No room for sectarianism
The enemies of Saudi Arabia are constantly trying to stir sectarian tension in the Eastern Province, hoping that the situation will explode and engulf our oil-producing region and cause irreparable harm to our economy, security, sense of well-being and stability. Fortunately, despite these evil schemes to try and make this happen, nothing even close to their nightmare scenarios has ever taken place.
Thank God, our country has been spared the ugly sectarianism that has corroded neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, where Shiite militias have fought against Sunni ones, each side committing worse atrocities, in an endless cycle of violence that takes neither country forward and never produces a clear winner. In fact, all of us Muslims and Arabs are victims and losers of this scourge called sectarianism.
In Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his iron-grip that he had over the country for decades, the new-found power that the Shiites were given was misused by some to exact seemingly endless bouts of bloody and merciless revenge that is responsible in large part for the appearance of the self-ascribed Islamic State (IS) in the last couple of years.
I visited the Qatif region in 2005 along with some Saudi and western journalists to cover the marking of Ashoura, the Shiite commemoration. Although there were many policemen in the streets, they allowed the local population to perform all of their rites in public over several days in perfect safety and without being harassed or stopped by anyone. We did not feel at any stage that Shiites were being denied their right to practice their rituals.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has clearly stated that all Saudis, irrespective of their sect, color, national origin or economic status, are all equal and the same as citizens of this great nation. This cannot be forgotten, and should be implemented by all citizens, both private and those in official positions.
One good example of the Kingdom being put in a negative light by its enemies was when the Sindh government in Pakistan put the question on forms for pilgrims intending to perform Haj this year in Saudi Arabia, asking whether they were Shiite or Sunni. Critics of Saudi Arabia immediately jumped on this to accuse the Kingdom of fanning the flames of sectarianism. Days later, Ministry of Haj officials denied that they had ever asked Pakistan to ask this of their pilgrims, stating that the Kingdom never asks the sectarian denomination of its pilgrims. Most Saudis are upset and horrified at such wicked violence, and condemn it. Last November, eight Shiites were gunned down in Al-Ahsa also by the IS gunmen. But these attacks against Shiites have thankfully been few and far between. As Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh told Saudi Television, the Qatif attack is aimed at “driving a wedge among the sons of the nation.”
On my trip to Qatif, I was invited by a group of young Saudi Shiites, that I had befriended, to pray with them. I politely accepted, and prayed the Maghreb prayer alongside them at their small mosque. It was a serene moment that pleased all of us, as I a Sunni Saudi joined them to pray to the one and same Allah. If only more of us practiced such acts across the country, and across the Arab and Muslim worlds, sectarianism would not have a chance to breed and grow, and thus cause so much strife and bloodshed as it does today.
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