. Government forces started to shot and killed two Ismailis, Saleh Ben Natash, 50, and Ibn Shqayeh, 17, who was found dead a week later between trees nearby. Dozens were injured and taken to hospital and later to prison where they remain.

The government during the night dispatched emergency forces but they were unable to enter Al-Mansoorah neighborhood, the heart of Ismaili dawa. Some Ismaili citizens took to their guns to protect their leader Shaikh Hussian Ismail Al-Makrami, who lives in the area.

Army Against Civilians

On Monday afternoon the government dispatched the (the Fourth brigade) called Al-Wajib, and headed by Major General Hamood Ben Suliman Al-Khamash. The force was stationed in Najran and, was dispatched to take over Najran. The brigade has 20 American made tanks and other vehicles.  Two Abrams tanks outside the holiday Inn, one Abrams tank at Al-Khamis fork, another tank was stationed outside the governor’s office in Al-Dhayafah neighborhood. Another tank guarded the road to Sahrwra. There were Bradley armored vehicles, and other army trucks with each tank. Other tanks were spread across Najran  There was not direct exchange of fire but some army armored vehicles opened in the direction of some Ismaili in the cars but no one was hurt. Later on Tuesday, the army started arresting Ismailis citizens and holding them in Bradley vehicles until transport outside Najran. Many elderly were reported arrested and tied up with metal wires. An access of 600 Ismailis were arrested from the street mostly. Some returning students from Jeddah were arrested and remain in prison. The Army stayed one week in Najran and did most of the arrests and beatings of Ismailis citizens.


Several classified documents obtained by the Institute clearly show a systematic campaign against Ismaili citizens. The unprecedented campaign of religious and ethnic transfer has been continuing and affected over 2100 Ismailis in addition to their families. Government employs have been transferred. Teachers, border guards, and other civil servants were continually transferred and replaced by non-Ismaili citizens.


There are many Ismailis who were tortured, especially after the April attack by army forces and Mabahith. Tortured victims included elderly men. Hussain Marzook Al-Ghobary, 50, a farmer arrested in April 2000, was released 6 months later after suffering a nervous breakdown. Four Ismaili high school students were flogged because they had a fight with a teacher that follows the official Hanbali sect teacher who insulted their sect and beliefs in the classroom. They were sentenced between 2 to 4 years and 500 to 800 lashes.

Sorcery The government used accusation of sorcery against Ismaili religious leaders to cover its real motive. Shaikh Mahdi Theeb Al-Mahan was accused of that charge and served three years and 300 lashes. Shaikh Mohamed Al-Khayat was also accused of the same charge. Prince Naif and Mishael have said to local media that Al-Khayat is a sorcerer who was arrested from his home not mosque.

Religious Apartheid and Wahbization

This year the campaign of spreading the official sect in Najran took on a high tone. An office for dawa (propagation) was opened by Prince Mishael to promote the Salafi dawa (Wahhabi interpretation). The government started an aggressive campaign to constructed new Wahhabi mosques in Najran. At least $ 11million was spent to constructed and expand 9 mosques this year according the several newspapers.Najran has been experiencing increasing acts of anti-Shia Ismailism. Many were arrested, flogged for drummed-up charges. Several land confiscation were reported. A proposal to open a branch of the (Wahhabi) religious university Imam Mohamed Ben Saud in Najran was submitted.

Hammam Tribe

The government has started to change the demographic nature of Najran. The government granted two Yemeni tribes Saudi citizenship and allocated them land and jobs in Najran. The tribe lived in Najran as refugees since the 1960’s due to communist control of South Yemen.  They were granted large plots of land to replace their chantey homes on the outskirts of Najran. Their new area is called Meshaleyah, named after prince Mishael. Hammam tribe amounts to over 15,000 people. They have been given government jobs, while job market is very tight and unemployment runs at 40%.


