Why Saudi Arabia’s Execution of Nimr al-Nimr Angered Indian Shias

A large number of Shiite protestors took to streets in Srinagar and Lucknow against the execution of a Shia cleric

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Kashmiri Shiite Muslims carrying a placard with the portrait of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, shout slogans during a protest in Srinagar. (Photo Treatment: The Quint)

On 2 January, Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others – the largest execution carried out by the kingdom in three and a half decades. The execution of al-Nimr triggered attacks on Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran, following which Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with arch-rival Iran. It also sparked protests across the Mideast, and beyond.

On Sunday, a large number of Shia protestors took to the streets in Srinagar and Lucknow against the execution of Nimr.

Who is Nimr Al Nimr?

A Bahraini protester holds a picture of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a rally denouncing his execution in Daih, Bahrain. (Photo: AP)
A Bahraini protester holds a picture of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a rally denouncing his execution in Daih, Bahrain. (Photo: AP)

Sheikh Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric said to be in his mid-50s, was from Awamiyah, a town in eastern Saudi Arabia. He studied in Iran and Syria and was known for his opposition to the monarchy.

Why Saudi Arabia’s Execution of Nimr al-Nimr Angered Indian Shias

Why Did Nimr Anger the Saudis?

A Bahraini anti-government protester holds up a picture of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution in Saudi Arabia was announced Saturday in Daih, Bahrain. (Photo: AP)
A Bahraini anti-government protester holds up a picture of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution in Saudi Arabia was announced Saturday in Daih, Bahrain. (Photo: AP)

Nimr al-Nimr was a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family. He rose to prominence for his fiery sermons, in which he criticised the ruling monarchy in Saudi Arabia and called for Shiite empowerment.

This gained him a following mostly among young Shiites who felt discriminated against by the Persian Gulf government and joined Arab Spring protests in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011.

Why Did They Execute Him?

Why Saudi Arabia’s Execution of Nimr al-Nimr Angered Indian Shias

Saudi authorities arrested Sheikh Nimr in July 2012, while the kingdom was pushing to put an end to the Arab Spring. Sheikh Nimr faced charges, including sedition and was sentenced to death in October 2014. Despite his fiery tone, his supporters and others who followed his career said he had never called for violence, and that pitting him as a terrorist was a “stretch”, according to New York Times.

Are Shias In India Upset Too?

A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim man shouts slogans against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, during a protest in Srinagar, January 2016. (Photo: AP)
A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim man shouts slogans against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, during a protest in Srinagar, January 2016. (Photo: AP)

Hundreds of Shiite Muslims rallied in Shia dominated areas of Kashmir protesting Saudi Arabia’ execution.

They took out a procession that continued for several hours at Saidakadal in Srinagar, holding black flags and pictures of the cleric. Clashes broke out when police tried to stop them. Protests also erupted in central Kashmir’s Budgam district which has a sizeable Shia population.

Protests erupted even in Jammu, with the Shia Federation Jammu Province paying homage to Ayatullah Baqir Al-Nimr.

In Lucknow, Shias led by Imam-e-Juma Maulana Kalbe Jawwad took out a march in the old city and torched an effigy of the Saudi government.

This is not a Shia-Sunni issue. There were Hindu Pandits, Shias and Sunnis in the protest that we organised.

Imam-e-Juma, Maulana, Kalbe Jawwad to The Quint

Sunni cleric Maulana Hasnain Baqai, who also attended the protest said, “One Shia cleric was hanged just because he was raising voice for minorities’ rights and sheltering of terrorism by Saudi Arabia.”

Shiite Muslim women chant slogans during a rally to condemn the execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Karachi, Pakistan. (Photo: AP)
Shiite Muslim women chant slogans during a rally to condemn the execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Karachi, Pakistan. (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and set the building on fire. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Saudi officials that they will face “divine” revenge for their actions. Riyadh responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.

Iranian demonstrators hold posters of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, during a protest denouncing his execution, in front of the Saudi Embassy, in Tehran. (Photo: AP)
Iranian demonstrators hold posters of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, during a protest denouncing his execution, in front of the Saudi Embassy, in Tehran. (Photo: AP)

Doubtlessly, this innocent martyr’s blood, which was spilled unjustly, will quickly show its effect and the divine vengeance will befall the Saudi politicians.

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Supreme leader, Iran

Shias and Sunnis in India

A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as police stop them during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar. (Photo: AP)
A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as police stop them during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar. (Photo: AP)

According to BBC, India has the second largest Shi’a population in the world, after Iran. Pew Research estimates the Shia population of India was 16-24 million in 2009, which makes for about 10-15% of the total Muslim population in India.

Nonetheless, Sunnis make up the vast majority of India’s 180 million Muslims and tend to dominate India’s Muslim discourses and institutions. But the BJP’s most prominent Muslim figure, party Vice President and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, for instance, is a Shia.

(With inputs from AP)

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