Religious Freedom for Shia in Bahrain

"Systematic Oppression and Marginalization"

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

January 2006

Kingdom of Bahrain Religious Freedom in Bahrain

Muslim represents the majority of population (citizens and residents) amounting up to 98% of the population of 710 thousands. Christians, Jews and other persuasions don't exceed 2% of the population . There is no exact estimation to the proportion of Shia citizen in Bahrain. With reference to the estimation provided by different references , the average percentage of 73.8%.

There are more than one church and temple in Bahrain, where Christians convene openly and regularly, as there are more than one Christian school for private pre university education. Followers of other persuasions and beliefs, like Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, have their private worship places and enjoy full religious freedom.

Status of Religious freedom for Shia in Bahrain

1- General Rights Status

Irrespective of overwhelming majority of Shia in Bahrain, they are minoritized in many official posts, even in those appearing to be popular like the municipality and parliamentarian councils. In the last cabinet change, held October 2005 , Shia was represented by five out of 22 ministers, equivalent to 22.7%. Other high posts, director and higher, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) study indicates that Shia are represented by 18% only of the total governmental posts, covered by the study . In the Shura council, whose members are appointed by the Head of the State, the King, only 18 Shia members (45%) are appointed out of 40. In the Elected council, and as a result of election constituencies which are plotted by royal decree, Shia could no win more than 12 out of 40 seats, representing 30% of the total. In the municipality councils, Shia, and due to the same reasoning, won maximum of 22 seats out of 50 (44%).

2- Worship Status (Worship places)

The religious status for Shia in Bahrain is assessed from the following aspects:

a. Preclusion and Confinement in worship places

In Bahrain, construction or rebuilding of mosques or procession places (called locally 'matam' which are place of worship and social activities) could not be materialized without the official permission from ministries of Islamic Affairs, Municipality and Housing. Although, they are officially under the jurisdiction of Endowments Directorate (for both Shia and Sunni), permission of building or refurbishment of mosques isn't within their mandate. It is clear, from the numerous complaints reported by the dailies in Bahrain, as will be shown in due course, that there is clear discrimination against Shia with regards to allocation of lands, provision of public funds and/or granting permission for building or refurbishment worship places and mosques.

By noting the distribution of mosques in three modern towns and areas planned to host governmental housing; Isa town, Hamad town, Zayed town and Arad - Deir area in Muharraq, the following could be deduced. In Isa town, which was built in the middle part of Bahrain in the early seventies, only FOUR mosques were allowed to be built for Shia out of a total of 24 mosques (17%). The same proportion (4 Shia mosques out of 24) exists in Hamad town, which was built in mid eighties at the west side of Bahrain. In Zayed town, which was built in the late nineties, on the expense of the late Shaikh Zayed Al-Nahyan of United Arab Emirates, two lands have been allocated for mosques, none of them is for Shia. In the new Arad area, there are six Shia mosques out of 22. In conclusions, out of 70 mosques in four modern areas in Bahrain, only 14 mosques are dedicated to the Shia Moslems (20%).

As for matams, only one was built in 1970 at Isa town, whereas there are none in both Hamad town and Zayed town. The application for a single matam in Hamad town lasted over 20 years, without any materialized positive response, although it was declared recently in the press for the approval for one . As for mosques in the same town and after the numerous requests made by the citizens over the past twenty years, two lands were dedicated for Shia Moslems (see some of the correspondents attached in Appendix E). Nevertheless, one of the lands (in the region of round about number 20 and 21 of Hamad town) has been confiscated by non-Shia, without any intervention from the authorities to protect what has been known to be the right of Shia. As a reaction to the incident to the first land, Shia in the vicinity of the second land (near round about number 21 and 22) swiftly erected a mosque in that land using woods and metal plates, has been named after the eleventh imam of Shia (Imam Askari Mosque) and started their activities in it (see photographs in Appendix B) .