There are about 105 Ismaili prisoners mostly arrested after the April 2000 attack. Shaikh Mahdi Al-Mahan was arrested sometimes in 1999 prior to the attack on the mosque in April 2000. He was accused of sorcery and sentenced to 5 years and 3000 lashes. He remains in Al-Malaz prison in Riyadh. His younger brother Shaikh Ali was arrested for one year and was released. Other religious leaders were also sentenced to prison terms and hundreds to thousands of lashes. There were numerous abuses of Ismaili citizens.  Four Shia Ismaili high school students were sentenced to 2 years and 800 lashes after a fight with a teacher who insulted their faith and called them Kufar. Ali Mahdi Al-Misaad and his cousin Mubarieck Salim Al-Misaad were arrested in 1999 and sentenced 30 months and 500 lashes. Ali Siraj Al-Saloom and Ali Yahya Al-Salim were arrested in the same case when a brother of a security official accused them of threatening him. They received a prison sentence, which was increased in appeal to 20 months and 500 lashes.  Jeddah Arrest

On April 29th, 2001 a group of Ismaili leaders traveled to Jeddah to meet with prince Abdullah to hand him a letter of grievances against Prince Naif and Mishael. The letter accused Naif and Mishael of engineering a campaign of religious apartheid, economic, educational and cultural suffocation.

The letter, which was obtained by the Institute, outlined the systematic attack on Ismailis and implicated several officials, and provided supporting official documents. Prince Abdullah promised Ismaili leaders to address their grievances but they were arrested later apparently against the Prince Abdullah’s wishes. They were all released a month later after his intervention. One of them is the tribal leader Shaikh Ahmed Turki Al-Saab , 47, from Najran, who was arrested January 15 a week after he granted the Wall Street Journal an interview, publish on the 9th.
IV. Government Control of Education and CultureEducation

The government controls and regulates all forms of education. The General Directorate for Woman’s Education is one of the most anti-Shia institutions in the country. Shia women teachers are not allowed to teach religious subjects or hold positions such as, school principals, guidance counselors, and university professors. The department has rejected all Shia applications to build private girls schools. In August more than 6o, mostly Shia, women teachers protested discrimination against them in outside the women education headquarters in Riyadh. They were interrogated by the government but otherwise not harmed. The president of the women education is Dr. Ali Al-Murshed.

Religious EducationThe government prevents the teaching of non-Wahhabi religious texts in schools and universities. Typical Sunni and Shia views are not represented in religious education. To the contrary, religious education enforces the inferiority of non-Wahhabi Islamic sects, and considers them as heathens. Non- Wahhabi clerics are not allowed to teach their faith openly.The lack of religious education for Shia inside Saudi Arabia forces them to travel abroad to Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Shia Ismaili clerics study inside homes using smuggled books or abroad. The government forces attacked such a class held in Al-Mansoorah mosque April 2000. Shia Jafaris started to hold low profile classes for their lower ranked clerics in Al-Hafouf. The classes were shut down several times due to security pressures, but are now back. A house used for holding religious classes for Shia Jafaris in Qateef remains in operation since 1995. Shaikh Salman Al-Odeh and Shaikh Safar Al-Hawali, Wahhabi clerics arrested for five years until 2000 for their political views, were still prevented from teaching religious classes usually held in mosques.

Religious Universities

There are eight universities in the country, three of which are predominantly religious. Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University in Riyadh is the largest one, and has a branch in Fairfax, Virginia outside Washington. The universities teach Wahhabi Islamic views only, and that other Islamic understandings are polytheist or deviant. The university refuses to admit Shia Jafari or Ismaili students or hire Shia faculty. Naser Al-Qafari wrote his doctorate thesis at the university on Shia Jafaris. He referred to them as Rafidah (rejectionists of religion). Many books published by the university attack almost all Islamic denominations. Such a book is “Answering Rafidah.”

School Textbooks

The government controls religious education in public and private schools from first grade throughout university. All religious and history curriculums represent a minority of Saudi population, and are written according to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. No other Sunni or Shia opinions are infused in those texts. In the past years, textbooks referred to many religious practices by Shia, Shafeis, and Malikis, such as celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, as innovations in religion (bedah). Religious textbooks received worldwide attention after September 11. Our report “Saudi Religious Curriculums, What Do they Teach?’ is coming February 20th, 2002.

