A group of four Shi’a Muslims have said they were prevented by Salafis and police officers from entering Al-Hussain mosque in Cairo to commemorate Ashura, adding that one of them was detained by police.
On Saturday, about 30 Shi’as went to Al-Hussain mosque to commemorate Ashura and mourn the death of Imam Hussain, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
Only 20 of the group were allowed to enter the mosque, said Amr Abduallah, one of the Shi’as banned from entering. He said the memorial of Al-Hussain was closed since the early morning.
“We were prevented by a group of Salafis and police from entering the mosque or even standing near the area,” Abdullah said. He also claimed that Shi’a in Egypt have received death threats from a group of Salafis who are targeting their sect.
Abdullah added that he and three others were dressed in black for the commemoration and were recognised as being Shi’a by police officers.
Walid Ismail, a Salafi and a member of a religious group called the Islamic Coalition to Defend the Prophet’s Caliphates and Family, challenged Abdulla’s accusations, saying, “all Shi’as were allowed to enter the mosque, except for three or four of them who are called ‘Sherazia’.” He said this group was known to conduct “unacceptable practices inside the mosque.”
Ismail was among the group of Salafis who prevented the four from entering the mosque. Abdullah claimed that Ismail was protected by the police and verbally insulted him.
Ismail denied this, instead saying, “I stood with a couple of colleagues to prevent them from practicing their well-known traditions of slapping their faces and cutting their clothes, but other Shi’as were allowed in.”
Oraby Hussein, a Shi’a who was banned from entering the mosque, was taken to Al-Gamaliya police station by one of the officers.
A police officer at the station named Saeed said he was taken to the station, “only because he did not hold a national ID.”
“We have not seen [at the station] a single Shi’a citizen coming to celebrate Ashura since the start of the day. Hussein was a normal citizen walking around without identification and then he was released from the station,” the police officer said.
However Abduallah insisted Hussein was taken because he clashed with the police officer who did not allow him into the mosque.
“This is strong evidence for the decline of Egypt’s secular identity,” said Bahaa Anwar, the spokesperson for Shi’a in Egypt, stating that it was not the first time that Shi’a in Egypt were exposed to discrimination.
Mahmoud Azab, spokesperson for Al-Azhar, declined to discuss the incident, saying “issues such as these can cause sectarian strife that Al-Azhar wouldn’t want to comment on.”
Shi’a Muslims commemorating Ashura typically dress in black and may perform ceremonial self-flagellation or beating.