In the new Seef area (North of Shia village of Karbabad), the late dignitary Haj Hasan Al-A'ali, a Shia businessman, dedicated part of his properties and wealth to build a mosque (Bahrain Grand Mosque), a library and cultural center. Inheritants of Al-A'ali fulfilled and complied by all official measures and requirements, including maps and necessary working permissions. Until now, the project is pending and ceased due to orders from high authorities. Since 1985, Shia in East Riffa have not been granted a permission for a single mosque .

b. Negligence, demolition and assault of worship places:

Many Shia mosques face explicit negligence by delaying its maintenance, refurbishment, in addition to those which were either criminally assaulted or demolished. There are many incident of this nature and are reported in the media . Appendix A shows a list of Shia mosques whose maintenance and care have been delayed or mistreated. The list also includes the Shia mosques which have been exposed to systematic sabotage and criminal offences, without a deterrent response from the authorities, preventing it from recurrence. The most recent incident was the robbery of Al-Radhaweya Matam in Sanad on 24th December 2005 .

3- Religious Education and Enlightment

To assess Shia religious education, light will be focused on religion and history curricula, religious education using media, and availability of religious enlightening centers.

I. Religion and History Curriculum

The religious legislations in Bahrain are based on Sunni sect of Islam and in particular on Maleki and Shafei, with no indication, in any format, to the existence of Shia or admission of their sect as base of legislation. This is reflected on the Islamic religion curricula in the public and private schools as well as in the taught Islamic text in the local universities. Even in the Shia populated areas, the religious curricula taught to their children and youngsters is the one which doesn't reflect their sect persuasion. Rather, it is different and, in some cases, contradicts their beliefs and religious conduct at home and in their environment; in the village or the city.

On the basis of sect legislation, known as Fiqh, worship practices are laid out for followers to abide by. These include prayers, pilgrimage, marital issues, conducting business, etc. There are some differences in the interpretation or practices between Shia and Sunni Fiqh . With this in mind, pupils in public or private schools, irrespective of their sect, are not informed of the existence of Shia Fiqh. Rather, all pupils, Shia and Sunni are obligated to learn and be educated by religious practice on the basis of Sunni Fiqh. In some situations, it is contradicting to the pupils practices and beliefs. It is taken further to consider some of the practices by Shia to be not part of islam, and prohibit their conducts (example: temporary marriage or "Mutah" ).

In the Islamic curriculum of the Ministry of Education in Bahrain, Shia are considered non-believers and erratic. This is done through the text definition and elaboration in the concept of disbelief and considering conducts, referenced or linked to Shia, as being blasphemous . The indication in these texts goes beyond detaching Shia from Islam to consider them non-believers, which is an indirect provocation and incitement against them. Such act is some form of marginalization as well as an inadmissibility of the Shia rights for freedom of religious belief and practice as well as their right to teach the same to their children and descendents.

Such dictated abatement extends to the historic background related to Shia and their figures, to include falsification or concealment of detailed historic events of relation. This would include exodus of Prophet Mohammed from Mekkah to Madina and the prepense of his cousin in his bed , the role of Emam Ali, first of Twelvish Shia emams, in the wars in the early stage of Islamic period , the demise of the Prophet, the status of his only daughter, Fatema Zahraa, and her birth , the demise of Fatema Zahraa, killing of the fourth Khalif- Emam Ali, killing of Prophet Mohamed grandson Husain-third Emam of Shia who was brutally slaughtered with 72 of his family and companions in Karbala. It is worth mentioning that Shia in Bahrain, as in many countries, commemorate and condone, in their own way, the massacre of Emam Husain and his family, during the ninth and tenth of Muharram, the first month of Islamic year. These two days are official holidays, in which all public and private establishments close, and is reflected on every aspects of life of Bahrainis in general and in Shia in particular. Nevertheless, such major event is not echoed, in anyway, in the Islamic religion and history curriculum. This official attitude is taken further portraying Shia to be non-believers and provoke against them and their beliefs, as indicated earlier. Some of the parliamentarian of 2002 constitution brought forward a proposal (a motion) to contain Shia religious activities and processions, which was later incorporated in the Political Society Code, and the drafted Code of Gathering and Processions .

