Custodians of the Divine
As a Canadian he must also feel that tolerance is a decided asset in the pluralist society which is his home.
Perhaps he found it difficult to believe that a nation representing fundamentalist Sunnis of the Wahhabist sect would be so dedicated to hostile reactions when confronted with the presence of Shia Muslims. But then Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam's holiest shrines, gives consent to Iranians to make their pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and Qatar lent their troops to quell the Bahrain insurrection.
Something Usama Al-Atar appeared to be well aware of, since he commented on it critically months ago, denouncing Saudi Arabia: "The atrocities committed today against innocents in several countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia among others, are crimes one cannot stand silent about", he said, commenting on the military response to Shia Muslims's protests for equality in Sunni-led countries.
But as a guest in Saudi Arabia, many months later, he must have assumed a certain amount of anonymity would prevail among the millions who annually make their personal pious pilgrimage, in honouring one of the five pillars of Islam. Who would not reason that the Saudi military and police would have more than enough work to do simply in maintaining order and avoiding chaos in the press of the faithful?
The Islamic Shia Association of Edmonton, where Mr. Al-Attar is working on a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta's chemistry department, was more than a little alarmed to learn that one of their own had been arrested in Saudi Arabia. Incautious, perhaps was the decision by Mr. Al-Atar and the handful of other Western-sourced Shia Muslims who had decided to pray outside the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina.
Bringing decidedly unfriendly and perhaps incredulous attention to themselves, for Sunni Muslims, particularly Saudi Wahhabists, do not pray in cemeteries. Mr. Al-Atar was singled out by religious police and guards set upon him, accusing him, improbably, of theft. "They forced him to sit under an air conditioning unit, and squashed him until he was blue in the face", described a witness.
He was arrested and jailed. The incident had many witnesses, several hundred Canadian, American and British pilgrims. And a group of pilgrims sat in silent vigil outside the Central Medina jail where Mr. Al-Atar was imprisoned. He was accused of having broken the arm of a policeman, although witnesses claimed that the young imam had remained unresisting during the scuffle that had taken place.
Mr. Al-Atar has presented in his community as a voice for inter-faith dialogue and communal relations of mutual respect. He has condemned the violent extremism that has plagued Islam. "Although [terroristic] acts may be carried out by Muslims, these are not the teachings of Islam", he has said in the past.
Now Mr. Al-Atar has witnessed and experienced at first hand the effects of Islamism. Through his unfortunate interaction with representatives of the custodians of venomous hostility toward other Islamic sects; those whom Wahhabi Saudi Muslims consider apostates, insults to Islam. He must also be aware that Shia Muslims, particularly those Ayatollahs in Iran reciprocate the venom of the Saudis.
Now that he has been freed from custody and will be returning to Canada, he can raise his voice higher and become a more prominent advocate for Islam to unequivocally denounce those within its inner bosom who have worked so hard to impress 'Islamophobia' upon the world outside Islam.