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Anti-Shiism in Muharram 2019

Shia Muslims spend the first ten days of the holy month of Muharram in ritual mourning commemorating the death of Hussain, son of Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.  

Muharram rituals are central to the Shia faith. The nature of these rituals make this population highly visible, and thus, Shia Muslims are particularly vulnerable in this month. Previous to the beginning of this holy month, Shia Rights Watch published its annual Muharram Advisory. The advisory targets Shia Muslims and national and international authorities with guidelines that can reduce human rights violations. The Muharram 2019 Advisory can be found here

The first ten days of Muharram are notably dense in Shia commemorative events. The majority of anti-Shia targeting can be anticipated in these ten days. Within this document, Shia Rights Watch has compiled anti-Shia incidents in this duration. 

This report is an immediate notice of anti-Shia violence in the first ten days of Muharram. Anti-Shiism presented in this report are reports made to Shia Rights Watch in response to the organizational advisory published in advance of the Holy month. 

A retrospective look into human rights violations against Shia Muslims highlights the dominating role of national authorities in anti-Shiism. Shia Rights Watch has found that anti-Shia actions have been mainly in the hands of authorities. In contrast to previous years, attacks in the hands of extremist groups or individuals have been limited to Iraq.  


In Bahrain, authorities escalated limitations on congregation and arrested leaders of Muharram rituals. On September 4th, the Interior Minister of Bahrain, Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, announced crackdowns against Muharram commemorations.  He stated that Manama’s security services would be ‘monitoring’ the worshipers and that “raising slogans or pictures of religious or political figures or foreign parties … will not be allowed.”

A vast number of clerics, reciters, and religious leaders were summoned, in some cases arrested over their participation in Muharram-related events. 

Among those summoned are: 

Sheikh Isa Al-Moemen and Sheikh Mohammad Ali Al-Mahfouz, Sheikh Zuheir Al-Khal, Sayed Jaber Al-Shahrkani, Ali Hamadi, Mahdi Sahwan, Sayed Hadi Al-Biladi, Ahmad Al-Owainati, and Abdulla Al-Nouri

Among those arrested are: 

Sheikh Isa Eid, Sheikh Sadiq Rabie, Sheikh Fadhel Al-Zaki, Sheikh Abdulmohsen Mulla Atiya Al-Jamri, Sheikh Mounir Al-Maatouk, Sheikh Mahmoud Al-Ojaimi, Sheikh Hamed Ashour, Sheikh Jaafar Al-Saegh, Mulla Kassim Zainuldin, Mulla Jawad Al-Mirza, Sheikh Mohammad Ali Al-Mahfouz, Sayed Jaber Al-Shahrkani, Sheikh Zuheir Al-Khal as well as Sheikh Isa Al-Moeme,Abdullah Al-Buri, Leaders: heads of “Ansar Al-Haq and Sheikh Hussein Al-Asfour obsequies

Coinciding with the holy month of Muharram, detention centers adopted measures that directly restricted rituals associated with the sacred month. Jaws Prison authorities banned group congregation outside the hours of 7-9 PM. Clerics and suspected encouragers of Muharram rituals were placed in solitary confinement, forbidden even the meager time authorities claimed to allow Shia congregation. 

In response to the increased violence against Shia community leaders, Bahrain’s February 14 Youth Coalition called for rallies and increased attendance to Muharram programs as a show of solidarity against anti-Shiism. 

Al-Wefaq called on Manama to stop “ abhorrent sectarian behavior” Sheikh Hussein al-Daihi, the Deputy Secretary-General of al-Wefaq stated:

 “The regime’s targeting of clerics, preachers, and eulogy reciters, in addition to attacking some Ashura manifestations is a heinous crime not less than that committed by the tyrant of Iraq (former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) when he bombed the Dome of Imam Al-Hussein shrine. Those who insist on targeting Ashura every year should remember the fate of all tyrants who fought Imam Al-Hussein and failed and were followed by the curse of history.”

Sources report that restrictions in Shia practices specific to Muharram have incited action in support of Shia rights. Bahraini authorities aimed to quell activism and the diffusion of humanitarian sentiment in Muharram programs by arresting religious reciters and banning large congregations. Contrary to their goals, however, actions taken by authorities have encouraged more support for human rights efforts. 