Endowment and Prizes
King Fahd’s donations inside the country are allocated to Wahhabi religious institutions and mosques only. There is no evidence of the king giving money to Shafey, Maliki or Shia religious institutions or projects ever.

The king gave millions of dollars to mostly Wahhabi mosques and organizations in the country and abroad. He gave $1.2 million to Imam Mohamed Ben Saud University in August, and $1.5 million to other organizations abroad. The government and members of the royal family also donated mostly to Wahhabi religious projects in the country and abroad. (22).Prince Salman, governor of Riyadh, donated $266,000 January 14 to the organization of late Mufti Shaikh Ben Baaz. He also launched their website, which include derogatory attacks on Shia, and most Sunni Muslims. (23)

The most prestigious prize in the country is the King Faisal Prize, which is awarded annually in several categories like service to Islam, medicine and literature. It has been awarded since 1979 to over 120 people from many countries, including the United States. There were no Shia winners ever in any category. There is only one Shia nominee, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the famed Islamic philosopher and head of Department Islamic Studies at George Washington University. He was notified of winning the prize in 1979 but later was withdrawn with no explanation (24).

NamesThe interior ministry controls citizen’s names through the administration of civil records. Names not suitable to the official religious institution are banned. In 1992 a new directive was issued restricting even more names, such are those derived from the Koran. Some names banned are as Iman, Duaa, and Taj-Adeen, mostly use by Shafey, and Maliki citizens. (25).Many Shia citizens were forced to change their names, especially in the past few years. Names used exclusively by Shia, such as AbduliNabi, AbdulRassol, AbdulHussain, are all banned.

Descendents of the Prophet Mohamed commonly referred to as Sada or Ashraaf are banned from using their titles in identification cards or official documents. All neighboring countries allow them usage of these titles.

BooksAll religious books are strictly controlled. All books confiscated in the country are burnt. All Shia books are confiscated. Millions of religious books are burnt annually; most of them are Shia manuscripts. Shia books enter the country through smuggling or bribery, and are reproduced inside the country illegally.  In 1989, Mabahith stormed a storage warehouse, in Al-Khudraia industrial complexes between Saihat and Dammam, owned by Jafar Al-Ghanim from Saihat, and burnet tens of thousands of books worth an access of $1.5 million. The books were burnt outside the warehouse. Prince Mohamed Ben Fahd was governor of Eastern Province at the time (26).Government libraries only hold religious books accepted by the official Wahhabi institution. Several clerics smuggle their books secretly, and are distributed through underground networks, because bookstores cannot legally sell them.The libraries of all arrested Shia clerics are confiscated and burnt. Several books by Wahhabi clerics such as Shaikh Safar Al-Hawali, Salman Al-Odeh are banned. All books written by Shia or non-Wahhabi clerics are banned or confiscated. All books by Syed Mohamed Alawi from Makkah, and Shaikh Hassan Al-Khawildid from Safwa are banned. Several religious books by the former information minister Dr. Mohamed Abdo Yamani were pulled by the government and burnt.

Anti-Shia books are available in the country and sold legally and freely, but their number has been decreasing. The government continues to print anti-Shia books and distributed for free in many cases. The institute obtained books from the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. that labeled all Shia Muslims as (Rafidah). World Assembly of Muslim Youth, a government institution that maintains an office in Falls Church, Virginia outside Washington, freely distributes books stating that a Jewish conspiracy created Shia Islam. Dr. Mane Al-Juhani, the head of WAMY is member of the consultative council. Prince Sultan, the defense minister, frequently contributes to the organization.

MusicReligious songs applauding Prophet Mohamed (Madeeh) and commonly used by Malikis and Shafeis in Hijaz region are banned. Shia religious songs used during commemorations and known as Noha or Aza are also banned. Many religious singers (Shayaleen) are arrested annually in the Eastern Province. The vice-governor Prince Saud Bin Naïf reportedly ordered these administrative arrests that lasted between two to six months (27).


