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Incidents of Anti-Shiism in September, 2018

In the month of September, that coincide with Muharram, Shia Muslims commemorated the death anniversary of Hussain ibn Ali, an international revered defender of human rights. On the occasion, Shia Muslims gather to renew their religious commitment in standing against human rights violations. Because Shia processions are public in ritual, processions have become targets for direct violence. Shia Rights Watch called upon grassroots to monitor violations targeting Muharram rituals by using #Muharram2018 on social media.  

In this report, violence targeting sShiareligious practices are well as cultural and social violence against Shia Muslims are compiled. Data presented in this report are as a result of grassroots reporting and reports of Shia activists.  

Shia Rights Watch notes that violence against Shia Muslims is largely unreported by victims. However, explicit reporting of anti-Shiism has been seen in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, India, United States, Iran, and Pakistan. Arrests and discriminatory judicial proceedings, and damage to property prevailed as explicit forms of violence.


Despite the people’s efforts to reduce humanitarian violence in the country, they are met with an increased prosecution. Shia Muslims of Bahrain are treated as the second-class citizen. In the month of September, incidents of violence were diverse in nature.

On September 3rd, Mohammad Khatim was reportedly hospitalized on just over a week into his hunger strike. Khatim was arrested in late August for the second time in less than two months for staging a peaceful protest over discriminatory employment practices against Bahrain’s Shia majority.  

Since then, Khatim’s detention has been extended over allegations that he was ‘inciting hatred against the regime’.

On the 10th day of this month, the authorities arrested five Bahraini minors in the kingdom’s northwestern village of Diraz. Countless rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), blasted Manama in the past for “routinely” detaining children and subjecting them to “ill-treatment that may rise to the level of torture”.

Ill-treatment and torture are repeatedly reported by activists. Sadiq Rida Hassan Abbas Aborwais is another example of a prisoner who was brutally beaten and electrocuted by guards at the prison in the month of September.

Refusal of medial attention was also reported from Bahrain. Habib Allawi a 22-year-old whose eye was injured by birdshot pellets is denied access to medical treatment  Allawi, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence has repeatedly complained of severe pain in his left eye.

Prisoners in Bahrain are also prevented from participating in or observing any participation in their rituals. Hajar Mansoor Hassan, Medina Ali and Najah Ahmed Yousif are reportedly denied the right to observe Muharram commemorations. Last month, Hajar Hassan alleged that prison authorities tore up clothes she received as a gift for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Prisoners are not only people whose rights to freedom of religion was denied. As Muharram with September, Bahraini security forces forcibly removal of all displays associated with the occasion from Shia populated areas of the city and mosques. A number of raids to private gatherings were also reported by activists.

Bahraini Shia clerics were detained on 16th after being interrogated by police for over nine hours. Sheikh Hani al-Banna, Sheikh Mohammed al-Reish, and Sheikh Yassin al-Jamri were reportedly transferred to the Budaiya Police Station for integration.


Moreover, Sheikh Yassin al-Harami, Sheikh Hani al-Bana’, and Sheikh Mohammad al-Sahlawi were summoned for questioning over the content of their religious sermons in the lead up to the annual Muharram commemorations.

Beside clerics, commemoration organizers were targeted by the authorities too. Mohammed Bu Humayed and Abdullah Burashid were arrested along with nine other Bahraini youths shortly after they took part in marches commemorating Muharram.

Activists also reported authorities are targeting female activist more than before. Later this month, a three-year sentence was upheld for Medina Ali and Fawzia Mashallah despite evidence of torture and forced confession. Medina was scheduled for trial at the beginning of the month, however, her trial was postponed to September 29th without any explanation. Manama’s High Criminal Court also postponed appeal proceedings against other four Bahraini female detainees until September 24. Muna Habib, Hamida Alkhor, Amira Al-Qashaami, and Faten Hussein are appealing 5-year prison terms, which they received in February.

Bahraini court reportedly and repeatedly postpone and reschedule court dates and appeals as a mean to emotionally torture the victims and their families.

In general, Bahraini authorities interrogated more than 30 Shia religious figures and administrators, 13 of those were remanded in custody due to their involvement in Muharram commemorations.

Due process in the case of Shia Muslims is rarely upheld. Allegations lack sufficient proof and arrests are in the form of illegal raids.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabi’s “reforms” don’t include tolerance of Shia community, and the month of September witnessed more violation toward this community as they commemorate Muharram.