There were demands to teach the religion curricula on the basis of five sects (four Sunni and Shia) in the elementary, intermediate and secondary stage of public education, but was refuse and turned down. The Bahraini Ministry of Education (MOE) justified the refusal to difficulty in implementation claiming administrative and financial difficulties (the allocated budget for the Ministry is not sufficient to cover the additional cost of implementing the proposal as well as the fact that such inclusion will disturb the balance of credit hours dedicated to teaching Islamic curriculum as compared with other courses). Furthermore, the MOE considered including Fiqh (Sharia legislation) on the basis of five sects of Islam will increase the amount of knowledge and considered a burden to pupils .

II. Religious Enlightment Using Media

A. Newspapers and Journals:

Except for Al-Ayam, which is considered official one, there exist no Islamic (religious) dedicated pages in all newspapers in Bahrain (A total of five Arabic and two English). Two-page space is allocated in Al-Ayam newspaper on Fridays (Official holiday) to cover different aspects of Islam. The Shia participation in restricted to irregular and limited space for general articles. Human resources management of the page is restricted to individuals of one and only one-Sect: non-Shia. This is to ensure maximum exploitation and dictation in favour of non-Shia to include exposure and spreading of fatwa (religious legislation), conducting interviews with religious scholars, historians, thinkers and poets. The Sharia fatwa disposed in these pages are based on all sects of Islam and exclude that on Shia faith . This also extends on the media coverage of religious public activities, which was recently permitted, but with shallow and peripheral sort of exposure. It doesn't allow for truthful understanding of the event and its enlightenment, as Shia envisage.

B. Radio:

In radio, which is State-owned, there are many Islamic programs and others with religious aspects, but without any opportunity for Shia citizens to portray their faith and persuasion. In contrary, such programs assumes the non-existence of Shia in Bahrain and attempts to provoke and even antagonize them. Some of these programs are: 1- "From the Memory of History": This is a daily broadcasted program and covers events of the Islamic era . It glorifies many Islamic figures which were reported to have hateful and antagonizing posture towards Shia. It conceals the true history of relation to Shia and falsifies historic events to downgrade them . 2- Holy Quran Broadcasting Unit , in which Quran as well as proverbs and sayings of prophet Mohammed, narrated by his companion, with clear exclusions of all narrations recited by his family, their loyals (Shia) and those close to them. 3- Live broadcast of Friday prayers from non-Shia mosques. This has never been done for Shia congregation (group or Friday prayers) during Bahrain history.

C. Satellite and TV:

1- Religious program: Similar treatment of religious orientation and enlightment is extended to Bahrain TV channels . Out of the religious programs which prohibit Shia participation is "Ask the Scholars". This is a weekly live program in which Sunni scholars are invited to shed light on different Islamic issues as well as answer Sharia related questions and enquiries delivered by phone or fax. Up to this moment, no Shia scholar has ever been invited to answer to Shia citizens. Televised religious programs which prohibit participation of Shia are listed in Appendix C.

2- Prayer and calls for it: The call for prayer "Athan", recited five times a day, is transmitted in radio and TV, in addition to the live broadcast of Friday prayer in one of the grand Sunni mosques . Shia are deprived from having their prayers convened in grand mosques or its call for it "Athan" recited in radio or TV. Although Shia students represent the majority in the University of Bahrain, prayers and their timings in the only mosque in the premises are made according Sunni sect. Shia students are deprived from calling for the prayer.

3- Celebration of Night Ascension This is very important event commemorated by all Muslims, yet they have different timings for it. The State ensures that media, mainly TV, coverage for celebrations on the basis of Sunni Sect and in Sunni grand mosques are covered, ignoring similar celebrations by Shia in their mosques all over Bahrain.

4- Commencement and breaking of fasting in Ramadan Muslims (Sunni and Shia) fast the month of Ramadan (the eighth month of the Islamic calendar year). However, the two sects have different criteria for the declaration of commencement, ending of the month as well as the start and the finish of the daily fast. The State, however, sticks to the Sunni interpretation for the above and enforces it ignoring the majority of the population, the Shia.

III- Barring and confiscation of Shia books

The publications the Ministry of Information collaborates with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to confiscate books produced and printed by Shia outside Bahrain, or even speaks positively about Shia faith and its figures. It covers publications being imported through the main ports or those brought participant in Book fairs .