Indian- Led Kashmir

Shia Muslims have become the target of restrictions amidst conflict in Kashmir. At the beginning of the holy month of Muharram, India announced a ban on all gatherings in the Shia-dominated district of Srinagar. Officials called the restrictions on religious expression as “precautions” to political rallies.

In anticipation of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, a curfew was put in place. On Sunday, September 8, police vans fitted with loudspeakers announced curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar’s city center Lal Chowk and adjacent areas, including Rainawari and Badgam. Clashes that aimed to thwart ongoing processions resulted in the injury of more than 12 locals. 

Sources report that a number of mourners have been arrested in confrontations resulting from enforcement of curfews. 

The history of Shia Islam in Kashmir reaches back to the late 660 AD under the Umayyad Dynasty when many Shia Muslims fled prosecution. The religion gained visibility in 1372 AD under the teachings of Sayyid Ali Hamedani, who had traveled to Kashmir with over 700 Shia individuals. The belief gained even more traction under Mir Shamsu-din Araqi in 1481. By 1505 AD, Shiism had been adopted by King of the Shah Mir Dynasty based in Kashmir and the Chak clan native to the area.  



On Friday, September 6, religious authorities in Selangor asked mosques to call in sermons on their congregations to be vigilant over the spread of Shia Islam. The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) said in a weekly sermon that Muslims should not be influenced by the practices of Shia Islam. The weekly sermon is broadcasted nationally and serves as a template for smaller, community-based sermons all over Malaysia.

The department stated on its website:

“I implore upon the Muslim ummah (community) to always remain vigilant upon the spread of [Shia] deviant teachings in this nation…The Muslim ummah must become the eyes and the ears for the religious authorities when stumbling upon activities that are suspicious, disguising under the pretext of Islam.” 

In the sermon, Shia Islam and practices were regarded as “extremist.. nauseating” and one which “ensnares its victims.”

Days later, on September 8th, 25 JAIS officers raided a Shia center in Gombak, Malaysia at 9:45 pm and arrested 23 individuals. A large portion of those arrested was minors and women. 

Those arrested were brought to the Islamic complex at Gombak and were told that they were being investigated under shariah law for opposing the fatwa on the practice of Shia Islam.  They were held until 5:00 am but told to denounce Shia practices and that they could be summoned again at any time. 

JAIS is the Islamic religious authority in Selangor. The institution is supported by the States vast economic funds. 

Shia in Malaysia report a lack of acceptance and fear of public practice. Religious institutions on numerous occasions denounced Shia Islam and labeled those that practice the religion as “deviants.” 

Shia Rights Watch notes that anti-Shia broadcasts lead to a cascade of anti-Shia sentiment which could endanger all religious and ethnic minorities in Malaysia. Anti-Shiism in Malaysia has hindered peacebuilding efforts across populations. Shia Rights Watch notes that the lack of government intervention into anti-Shia propaganda not only endangers Shia Malaysians, it incites violence that damages non-Shia communities. 



Government forces attacked Ashura processions that commemorated the death of Hussain in four different states, one of which was Kano. The mourners chanted slogans condemning the martyrdom of Hussain and carried with them mourning banners. The attack resulted in the death of 12 and the injury of many others.

Government forces have long perpetrated Anti-Shiism in Nigeria. Extreme violence has been the topic of condemnation by the United Nations and human rights organizations. Little action has been taken by State or National leadership to address anti-Shiism in the hands of authorities. 



A singular attack in Karbala, Iraq stands in contrast to the nations mentioned above in which national authorities were the primary perpetrators of anti-Shiism. 

Sources report a religious clergy and doctoral student of Islamic Studies at the University of Baghdad, Sheikh Mu’ayad Musawi was invited to lead a supposed congregation in the outskirts of Baghdad over the phone. Upon arrival, he was shot by a gunman. It was reported that there was no Muharram congregation and that the clergy was lured to an unpopulated area to be assassinated. Musawi was born in 1985 and was a father to four children. 

Authorities have reported little information about motivations that lead to the perpetuation of the attacks. 

For years, Iraq has faced violence in the hands of extremist such as ISIS, which operate as a group and aim to exterminate the Shia en-mass. This attack was the first of its kind in Iraq.


Shia Rights Watch expresses concern for an increase in the assassination of Shia community leaders by armed gunmen and is working actively to aid investigations in the hands of authorities. 

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Shia Rights Watch continues to stand alert to violence that targets Muharram practices in continuation of Muharram. The organization condemns all acts of violence and encourages activism against human rights violations. 


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