All media outlets are controlled by the government, which limits religious instructions on its television and radio to official Wahhabi instructions, and clerics. Shia or non-Salafi Sunni instructions are never allowed in any newspaper or media outlet. The first Shia cleric interviewed in Saudi media was Shaikh Hassan Assafar on December 3rd in Al-Watan newspaper. The interview didn’t address religious instructions.

Religious Holidays
The government recognizes two holidays only, Eid Al-Fitr (after Ramadan) and Eid Al-Adha (After Haj). Other religious holidays like Prophet Mohamed’s birthday, celebrated by Shafei, Maliki, Hanafi and Shia sects are not allowed nor acknowledged by local media . Many Saudis celebrating the birthday of Prophet Mohamed (Mawled) do so in secret at their homes. Celebrations of Prophet Mohamed’s birthday are publicly held in Al-Ahsa region at Shia mosques and husainyat (28).

Ismailis are prevented from attending Eid prayers when their Eid days differ from the state-declared days. This policy started in 1997 with the arrival of Mishael Ben Saud the governor of Najran. An army unit and police cars surrounded all Ismaili mosques in Najran to prevent them from performing Eid prayers. They have been performing Eid prayers at homes since. Shia Ismailis and Jafaris independently decide their own Eid days. Ismailis use astronomical calculations to determine their Eid days, while the official religious institution use moon sighting (29).Shia Jafari holidays like Ashura and others commemorating the death of Prophet Mohamed, his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali are all officially banned but are held in Al-Ahsa. Skipping work or school to attend religious activities can lead to discipline or termination. Shia teachers are not allowed to take day offs during Shia religious holidays.Another banned festival is the traditional festivity known as (Grayqaan), celebrated by both Shia and Sunnis living on the Gulf coast. During the festival children knock on doors and collect treats while singing traditional songs and wearing traditional clothes. The Senior Council of Uluma issued a fatwa to ban it. (30)

IV. Discriminatory Laws and Legal Practices

PrisonersAlthough Shia are a minority in the country, over 95% of prisoners held for political or religious reasons are Shia. The majority of those prisoners are Shia Ismailis, 105, followed by Shia Jafaris, 90. There are four Shia prisoners who have been missing since 1996 from Al-Hair prison. (31)Currently there are 17 Ismaili prisoners who are facing execution. Saleh Al-Yami, Ismaili journalist from Rahima was arrested after he spoke on Al-Jazirah news station in Qatar following the April 2000 attack on the Al-Mansoorah mosque. He was sentenced for seven years.Although the council of ministers reaffirmed the ban on torture in August, torture continues to be a common tool of interrogations and is approved by the highest security officials. In the past 10 years prisoners who died by torture were all Shia. Mohamed Al-Hayek, 28, from Qateef was tortured to death at Al-Hair prison in Riyadh September 1996. His body was never returned to his family who was informed of his death July 21, 1998.Maythem Al-Baher, 19, was killed in Dammam Mabahith prison September 1996 as well. Suliman Al-Alwan was chief of Mabahith at the time. He was since transferred to Qaseem.Several released Shia prisoners reported that belonging to a Shia sect was among the charges they faced. During interrogations, Shia and Sunni differences were discussed and prisoners were asked to become Wahhabis in exchange for reduced charges and sentences. Imprisoned clerics were asked to stop religious activities and seek other business.

Ali Siraj Al-Yami, and Ali Yahya Al-Yami , both Ismaili prisoners were released January 22 after they served their sentences. They were arrested 20 months ago and were lashed 500 times. (Arokshan Al-Yami) (32)

All judges in the country are Hanbali (Wahhabi) and graduates of religious institutions like Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University. There are no Maliki, Shafey or Shia judges in the country. This has proven especially hard on Shia citizens who have to face judges deeming them as heretics. Saudi judges do not accept Shia testimonies against Sunnis.

