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
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?
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 Did Nimr Anger the Saudis?
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?
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?
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.”
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.
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
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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