The 21st Century Phenomenon



A renowned Canadian Shiaa Imam Usama Al-Atar who travelled to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage has been arrested, on Sunday 10/30/2011, in Medina after allegedly being beaten, witnesses said.

The Canadian government confirmed the arrest on Sunday and a pokesman with the foreign affairs department said its embassy in Riyadh was prepared to provide diplomatic assistance. The Canadian foreign office gave no further information, citing privacy concerns.

According to news reports, Usama Al-Atar was with an international group that travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj and was leading a prayer recitation at a cemetery on Sunday when witnesses said he was confronted by officers from the country’s religious police.

CTV reported that officers beat him without provocation, chasing and suffocating him in front of more than 200 witnesses. The officers then reportedly took him into custody without explanation.

Michael Hayward, a British citizen,  told the Toronto Star that police “virtually strangled” Usama Al-Atar even though the imam did not put up a fight.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Usama Al-Atar was accused of attacking Saudi religious police and remains in police custody. Saudi police have not confirmed the charges or his detention, the CBC reported.

Usama Al-Atar, who studies cancer research at the University of Alberta, is an outspoken Shiaa Muslim leader and founder of Active Muslim Youth of British Columbia, a not-for-profit organisation that teaches youth about Islam.

The imam’s website states that Usama Al-Atar is originally from the Iraqi city of Karbala. It says he began to recite the Quran professionally at age 14 and by 19 was reading before large audiences. Reports said that Al-Atar’s work on diabetes and cancer had been widely published.

The London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission was quoted by the Toronto Star as saying that Usama Al-Atar was “manhandled” and the group demanded Saudi authorities release him immediately.

In March 2011, Usama Al-Atar gave a speech in protest against the violence in Bahrain in which he said: “When my children ask me about what I did when I saw people getting killed and oppressed, I do not want to tell them that I stood silently” (see – BahraIn 2011 Crisis ).

A Saudi-led force of Gulf Co-operation Council troops was deployed to Bahrain’s capital Manama to crack down on the mostly Shiaa-led anti-government protests (see – Saudi-Move).

Usama Al-Atar has a pregnant wife and a three-year-old child in Canada, according to reports.

The Saudi religious police referred to in reports are known as the Mutawa, a force charged with maintaining the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation’s system of Islamic law.

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