1- Book fair and exhibitions: Newspaper reports indicate that the Directorate of Publications have confiscated more than 200 copies of different books, related to Shia faith, brought by foreign publishers in the Eleventh International Exhibition (18-27 April 2004). Confiscated publications include those shelved in the book fair and those at the ports. Some of them are listed in Appendix D.

2- Printing inside Bahrain: The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, with the aid of the Directorate of Publications, interferes in the harassment of Shia by prohibiting regular and seasonal imprints for the Shia charity funds, Matams, and cultural centers. The Directorate gives direct instructions, verbally by phone, or in written form, to private printing houses and establishments. Any copy of a publication, a calendar or a book, should be stamped by the Directorate, showing approval, before any publisher can commence printing. Private publishers face severe punishment if produced a product, even a reprint, without the consent of the Directorate.

3- Printing outside Bahrain: This includes cases in which Bahraini authors arrange for printing Shia related books outside Bahrain .

IV. Education and Enlightment Centers

Claiming to be politically affiliated and depending on the political circumstances regionally and internationally, the Bahraini Authorities took harsh measures for closure of and defunction many Shia educational centers. These centers were self-dependent, financially and administratively, which further consolidated the Authorities enmity and doubted its credibility. Out of the centers subjected to harassment and/or containment:

1- Islamic Enlightment Association (IEA): Established in 1972, it was the first official religious association in Bahrain. On political grounds, it was closed in 1983 and reopened in 2001, during which their female schools pupils were demobilized, its belongings and assets were confiscated. IEA has not been unable to have its vandalized building refurbished because of the official procedures and mandates.

2- Husaini Arts Society (HAS): Husaini, after Emam Husain, Arts Society is a civic organization dedicated to convey Emam Husain themes and principles using all sorts of arts and artistry. It is very active society and well known on the regional and international level. However, the Authorities have been denying the initiation group from being registered and admitted as an association using art to enlighten others about Emam Husain. It took four years of work and publicity, the Husaini Arts Society has been finally licensed. At the end, the Bahrain Ministry of Social Affairs authorized the Society , but after deriving it from the most important aspect of its mission, being overwhelmed by Emam Husain. The official definition of HAS, the only association of its kind in Bahrain and the region, doesn't admit the fact that it is of relation to Emam Husain .

3- Jaffari Religious Institute (JRI): After many applications by Shia over the past tens of years, the lonely religious institution worked temporarily since February 2003 , while its new building was opened June 2005 . The institution is not independent and officially managed by the Bahrain Ministry of Education, which has an overruling policy. There is a "Sunni" institution, but is not discriminated at as the Shia. The Sunni Institution is not signified by any term to reflect being Sunni, whereas the Shia institution name is attached by the name of Jaffari, to be distinguished as being Shia.

The number of JRI candidates in 2005 don’t exceed 150 to reflect how Shia react with JRI, as an official establishment, which has no say about the position of its headquarter and other remarks .


In order to fulfill principles of equality among all citizens, Sunni and Shia, resources and efforts have to be exerted to eliminate the sectarian discrimination which violates human rights values. This report shows how blatant violations and systematic oppression against Shia in Bahrain, irrespective of their overwhelming population majority.

The most dangerous type of discrimination which tears out the social fabric and national unity is that religiously-based discrimination. This is what exists in Bahrain and is reiterated by the study report issued by the well known International Crisis Group (ICG) on May 6th, 2005. The systematic sectarian targeting of Shia raises the bell for a timed-bomb crisis in the light of their persistent marginalization; politically, economically and historically.

