Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Good Mourning Al-Hassa

Usually during Ramadan, the streets and shops open and are all lit up as life begins after Taraweeh prayers finish around 8:30pm. Since we haven't bought the kids their Eid clothes yet and time's running out, we decided a few days ago that we'd go out after prayers last night. We picked up some of DD's nieces for the trip and set out before 9pm but, something wasn't quite right.

Daisy: Traffic seems unusually light going through the souk.

DD: What time is it? All the shops are still closed.

Daisy: Prayer's done with, is there something special going on for the Shia today?

Ah yes, this must be the reason. I vaguely recall seeing an unusual amount of black clothing on offer at the markets during the past few weeks.

Shia make-up around 1/3 of the population of Al-Hassa as well as there being small groups of Sufis and almost every denomination of Sunni Islam as well. Because the tenuous tranquility of the town exists at the expense of our Shia neighbors freedom to practice religion and express themselves as THEY deem correct, we Sunnis are usually completely unaware of various Shia customs and religious practices.

Although we Sunnis work, study, and many times live next to Shia Hasawis, the topic of religion is verboten due to its volatile nature and the gag-order that's been imposed on the Shia minority . Sunnis and Shia don't pray together and Shia have their own masjids, labeled "Husaynias", which they go to for prayer but are restricted by the government to announce only the Sunni call to prayer at Sunni designated times over the loudspeaker because it differs slightly from that of the Shia. Marriages between the sects are also virtually unheard of in Al-Hassa and if it does occur, it would usually be a Sunni man with a Shia woman. Due to the lack of genetic homogenization, Hasawis can easily distinguish on-sight which camp one belongs to due to the distinct facial features and mannerisms each group exhibits which may not be apparent to a non-Hasawi observor.

With respect to any Hasawi Shia that may be reading this and to the education of all my readers...I know I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg in my description of the rift that exists between the two sects as well as the ensuing discrimination and although I sympathise with their plight. I won't pretend to completely understand its ramifications as a member of the majority.

Measures have been taken(read "smackdowns") by several institutions such as schools and companies to quash the expression of many Shia religious observations; the most obvious to Sunnis are the various days of mourning which Sunnis do not acknowledge. Due to nepotism, tribe pride, and wastafarians running rife and most times, unchecked, Shia have long been kept out of even the most basic employment by the Sunni majority.
Sound familiar?
Like many minority populations, such as Jews in Europe, this has forced them into self-employment and +90% of the women's souk in Al-Hassa as well as most of the gold-merchants are Shia-owned. The majority of times, speaking from my own experience, this isn't a problem as I observe Sunnis buying from our Shia businessmen without reservation.

Now, back to our shopping trip gone bust:

DD quickly called one of his Shia acquaintances to ask him what's answer. Then he tries calling one of his Shia-knowledgeable cousins while driving through a ghost-town of a souk. He confirmed that Shia were indeed, mourning the assassination of Ali ibn Abi Talib (RAA), the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet (PBUH) who died on the 21st of Ramadan in the city of Kufa in 661 CE. This is one of several days in which Shia observe mourning but Sunni Muslims in Saudia, although we highly revere Ali (RAA), do not. We Sunnis in Saudia only observe the two Eids within the framework of our religious practice. Had so many shops not been closed for mourning, we would have never noticed/remembered the event.

Determined to salvage the evening, we decided to seek out a restaurant. We will try shopping again tonight but not before we consulted our Shia-"expert" again to confirm the mourning would be finished by then to avoid another wasted trip out. Driving through town armed with our renewed inter-cultural understanding of our Shia brethren, we took notice of the vast amount of businesses closed during peak shopping times. Whole swaths of town were as black as the clothing Shia children were wearing while walking to "Husaynias*" in stark contrast to the Ramadan lights on open Sunni businesses.

DD: "I can't believe I've lived here all my life and didn't realize what was going on!"


Desert Flower said...

Hey, I was out last night too...what a small world. I have to say there where some shops closed but it didn't really effect my trip. I was more relieved to tell the truth cause i was worried about the the crowed and getting my shopping done amongst the pushy

Anonymous said...

I went to an elementary school which was ran by a Shia board. It was the government curriculum so we were not taught anything to do with shias. I have shia friends(am sunni) and I do understand some of their mourning days, things they do etc. I just never thought that there would be lots of shias in Saudia since its a sunni majority. I remember the night shoppings during ramadhan in dubai, it was simply crazy! But pple are so used to them and look forward to them. Women/girls were all made-up(make-up)you would think it was a wedding or something. Subhanallah, this was ramadhan. sf

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

DF-You know me and my stinginess...I like going to the Shia parts of town to get the best deals.

