September 24, 2008

Saudi government told to halt religious discrimination

by David Masters

Saudi Arabia’s government has been told to end discrimination against the Ismaili Shia religious minority.

New York-based charity Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued the warning yesterday, saying that the country’s one million Ismaili population faces ‘systematic discrimination’ from the highest levels.

According to HRW, Ismailis are treated as second class citizens, suffering discrimination in the justice system, education, religious practice, and in seeking employment, whilst the 28 million strong Sunni population receives preferential treatment.

Saudi Arabia’s official Council of Senior Religious Scholars describes Ismailis as ‘corrupt infidels’ and ‘debauched atheist’, whilst school textbooks teach that adhering to Ismaili doctrine is a ‘major sin’.

Joe Stork, HRW’s Middle East director, said the Saudi government must learn to practice what it preaches.

Earlier this year the Saudi King held an interfaith conference including representatives from Christian, Jewish and Shinto traditions, with the aim of promoting tolerance between religions

Telling other countries and religions to be tolerant, Saudi Arabia must learn to practice tolerance within its own borders, Stork added.

Ismaili’s are a minority Islamic Shia sect, mostly residing in the south west Saudi province of Najran, bordering Yemen.

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