For the first time in 38 years, Israel banned Muslims from performing Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday (July 4, 2017). This day as well marks one year since the Bahraini regime has banned Friday prayers in the Diraz area.
The Imam Al-Sadiq (pbuh) Mosque in Diraz usually hosts the largest Friday prayers in Bahrain for Shia Muslims, who constitute the majority of the country’s population.
In a paradox, the Bahraini authorities issued a statement through its Foreign Ministry, which stressed that “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain strongly condemns Israel’s ban on Friday prayers at Al-Quds holy mosque, in a move that completely goes against the freedom to practice religious rituals at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and constitutes a blatant violation of the sentiments of Muslims all over the world,” adding that this move falls in line with the Israeli attempts to change the status quo in Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs further expressed its “concern over the violence that took place in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” stressing on the need to open Al-Aqsa Mosque immediately for worshipers.
The statement itself is a huge stark paradox, as the authorities in Manama are acting as the saying goes: The prostitute is now lecturing about chastity.
The Story of Diraz
It is safe to say that tensions and the current crisis in Bahrain has reached its peak since last summer, after the government filed a lawsuit to dissolve Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society on June 14, 2016. As a snowball rolling down the hill, the crisis grew leading to many developments. The spiritual leader of the Shiite sect in Bahrain, Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim was stripped of his nationality, and later accused of money laundering and fundraising without authorization.
After the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, on June 15, 2016, the authorities banned Sheikh Mohammad Sanqour from delivering sermons at the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque in Diraz, the mosque where the largest Friday prayers are held for the Shiite community in Bahrain, and where Sheikh Qassim led prayers before he stopped this practice for health reasons.
The Bahraini authorities’ ban imposed on Sheikh Sanqour was merely a preemptive step towards prohibiting public sermons at the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque, since this mosque’s platform is symbolic of Ayatollah Qassim’s speeches, and can attract and also represent the masses of the Shia community.
In response, the Shiite community felt that the pace of harassment had increased, as the authorities closed down their political and religious institutions and targeted their spiritual leader. Consequently, senior Shiite clerics halted Friday prayers indefinitely due to a “lack of security,” according to a statement issued by a number of Shiite religious scholars, entitled “Banned from Prayer”.
On Friday, July 15, 2016, Friday prayers resumed at the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque, and daily congregational prayers resumed as well. Sheikh Sanqour also returned to delivering Friday sermons and leading prayers at the Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque. Due to the siege imposed on the area following the open sit-in outside the house of Ayatollah Qassim, hundreds of Shia citizens were prevented from reaching the mosque to perform Friday prayers, while many were forced to try to enter the area by foot through sub-roads beyond the security forces’ control.
Despite the calm, collected tone of the sermons delivered by Sheikh Sanqour, who is known for calling for building bridges and holding dialogue between the people and the regime, the authorities arrested him on July 17, 2016, releasing him after one day of detention. He was charged with inciting hatred against the regime and delivering public speeches without authorization. Several times after his release, Sheikh Sanqour attempted to enter the Diraz area to perform prayers, but was denied entry.
Since Friday, 22 July 2016 to date, the Bahraini authorities are still holding a siege on Diraz and preventing the mosque imams and worshipers from performing Friday prayers in the area. Indeed what a paradox this is!