Judge Fuad Al-Majid in Qateef, who sentenced Sadiq Mallallah, a Shia youth to death for apostasy in 1993 following an argument remains in his position. The head of Najran court, Mohamed Al-Askari, was reportedly behind the attack on Al-Mansorah Ismaili mosque on April 2000 was promoted to a senior judge in Taif. Prince Naïf, visited him at his home in Najran in June 2000 after the attacks. He was also awarded 30 plots of land in Najran by the king for his services. (33)Travel BanSources estimate that thousands of Shia in the Najran, Eastern Province and Madina are banned from leaving the country. Several Wahhabi clerics such as Shaikh Al-Oedah, Al-Hawali are barred from travel since their release from prison. Travel bans extend as long as10 years, and are approved by the minister of interior. Several hundred people got their passports back this year, for unknown reasons.Religious Killing and Violence

All Saudis shot dead by security forces in demonstrations were either Shia Ismailis, or Jafaris. Following the April 2000 attack on Al-Mansoorah mosque, security forces killed two Ismailis outside Najran Holiday Inn. Saleh Ben-Nataash, 55, was shot in the chest. The government held his body for over a month. Also shot was a teenager called Ibn Shqaeeh. (34)

National Guard and Navy forces killed over 25 Shia Jafaris and injured hundreds during the November 1979 massive demonstrations in Al-Ahsa, also known as Intifadah. There were no compensations paid to the families of the victims and no one was held responsible in both cases.The number of Saudis killed over religious grounds has increased several times. Najran continued to witness violent attack by the government on the Ismaili minority. A member of Mabahith shot Hadi Ben Ali Al-Kulaib, 30, Friday January 18. He remains in a critical condition at King Khalid hospital in Najran. Police also shot dead Ali Ahmed Al-Jifi Al-Mahamed, 32, from Najran in his car December 15.In Al-Fadool eastern city Hussain Al-Mattar, 18, a high school student was kidnapped, killed and mutilated by a Wahhabi citizen in June, apparently for religious reasons. His accused killer is a college student from Riyadh and is in government custody.Another murdered Saudi Shia is Saleh Bo-Marrah, 38, who was slain August 1st in his store in Al-Hafouf by two Sunni citizens. Several reports suggested that the two killers shouted derogatory words (Rafidi and Bharani), before they stabbed him in the throat with a dagger. The two brothers remain in prison. (35)The body of Shia prayer caller Ali Al-Malblab, 70, from Al-Jaffer was returned to his family for burial a year after his killing by religious police at their headquarters November 1998. His family wrote to Prince Naïf and Crown Prince Abdullah and got no response or compensation. The killers of Al-Malblab were transferred to Al-Oyoon headquarters as punishment for the killing. (36)Collective PunishmentCollective punishment is apparently reserved to religious minorities and not used against tribal or regional groups. For example, thousands of Shia Ismailis became a target of religious apartheid and have been demoted, fired, and transferred from Najran after April 2000 mosque attack. Hundreds of interior ministry employees were transferred away from Najran. Also 70 teachers were transferred to the Northern Province August 9, 2000. No Ismaili students were accepted at military colleges this year, unlike the past years (37). Similar collective punishment is used against the Shia Jafaris.Internet

King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology regulates Internet access in the country, and blocks web sites for moral, political and religious reasons. Numerous religious Shia sites are blocked while anti-Shia sites propagating the murder and expulsion of Shia citizens are freely accessible. Such sites like (muslm.net, alsaha.com) are full of derogatory terms that are used against Shia by some Wahhabi zealots, such as Rafidah.

Prince Salman launched the official website of the late Mufti Shaikh Ben Baaz (www.ibnbaaz.org) which contains derogatory attacks on Shia Muslims, and non Wahhabi Sunni Muslims. All reference to Abaddy Muslims, official denomination of Oman, were removed or disabled for political considerations.

Shaikh AbdulRahamn Naser Al-Baraak, a senior official cleric issued a fatwa in May calling for jihad against Shia. His fatwa was carried by www.islam-qa.com, which is owned by Shaikh Mohamed Al-Monjed another official cleric with close ties to Prince Mohamed Ben Fahd.

Such websites also propagate accusations that Shiasm was created through a Jewish conspiracy, and that Shia hold sexual parties in their husainyat during Ashura commemorations.

