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 Updated: October 30, 2015

Discrimination against Egyptian Shias; Al-Hussein Mosque closure on Ashura

By: Mubarek Eli


CAIRO, Egypt: The historic mosque of Al-Hussein remained closed during Ashura to prevent the Shiites to perform mourning of Imam al-Hussein (p) martyrdom. Human rights activists and Organizations world over have criticized the banning shias from performing their rituals. Shias of Egypt have been facing strong discrimination by successive governments.

The mosque closure from 8th to 10th Muharram followed after an official statement from the ministry of religious endowments. The statement claimed that the closure was also meant to prevent “Shia rituals that don’t belong to Islam.”

“Our visits to the Hussein Mosque are continuous all year, but visits in those days are of a special nature because they coincide with the memory of the great loss and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein,” Egyptian Shiite leader al-Taher al-Hashemy told News reporters.

“We are Egyptian citizens, and we have the right to celebrate what we believe in, the same as Sunni Muslims and Copts,” Al-Hashemi added.

Isaac Ibrahim, an officer with the Freedom of Religion and Belief department at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Daily News Egypt that the government’s move is against the Egyptian constitution and the International Declaration of Human Rights.

“Closing the mosque of Imam Hussein does not only prevent Shi’as from celebrating the Day of Ashura. There are Sunni Muslims who frequently go to this mosque as well,” emphasised Ibrahim. Ibrahim also said that this is not the first act of discrimination committed against Shi’as. He noted that Egyptian authorities have previously imprisoned Egyptian Shi’as, accusing them of insulting Prophet Mohammed and his companions.

The Holy head of Imam Hussein(p) is believed to have been buried beneath the mausoleum at Al-Hussein Mosque.

Ashura, the 10th day of the Islamic calendar, commemorates the 7th century Battle of Karbala, Iraq when Al-Hussein(P), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), was martyred.

This is not the first time Egypt has closed the mosque ahead of the Islamic Ashoura festival.

In November 2013, the ministry closed the shrine at the heart of Al-Hussein Mosque to visitors to avert possible clashes between Salafists and Shias during the Ashoura commemorations.

During Mohamed Morsi’s reign, Shi’a cleric Hassan Shehata, two of his siblings, and a student were killed, while dozens of others were injured, as a result of Sunni-Shi’a sectarian violence in the district of Abu Mussalam in Giza.

The killings took place when approximately 24 Shi’as gathered at a local residence to celebrate the birth of Imam Mohammed Ibn Hassan Al-Mahdi, believed to be the 12th and last imam, in Shi’a Islam. The gathering was attacked by a mob armed with Molotov cocktails and other weapons.

Days before the incident, Mohamed Morsi gave a speech in which he supported the Syrian uprising against the regime of President Bashar Al-Asaad. In this speech, Morsi oversimplified the upheaval into a Sunni-Shi’a feud, calling on “the Sunni Islamic world to unite against a Shi’a dictator”.

In October 2010, under former president Hosni Mubarak, an Egyptian court jailed more than 10 Shi’as, arguing that “they challenged and insulted Islam and the Sunni doctrine”.

Furthermore, in February 2014, a Shi’a citizen named Amr Abdullah was imprisoned for five years for the same reason. Local media reported that Abdullah was arrested while entering the mosque of Imam Hussein to commemorate the Day of Ashura.


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