As it was reported, Shia cannot broadcast rituals inside some of their Husseiniyas (religious gathering spaces) via loudspeakers, and Saudi authorities have removed food vendors that sell clothes, books, and flags. It also reported that public mourning rituals have been restricted to certain hours.

On the 13th of September, government forces attacked tents housing Muharram rituals in Qatif. Sources report 20 tents which were destroyed by Saudi forces. Visual representations were called “visual pollution” and torn.

In a separate occasion, seven were injured in a raid on Fatah mosque in Qatif. Among those injured were elderly Saudi natives. Sources report increased security around the region as well as increased frequency of raids on homes and religious buildings.

Despite comprising a large portion of Qatifs population, Shia Muslims have little to no governance in their hometown. Shia authorities make up less than 1% of the Saudi government. Shia Muslims have on numerous occasions expressed willingness to engage with their local governments with aims of finding avenues of dialogue, however, reciprocation has yet to be seen.



Yet again, Kabul was home to twin bombings targeting Shia communities of the city. On September 5, more than 20 were killed and 70 others injured as ISIS agents detonated explosives in Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul. A second explosion in the form of a car bomb was set off 40 minutes later targeting rescue aid.

A day later, Amaq news, reported ISIS’s claim on the incident, conveying their goal of targeting “a gather of apostates”.  Last month, 50 students were killed in Dasht-e-Barchi. More information on this incident can be found on ShiaRightsWatch.org.

On the same day, a suicide bomber marked the 18th incident of violence in Kabul in 2018 when he set off his explosives belt inside a sports club, again in a densely Shia populated area of Kabul- four were killed and 18 others were substantially wounded.

These incidents served as a reminder that dehumanization of Shia Muslims has led to a larger danger such that not only this population faces death, but anyone who associates or provides aid is subject to targeting.

A trend of violence highlighted in September was the targeting of Shia journalists. Since January 2018, 11 journalists have been reported dead as a result of suicide bombings in Kabul alone. Lack of protection for Shia Muslims has allowed violence to permeate to all Afghan populations. Shia Rights Watch emphasizes a need for increased security measures in Kabul and recognition of Shia Muslims as targets of violence by extremist groups.



Parallel to the growth of the Shia population in Nigeria, state-induced incidents of violence against this minority group has also increased. On the 20th of the month, Shia populations of Zaria gathered in Muharram religious ritual. Their congregation was met with violence from government forces who attacked gatherers with the utmost violence.

In the last five years, Zaria has been home to one of Nigeria’s most evident cases of religious discrimination. Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, a prominent leader in the area, remains in state detention despite national orders for his release. More on the case of Sheikh Zakzaky and the Shia of Nigeria can be found on ShiaRightsWatch.org.



Shia of Kashmir report being met with violence in the hands of state operatives while participating in Muharram rituals. Indian Shia, and other Shia residents of India have faced violations of their freedom of religion during Muharram of 2018. Witnesses reported raids, violent attacks to Shia Muslims, use of baton-charge and tear-gas shelling on Shia mourners in different areas of the Kashmir, one such area being Srinagar.

SRW contacted the president of India through a letter to express its concern regarding violation of human rights in this country as The Right to Freedom of Religion is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.



Shia in Chakwal City reported their Muharram gathering was attacked on September 28th. According the witnesses, police were present but did not prevent the attack nor did they help the Shia. Pakistani Shia has always been a target of violence and authorities have not taken any action to protect this population.  


United States

A mosque on Van Dyke Avenue in Detroit, US state of Michigan, caught fire twice. The first fire happened Saturday 22nd, night in front of the building, and the second started on the second floor at about 11 a.m. Sunday the 23rd. No one claimed the responsibility yet.



On September 20th, 2018,  two women were arrested in Qum, Iran. Witnesses report that unknown number female special security forces raided a Muharram gathering in a private property, insulted the participants, forcefully removed headscarf from one of the victim’s head and seized ritual books and other personal materials.

The victim’s families reported that the authorities have previously raided their home, summoned the female victims to the local police station, and ordered them to avoid participating in Muharram rituals, even in the privacy of their homes.  

Although attack, and arbitrary arrests during the month of Muharram from ritual gatherings is not new, such violations toward women appear to be a new and worrisome trend.



Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan remain most the dangerous countries for Shia Muslims. Most human rights violations in September were related to Muharram commemorations. SRW invites all countries to respect human rights of Shia Muslims as this population has proven to only participate in peaceful activities. We also urge all governments to free all prisoners and return any seized belongings.


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