Following a fatwa by the Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al-Alshaikh permitting hacking of “suspicious” web sites, a flurry of hackers attacked and disabled many Shia sites. This has been referred to as “Cyber Jihad.”

The following Shia sites were constantly attacked and destroyed several times. The government didn’t take any public steps to curb such attacks on these sites hosted by American firms. www.najran1.com, www.hajr.org, www.qatifonline.org. The domain name www.hajr.com was hijacked for over a year and attempts to regain it have failed so far.

Examples of Shia and Hijazi sites hacked by Salafy zealots:
http://www.hajr.com/- still hijacked.reach.to/etehamat


http://www.alhaq.com/Examples of blocked Shia sites:


http://www.aqaed.com/Examples of sites promoting sectarian hatred, which are accessible from the country:




www.khayma.com/najran  Minorities, an OverviewSaudi Arabia has several religious minorities. The Wahhabi sect, the official sect endorsed by the state, is dominant only in the Central region. The Shafey, Maliki and Hanafi sects dominate in the Western region of the country. The Shia Jafaris dominate the Eastern region with some Shafeis and Hanbalis. The Southern region has a mix of Shia Ismailis, Shia Zaidis and some Hanbalis.

Sunni Minorities:

The Official Wahhabi Sect
The sect is probably the largest of all sects in the country and the most powerful. It is the official sect of the state and the religious institution. Hanbalis are concentrated in the Central Province (Najd) and number in the millions and are believed to make up 38 to 40 % of the population. The Mufti and all judges are always selected among Hanbali sect. Although the government endorses the sect, it is subject to a tighter official control than any other sect.

The Shafey Sect
The Shafey sect is one of the four major schools in Sunni Islam. Shafeis were the numerical majority in the kingdom until few decades ago. They constitute the majority in the Western Province (Hijaz). Their numbers are believed to be in the millions.(38)

Shafey religious institutions have been slowly wiped out by the Hanbali- Najdi-dominated government. In the past, renowned Shafey clerics such as Zaini Dahlan attracted followers from around the Muslim world (2). Nowadays Hanbali zealots refer to Shafeis as Sufis. Sufism is banned in the country. Their numbers, especially in the Eastern province, have been diminished over the past years. Shafeis are not allowed to lead prayers in Makkah and Madina as they historically were. One of the Shafey prominent figures is the former information minister Dr. Mohamed Abdu Yamani.

The Maliki Sect

Like Shafeis and Hanafis, they are concentrated in Hijaz especially in Makkah, where their leader Syed Mohamed Alawi Al-Maliki resides. They also face attacks from Hanbali religious zealots. Several government-financed books were written by Hanbali clerics to attack Syed Alawi accusing him of Sufism and apostasy. Algerian-born Shaikh Abu Baker Al-Jazairi, who worked as a speaker at the Prophet’s mosque and a teacher at the Islamic University in Madina, attacked Syed Alawi in several speeches and in at least one book.

Shaikh Abdullah Bin Manee, a high ranking judge and a member of the Council of Senior Uluma, wrote a book calling Alawi an apostate and a religious deviant. The late Grand Mufti, Shaikh AbdulAziz Bin Baz, wrote the book’s forward.

Alawi attempted to teach at the Grand Mosque in Makkah like his father and grandfather, the Council of Senior Ulma barred him. He is unable to construct his own mosque and publish books inside. Malikis are not allowed to lead prayers or give sermons in the Grand Mosque or the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina as they historically were. One of the Maliki prominent figures is the former oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani.

The Hanafi Sect

Hanafis are the smallest of the Sunni sects, and their religious institutions don’t exist anymore. Because they share geographical and religious proximity to Shafey and Maliki sects, they tend to depend on them for religious instruction. There are no known Hanafi clerics.