SF- The Eastern Province have most of Saudia's Shia concentrated mainly in Qatif, where they are the majority, and in Al-Hassa. In fact, the only reason I know anything at all about Saudi Shia is because of a friend from Qatif. And that make-up...that's called "souk make-up" and I got a whole post I want to do about it as it's a cultural phenomenon.

Ahmed said...

I'm glad that incident has given you a chance to learn a bit more about your neighbors. However, I think the number you mentioned of Shia making up only a 1/3 of Hassa population might be inaccurate. Unfortunately there is no way to find out even a realistic estimation on that regard.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Ahmed- I think you may be right, but most information on the internet (which is always 100% accurate, right?) says 1/3. I don't think it would surpass 1/2 though. But seeing as how I'm always in Sunni neighborhoods within Sunni social circles and in a Sunni dominated profession ...that may just be biased perception speaking.

sunil krishnan, Al Hasa said...

This write up emphasis the importance of social harmony(sharing & participation). Oh! how far our neighbor is? However, it gave me a vivid picture of social life in Hasa.
BTW please write your experience on Al samri, Ardha etc...

أبو سنان said...

Very interesting Daisy. We have Shi'a friends from Iran and Yemen but we still do not know that much about the practices. I know there are as many sects in Shi'a Islam as there are in Sunni Islam.

Our Yemeni friends who are Shi'a are Yazidi, one of whom described them as "Shi'a lite".

Anyway, I have never been a fan of the sectarian politics that play people against each other. I do not agree with many angles of the Shi'a theology that I know of, but that is fine. All that means is I do not have to follow it. It is wrong for anyone to attempt to keep others from practicing their religion as they see fit.

Oh, and "wastafarians" was way too funny!

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

sunil- it's too bad the current harmony is at the expense of our neighbors comfort though. Inshallah, inspiration will hit me on the topics you've suggested.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

أبو سنان-to my understanding, most Shia here are "Twelvers". Here, as in places like N. Ireland, one's denomination is connected with politics to a point as well. Just like the centuries of Catholic/Protestant power struggles in western Europe. It's not as simple as one's personal beliefs.

I have to credit Suburban with the term "wastafarians"...fantastic word, isn't it!

Anonymous said...

Yes,the shias have 12 groups, though they are similar but they do differ from each other. I was mostly associated with *asian shias*, the ithna-asharis, bohra, ismailis and such. Hehehe, I had to laugh on the *souk make-up*, I swear, I kept on staring at these women and I usually don't like staring,at times I even had my mouth wide open in amazement. sf

MikeeUSA said...

women's Rights is bad for Men.

Death To women's Rights.
Viva Men's Liberties.

Cairogal said...

Great post, D. It's really quite interesting how things like this get little talk time, but I suppose if the sunni majority controls the media, it's sensical.

I was reading a now defunct blog written by a Saudi man who shared the fractions of society and how it all plays out on a social you know the blog I'm referring to? Can't recall the name, but it's interesting. We don't get a real glimpse into Saudi society beyond what they show in the cinema and the news (and we all know how that goes).

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

mikee-go cook your own dinner

Cairogal- if you remember the name let met know. It isn't the religious policeman is it?

Anonymous said...

"mikee-go cook your own dinner"

You know very well that most American Men have to, married or not.

Oh well, the microwave serves that purpouse.


Cairogal said...

It is the Religious Policeman, Daisy.

suhaa said...

asalaam alaikum warahmat Allah wabarakatu:
jazakAllah kheir for this post. i've been living here in saudi since jan. (madinah munawarra) and there are always many shia's at the prophet's mosque. i didnt know that such a large percent live here in saudi...
may Allah guide them, and guide us all..
ramadan mubarak..

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

suhaa- wa alaikum salam and eid mubarak.
Welcome to Saudia and my blog, inshallah you'll enjoy both:)
On our trip to Mecca we also encountered many groups of Shia whose rituals differ from our own. In several areas there was a "religious policeman" stationed to deter what are deemed as "deviant" practices, who advises worshipers. Unfortunately, some have used heavy handed tactics and/or been argumentative in the past with Shia. Although I'm all for advising, it should be done respectfully.

Anonymous said...

I find the treatment of Shia Muslims in Saudia apalling! I am a Sunni and I grew up feeling loved and respected and supported by all sections of my community. I am glad my friends and elders who have loved me so much do not live in Saudia - the thought of them having to put up with such disrespect and discrimination makes me mad!

About "husaynias", is it the choice of Shia Muslims to call their mosques that or is it imposed on them by the government?

And I find the idea of relgious policemen "advising" Shia Muslims when they are performing pilgrimage - disgusting! Saudi Arabia needs to enter the 21st century and understand the concept of respecting others who are different from you.

Sameena said...

The Anonymous comment above (regarding Shia Muslims) was by me: Sameena. I just forgot to write my name.