Sectarian Tensions Rise in Bahrain Amid Mosque Attacks

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In Bahrain, sectarian tensions have increased as both Sunni and Shiite mosques witness attacks and acts of vandalism.

Bahraini authorities promised to rebuild 38 Shiite mosques and hussainias [Shiite congregation halls], which were demolished in 2011, as stated in the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The report considered these actions to be "a collective punishment against a single sect." However, authorities have ignored these promises, and have gone as far as to declare their intention, on many occasions, to turn these religious sites into public parks.

Things developed last week as the Bahraini Ministry of Interior announced a car bomb explosion near a Sunni mosque in the area of Riffa near the Royal Court. The ministry blamed oppositionists and opposition political leaders of being involved in the blast. Meanwhile, various denouncements and condemnations have been issued by different parties in Bahrain, including the opposition, which emphasized that it renounces violence.

A few hours after the explosion, two Shiite mosques in different regions were subjected to gunfire, as confirmed by local residents and according to the statements of Sheikh Maytham Salman, an official in the department of religious freedom in the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO).

Moreover, two mosques were vandalized by unknown assailants last week, and the police raided a religious event being held in one of the hussainias.

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These incidents are nothing new in Bahrain. Authorities recently banned people from praying at the site of a demolished mosque. Police units were deployed around the site, preventing worshipers from entering the premises. Individuals had constructed a fence around the site after the authorities failed to rebuild the demolished mosque.

The BHRO also said that the government has been seeking to turn this mosque, known as the Abu Dharr al-Ghifari mosque, into a public park. It should be noted that the mosque was demolished on April 19, 2011. It was more than 70 years old and registered in the Jaafari Endowment (Awqaf) directorate.

The police who have surrounded the religious land, preventing worshipers from praying, have raised the ire of residents, opposition political associations and human rights activists, who called upon the state to stop sectarian discrimination and endeavor to rebuild the mosques that have been demolished during the period of the emergency law in 2011.

The Bahraini government has so far rebuilt four of the 38 mosques that have been destroyed. It continues to delay construction, and said that some of the mosques were illegally built, even though they had been in existence for decades. The government also turned some mosques into public property as part of housing projects.

Salafist groups have been fueling sectarian tension, as the head of the Al-Asalah Islamic Society and Salafist MP Abdul Halim Mrad has thanked the Ministry of Interior for preventing prayers in the Abu Dharr al-Ghifari mosque. “We thank the Ministry of Interior for its efforts to preserve the security of the region and contain the problem, and for its keenness on preserving the safety of everyone,” he said.

For his part, Abdullah al-Ali, a resigned MP and a member of the Wifaq bloc, said that “infringement on Muslims’ religious sites is not acceptable and is in direct conflict with basic values. This is not acceptable in any law or religion.”

“The authorities have prevented the reconstruction of mosques that have been vandalized, sabotaged and attacked in acts of revenge during the period of the emergency law. These actions are deplorable and in direct conflict with the most basic human rights and do not have any legal basis. These actions are an attempt to customize the law in an act of revenge by a large segment of society,” he added.

Many mosques have been vandalized and sabotaged by unknown assailants who break in and graffiti the walls.

In a statement to As-Safir, Salman said, “There is no explanation for the government’s procrastination in rebuilding the demolished mosques, especially after having been advised by its Arab, Gulf and international friends to expedite the reconstruction works. These mosques were demolished unlawfully by authorities during the period of the emergency law in 2011. Yet, authorities continue with their infringement on religious freedom and refuse to correct the course in dealing with religious sanctities and freedom of worship, as stipulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Deliberate procrastination is an indication that the authorities wish to keep this shameful affair pending and to circumvent their pledges and the recommendation of [Egyptian lawyer and BICI head Cherif] Bassiouni regarding the reconstruction of mosques. These actions would also leave a negative impact on the social fabric and abort efforts of civil society organizations in addressing rampant sectarianism in the country because of this crime and accompanying media campaigns, which have incited sectarian hatred and undermined a large segment of citizens,” he added.

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Found in: sectarian, mosques, ministry of interior, bahrain
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