Remembering the 40th day of the Martyrdom of Ayatullah Nimr Baqir al-Nimr

(by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider – Ahlul Bait (a.s) Foundation of South Africa)

In the last few weeks, lots of developments and striking movements occurred around the world and also in Africa. Naturally the headline news surrounded the issue of the execution of a great religious scholar, leader, speaker, human rights activist and the voice of minorities and underprivileged in Saudi Arabia, Ayatullah Nimr Baqir al-Nimr.

In remembering the 40th day of his martyrdom, I wish to discussion 5 matters evidenced from this event:

  1. How Quran and Sunnah is exploited to justify power
  2. Different forms of rebellion against the state
  3. Verse 33 of Surah Ma’ida in context (Fasad and Mufsidu fil ard)
  4. How Sheikh Nimr’s execution was exploited for sectarian gains
  5. Human rights and its hypocritical application
  6. How Quran and Sunnah is exploited to justify power

There have been lots of voices to justify this heinous crime of the execution of this great religious leader by the Saudi regime. Amongst this there were also those so-called holy voices presenting an ideological argument, trying to justify this crime through Quran and Sunnah. Let us take these standards to determine if it is still justified, based upon their arguments.

It is nothing new that people in power from the early history of Islam always tried to exploit Quran and Sunnah to justify their injustice and oppression ie. Religious dictatorship – when you use religion to control and silence people. This same approach was used against the hero and master of Sheikh Nimr, Imam Husayn (AS).

The great scholar of Islam, Shaheed Ayatullah Mutaheri in his notes about the uprising of Imam Husayn (AS), makes a very interesting point where he says that what makes all the injustice and oppression and crimes committed against Ahlul Bayt (AS) in Karbala more difficult to digest is that these atrocities were committed by Bani Umayyah for the pleasure of Allah (SWT).

That is the way it was portrayed – Husayn (AS) is a threat to the stability in society. He is a rebel and therefore he should be removed.

Verses of Quran and Hadith were used. An important realization of history is that you will always find people in power trying to justify their crimes through religion. And there are always so-called Ulama at their disposal to do their dirty work.

They were available in the court of Yazid. In Kufa alongside ibni Ziyad they were available, and throughout history we see this trend continuing.

Right up to today where we see Ulama available in the despotic Saudi rule to justify their criminality. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia came to defend this crime, saying this is exactly what Quran and Sunnah demands. He presented “theological” arguments proving it, saying it is a rebellion against Wilayat and leadership and the state of Islam, so whoever opposes this leadership of Islam should be killed.

We need to really unpack this matter based upon their standards. We need to unpack the evolutionary process of Wahhabi and Salafi thought:

  1. from the very first stage of Wahhabi thought, namely ibn Taymiyyah;
  2. upto the manner in which the Saudi regime came into power and established their Wahhabi school of thought in the Arabian Peninsula;
  3. to the same evolution of Arabian Wahhabi thought in the form of Al-Qaeda under the leadership of people like Osama bin Laden; and
  4. another evolution in the form of ISIS / Daesh and Takfiri’ism we witness today.

A common trend in all these forms of Wahhabi thought is extremism, absolutism, and interpretation of Quranic verses and Hadith purely for their own benefits.

1.Different Forms of Rebellion Against The State

This interpretation that anybody who revolts against the state should be killed is completely misinformed. We are not speaking from Shia understanding of jurisprudence. We are basing it on Sunni understanding and history. From the early stages of Khulafa, we see that anybody who opposes or challenges the state is not supposed to be killed outright.

Revolt that is punishable by capital punishment is not simply for speaking out, or being critical or challenging the state. This person who is revolting should do it in an organized form, where arms and violence is involved.

If it is purely based upon verbal critique, without taking up arms, it may have different punishment like imprisonment. It does not give you right to execute.

Sunni jurists have brought the example of the fourth Khaliph of Islam, Amir al Mu’mineen Ali ibni Abi Talib (AS). They cite examples of how he treated the Kharijite movement. Kharijites, which according to Wahhabi definitions from the sources of ibn Taymiyyah are completely out of the fold of Islam.

Imam Ali (AS) gave sermons inside Masjid Kufa to thousands of people, which was the capital of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian Peninsula at that time spanned across different continents. These Kharijites use to disturb the Jumuah, reading verses of kufr and transgressions against Imam Ali (AS).

From the supporters of Imam Ali (AS) were those who would approach him requesting permission to silence them or even kill them for their opposition to his rule. Imam Ali (AS) did not grant permission. This is directly cited from Sunni narrations, which is consistent with the narrations from Shia on the approach of Imam Ali (AS) towards the Kharijite movement.

According to them, Ali (AS) did not use force against them until they took up arms against him.

Sheikh Nimr had absolutely no call for arms or violence against the Saudi state. The crime of Sheikh Nimr was that he courageously and openly spoke about the state and his own community, which is sizable, yet minority, and how their rights have been usurped and been completely sidelined from the mainstream society. He repeatedly rejected to resort to armed resistance.

We see that Sheikh Nimr was a man of peace really!

  • He always said: We know that you will kill us, but he never said we will kill you.
  • He always said: Don’t try to scare us by killing, for us to be killed for our values and principles is a source of honour.

The main evidence for his ultimate execution, recorded on his charge sheet, was his speech which is widely available on the internet. Altogether, there are probably a handful of speeches like this, nothing more.

  • Does he have a political party? NO
  • Does he have an organized following? NO

Sheikh Nimr was simply a religious leader speaking about the rights of his community. He clearly repeatedly rejected any connection with Iran or being a representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He even said that he, as a follower of Ali (AS) and Husayn (AS) believes that his job is to defend the oppressed, irrespective of being Sunni or Shia. Now he is referred to as a rebel??

