Members of the Shi’ite minority in Saudi Arabia are feeling the heat following clashes over the past few days between Shi’ite pilgrims and Saudi security forces in Medina.
Several Shi’ite protesters have been arrested after criticizing what they called discrimination against the Shi’ite minority.
Clashes have been taking place over the past week between Shi’ite visitors to Medina and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – the religious police – according to numerous news reports.
Hundreds of Shi’ites gathered in Medina last Friday and spoke out against the government. They were demonstrating after the religious police filmed female Shi’ite pilgrims visiting the graves of revered Shi’ite figures in Medina.
News reports said that when the religious police refused to turn over the tapes to the pilgrims’ male relatives, it turned into a scuffle and this drew protesters.
At least nine of the protesters were arrested following several days of demonstrations, Shi’ite and security forces said.
Homemade video footage filmed on cell phones of the women participating in the protests and posted onto YouTube show a man crouching behind a wall on top of a building and filming the gathering of female pilgrims.
Other videos showed uniformed security forces chasing women worshipers down the streets.
Witnesses said Sunni Muslims also hurled verbal abuse at the women.
Videos of this nature have been posted onto video-sharing sites, although several of these websites are blocked in Saudi Arabia.
At least three people were reportedly killed in the clashes.
The sparring has fueled mass protests in Qatif, a predominantly Shi’ite area in eastern Saudi Arabia.
“People are really nervous,” a resident of Qatif told The Media Line, but added that they were not being attacked by the police.
The ensuing clashes have increased tension between the government and the kingdom’s Shi’ite community, which constitutes between five and 10 percent of the population.
Saudi Arabia practices Wahhabism, a strict form of Sunni Islam.
Shi’ites often complain they are discriminated against by the government and say they face restrictions on religious freedom.
Most Saudi Shi’ites live in the eastern part of the kingdom.
Around 15 percent of Muslims worldwide adhere to Shi’ism, constituting the second-largest group of believers in Islam after the Sunnis.
The main bone of contention between Sunnis and Shi’ites is the issue of succession to the Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to have died in 632 AD (CE).
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Iran has the highest concentration of Shi’ites, with the vast majority of its 70 million-strong population adhering to this branch of Islam. Other Shi’ite concentrations are located in Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Pakistan and Lebanon.