In addition to the political reforms in the overall circumstances of Shia in Bahrain, legislative and practical measures are required to amend the situation with regards to their religious freedom. It includes the following: 1) Criminalizing all forms of discrimination by implementing the UN Declaration of the Elimination of all Form of Racial Discrimination, based on religion and persuasion. 2) Establishing the basis of true representation and equality among citizens by involving them fairly in the Government and rectifying the electoral constituencies based on the international standards which prevent undermining the rights and achieve equality and justice among citizens. 3) It is the right of Shia in Bahrain, as it is for others, to have parents or guardians enjoyed organizing the family life according to their religion and persuasion, considering the moral right of the way of upcoming their children. This right includes schooling and formal education of their children on the basis of their sect of Islam with the responsibility of the State and its obligation to provide all resources necessary to fully respect that right. 4) It is the right of Shia children, as it is the right of others, to learn their religion and belief according to the wish of their parents and their legitimate guardians, without any form of obligation to learn otherwise. 5) It is the right of Shia to practice worship according to their belief and sect which include the right to erect and construct mosques, matams (procession places) and enlightening centers in their area of living, irrespective of their number and proportion. It is also their right, as it is for others, to enjoy media coverage (live and recorded) of their activities. 6) It is the right of Shia, as it is the right of others, to reach and access information of relation to their sect and belief using available media, communications, educational and enlightening means. This include all religious programs and facilities in the press, radio, television, as well as allowing them to freely print, acquire printing materials like books, magazines, periodicals of religious and cultural relations to Shia and Shiasm.

Appendix A: Shia Mosques of lasting issues of refurbishment, maintenance and sabotage

• Shaikh "Murshid" mosque near Malikeyya, where numerous calls for rebuild and refurbish were made. • "Alkheif" and Shaikh "Mohammed" mosques in Samaheej where the calls were to complete building the first and provide toilets for the second . • Shaikh "Madan" and Shaikh "Maitham" Mosques in Jannousan village where numerous calls of people has been ignored to refurbish the first and maintain the second . • "Abu Khafeir" Mosque in Belad Al-Qadeem whose deliberation in his completion of building lasted over a year . • "Ein Qassary" of Belad Al-Qadeem which is a falling down mosque . • "Sa'sa'a Bin Sohan" Mosque at Askar whose visitors are often harassed and their visiting timing is limited .

Discrimination against Shia religious freedom was not only limited to the negligence of their mosques and worship places, but was extended to the demolition and/or sabotage of such holy places. The mosques which were demolished include the following: • "Merry" Mosque and graveyard at Tubli which were subjected to a spadework resulting in the demolition of an archaeological graveyard (one of seven) with sculptures made by Shaikh Ahmed All-Kawari dated 300 years ago . • "Jammalah" mosque of Belad Al-qadeem which was demolished, under the claim of renovation, without considering the archaeological stone of the second oldest mosque in Bahrain going back in history exceeding one and quarter of a century . • "Shaikh Sharaf" mosque in Arad village which has been sabotaged by influential dignitaries . • "Shaikh Ebrahim bin Malek Al-Ashtar" - one of the famous scholars of Shia in Bahrain, who was massacred after tracking him in the sea. Shia have constructed his tomb beside a mosque in the middle of the sea. For over 25 years, the Bahraini Authorities prevented Shia from visiting the historic tomb, for what it claims to be security grounds. The archaeological historic place was left unattended to be like a ruined cave. (see photos in Appendix B). • "Al-Fawarah" mosque in the eastern side of old Saar. This is one of the mosques which was left unattended and maintained. The Authorities took swift measures to demolish it and set it with the ground when cited in the periodical of Al-wefaq Islamic Society [27]. (See photos in Appendix B). • "Beijan" mosques in Tubli were demolished at night by the official authorities [28]. (See photos in Appendix B).

Shia mosques which were the subject of sabotage and theft are: • "Sa'sa'sa bin Sohan" mosque in Askar area. Its lights, toilets, and water taps were smashed. Its case has not been perused legally by the Authorities; rather, visiting hours have been altered and restricted up to 4:30 in the afternoon. After that time, visitors from Shia, have been banned from entering the mosque . • "Zainab" mosque- Hamad town, whose toilets, washing taps, fans, lighting switches, clocks, loud speakers, cassette were all smashed. Police were approached to search for the criminals . • "Adhari" and "Al-khudr" mosques, in Adharia and Jidhahs respectively, were subjected to snatch and theft of their aluminum doors . • "Al-Kawkab" mosque in Buri had its metallic doors snatched and stolen . • "Al-Anwar" mosque in Daih had its properties stolen . • "Al-Radaweya" Matam in Sanad had its main gate and toilet's doors snatched and stolen .

Appendix B: Album (pictures of some Shia Mosques)