2. Verse 33 of Surah Ma’ida in Context (Fasad and Mufsidu fil ard)

Another justification presented for Sheikh Nimr’s execution is verse 33 of Surah Ma’ida – Chapter 5 of the Holy Quran:

إِنَّمَا جَزَاء الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُواْ أَوْ يُصَلَّبُواْ أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْاْ مِنَ الأَرْضِ ذَلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَلَهُمْ فِي الآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement”


Fasad? What Fasad? What corruption did he promote? Is speaking out against a corrupt regime the promotion of Fasad? Is speaking about the rights of a people who are subjugated to all forms of injustice and oppression a Fasad? Is speaking about having no fear of death a Fasad? Did he ever attack Sahaba or any sacred values of AhlusSunnah? Did he promote sectarianism?

Let’s look at the well-known Imam of the Haram, Sheikh Abdurahmaan Sudais who openly promotes sectarianism when he justifies the wars which the Saudi regime is waging against Shia, by saying it is in defense of Sunni Aqidah against Kufr ideology.

Shia is a reality in Saudi. They amount to 15-20% in totality, if one includes Zaydis and Ismailis too. Sheikh Sudais’s rhetoric to nullify them by openly promoting division and hate and discrimination is not seen as Fasad!

Sheikh Nimr never ever spoke against the Sunni community. He refrained from anything along sectarian lines. He always lamented the plight of his own Shia community, but never attacked Sunnis as Sunnis. He attacked those in authority who are oppressing his community. How can the title of Fasad be applied on him?

Mufsidu fil ard

Furthermore, there is a great deal of discussion on who is called “Mufsidu fil ard”. Once again, lets refer to Sunni resources of Tafsir ie. the opinion of Sunni jurists and see how they have defined “Mufsidu fil ard”.

A variety of discussions is prevalent on this point. Who is “Mufsidu fil ard”? On the first level, examples are of someone who distributes drugs or pornographic material, which at its roots destroys the very fibre of society. But further, there are extended discussions about what level the fasad or corruption in society should be for the respective punishments described in verse 33 of Surah Ma’ida to apply.

The essence of this verse is loosely exploited to justify the execution of an innocent hero who lived and fought for his community. This is a man who dedicated his life to serve his community with distinction and for their rights to be recognized.

The authorities clearly know that this evidence presented has no grounds at all and will backfire.

3. Sheikh Nimr’s Execution Exploited for Sectarian Gains

The main aim and purpose of the Saudi regime is to exploit sectarian differences to their benefit. They executed Sheikh Nimr, and anger was evident. They used these emotions for their benefit, to openly create the picture that it is a Shia-Sunni war.

Iran is Shia, supporting a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia, and we are Sunni, defending the Sunni position. They painted this simple picture, and unfortunately, this sectarian agenda is successful, because we are unable to distinguish other than through sectarian lenses.

We did not hear a strong condemnation or strong voice of critique from our Sunni brothers. Why – if the majority of the Sunni world is not even Wahhabi?

The majority of the Sunni world distances themselves from Wahhabi ideology. They believe in Tasawwuf, which is regarded by this Wahhabi ideology as Kufr and Shirk, and they fight with them on these matters. However, there was broad-based silence because the Saudi regime could manipulate this execution of Sheikh Nimr as a Shia-Sunni matter.

There were some dissenting voices among Sunnis condemning this execution of Sh Nimr, but it was not in the mass that was expected and this is very disappointing.

Human Rights and its Hypocritical Application

You have one woman who calls the Islamic Republic of Iran a fascist regime which oppresses women, and receives the Nobel Peace Prize. This is Shirin Ebadi, whom Iran did not execute by the way! She still lives freely and practices as a lawyer. She openly criticizes the state, saying she lives under an oppressive regime.

Now compare this to Sheikh Nimr, who protests peacefully against the despotic Saudi regime. The headlines all around the world were: “Shia cleric executed”. So, because it is a Shia cleric, it’s a Shia-Sunni matter, so lets push it to the side. Where are human rights?? What is this silence across the world?

United Nations much more strongly condemned the attacks against the Saudi embassy in Iran. Everybody is aligned that the attack on the embassy was wrong, including the Islamic leadership and the President of Iran. We are not supposed to attack the embassy, no matter how much we differ with them. Embassies enjoy security from the host, so the attack was absolutely wrong. But, does this wrong mean that the root cause of the public anger should be forgotten and sidelined?

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, condemns the attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran, but places this very Saudi Arabia as the chair of the independent panel on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Amnesty International itself says that Saudi Arabia has the worst human rights record. It is the only country where women are not even allowed to drive! This is a country where women are devoid the most basic of rights, yet this very Saudi Arabia is placed as the chair on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations!

Not a voice of condemnation has been heard from the United Nations for Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. Recently we also saw that Saudi Arabia arrested the wife of a liberal blogger (not Shia) who critiqued the Saudi regime, and nobody says anything. Petrodollar power has bribed all from the top to bottom! Conscience is completely dead!

Where is Ahmed Shaheed, who spends all his efforts on the United Nations Human Rights Council investigating the situation of human rights in Iran? Why is he completely silent on Saudi abuse of Human Rights?

Not only Sheikh Nimr – look at Nigeria! For what reason were 1000 people killed by the army, and nobody utters any semblance of condemnation? What have human rights bodies stooped to in their selective application and concern for human rights? This is the double standards of the world we live in.

I am confident that our own South African society will not fall into the trap of the sectarian agenda which Saudi Arabia is trying very hard to spread. I would like to acknowledge and appreciate what the Muslim Judicial Council has done in issuing a strong statement of condemnation on the attack in Nigeria. It is a courageous stance which is commendable. We hope they will assess the global situation of Muslims with a broad vision and not be blurred by sectarian distractions.