Shia Minorities:

Ismaili SectShia Ismailis are concentrated in the Southern region of Najran. Almost the entire Yam tribe is Ismaili. Their present leader, known also as AlDayee, is Shaikh Hussain Bin Ismail AlMakrami. Their number hovers around one million according to different sources. Discrimination against them has increased in the past few years after the appointment of the current governor, Prince Mishaal Bin Saud. Ismailis are prevented from using their distinctive prayer call anywhere, including in their own mosques.

Jafari Sect
Shia Jafaris constitute the majority in the Eastern Province. They also have big communities in Madina, Wadi Fatima, and smaller communities in Jeddah and Riyadh. Their number is a matter of dispute, but is over three millions. They are probably the most active minority in the country struggling with the government for their rights, and receive most media attention.

Zaidi Sect

They are concentrated in the southern cities of Asir, Najran, Jeddah, Taif, and, Yunbo. There are no known Zaidi mosques or any organized religious institutions; Saudi Zaidis depend on Yemeni Zaidis for spiritual guidance. Their number is not known and they tend to hide their faith in Sunni dominated cities. The government confiscated the Zaidi mosque in Najran three years ago, and installed a Wahhabi Imam.

Hidden Faiths

Extreme anti-Shia feelings and discrimination in predominantly -Sunni cities compels many Shia of all sects to hide their faith. There is thousands of Shia Ismailis, Jafari, and Zaidis who live in Riyadh and other mainly Sunni cities, but hide their faith from the government and neighbors to avoid harassment and government restrictions. Najdi Shia community in Riyadh numbers in the tens of thousands.Many Shia from Madina, Asir, and, Najran live in Jeddah and other cities and don’t declare their faith. This environment led to some conversions to the Sunni sect. There were also many reports of Sunnis converting to Shiasm secretly. A member of the royal family has secretly adopted Shiasm recently (39).Hijazi Sunnis tend to hide their religious beliefs especially if they occupy senior government positions. Religious beliefs contradicting official sect is brings harassment and difficulties.

US Actions

The report by State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor minimized the situation of religious persecution in Saudi Arabia. It also wrongly labeled Shia Ismailis as (Makarama Ismailis), which can be derogatory, according to all Ismailis interviewed by the Institute. We have informed the office of this issue. Although the Institute publishes the most extensive report in religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, the State Department ignored it and didn’t use any of its materials.The Office of International religious Freedom visited Saudi Arabia last February but didn’t travel outside Riyadh or discuses religious persecution of Saudi citizens such as Shia Ismailis, Jafaris or Hijazi Sunnis, according to a State Department official. Ali Al-Ahmed spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding the continued arrest of religious leaders in March.  1. Al-Riyadh newspaper, January 14, 2002.2. A. Al-Saif.3. S.A. December 2001.4. Saud Sultan, Decmber 2001.5. A. S, August, 2001.6. Al-Watan-June 16, 2001 # 260. 7. A Al-Ibrahim, August 2001.8. A. A. August 2001.9. Falah Al-Yami, September 2001.10. Hussain Al-Ahsaai, July 2001.11. Fawzi S., 2001.12 Senior Council of Uluma, fatwa # 16626.13 S.A. December 2001.14. (A. Al-Zahrani. January 27, 2002. 15. Mohamed S. January 2002.16. Saud Sultan, January 2002.17. Mohamed Al-Shaheed, January 2002.18. Falah Al-Yami, July 2001.19) Fahd Al-Yami, November 2000.20. Noman, January 2002.21 Al-Watan, May 21, 2001 #234.22. Al-Watan, August 13 2001, #318.23. Al-Riyadh newspaper, January 14, 2002.24. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.25. Faiza A., 2000.26. A. Hassan, January 2000.27. K.A 1999.28. T.A., January 2002.29. Fahd Alyami.30. Senior Council of Uluma, fatwa # 15532.31. Mohammad Al-Hussain, 2001.32. A. Alyami, Nov. 2001.33. Fahd Alyami, Sept. 2001.34. Rakan, Al-Yami , July 2001. 35 Hasan A. Al Abdullah, August 04, 200136. Sadiq J. 2001.37. Fahd Alyami, June 2001.38. Awatif Alattar, 2001.

39. Odeh M., 2000.


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