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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

August 19, 2008

child abuse.

I don't see this as an issue of freedom of religion at all:

A man whipped himself until he bled during a Shia Muslim religious ceremony, before allegedly forcing two boys to do the same, a court has heard.

Syed Mustafa Zaidi, 44, is accused of encouraging the boys, aged 13 and 15, to beat themselves at a community centre in Manchester on 19 January.
Prosecutors said the 15-year-old boy, who is not seen in the film but was allegedly forced to take part in the ceremony, suffered multiple lacerations to his back and shoulders, including a wound measuring up to a centimetre long.

Andrew Nuttall, prosecutor, said Mr Zaidi also harmed himself in the film.

"This devout man used considerable force upon himself, clearly causing injuries, and causing others present to fear for his safety to such an extent that they started to intervene and calm him down," he said.

Mr Nuttall said Mr Zaidi then went on to encourage the 15-year-old boy to flog himself and gave him "no choice" about participating in the ceremony.

He said Mr Zaidi took the arm of the 13-year-old boy, took off his T-shirt so he was bare-chested and put the zanjeer in his hand and told him to flog himself.

The practice of self-flagellation is an extreme one - mainstream Shi'a communities do not endorse or sanction it, and even those that do are clear that it is not for children, only for adults. As the articlegoes on to emphasize:

'Not for children'

The court heard how Mr Zaidi had attended a meeting at the community centre two days before the ceremony, where it was made plain that children under the age of 16 should not participate.

Mr Zaidi denies forcing the boys to participate and claims they had requested to take part.

Mr Nuttall said: "The prosecution say the defendant ignored the advice given to him that this practice was not allowed for children under 16 years of age."

The actions of Zaidi are reprehensible and far from being a matter of freedom of religious practice, is clearly a simple case of child abuse. His actions have no religious sanction or justification and are solely the result of his own twisted moral sense, one not shared by the members of his own community. To paint this as an issue of freedom of religion is completely false. This has nothing to do with religion.

Of course the actions of Zaidi are now being used to paint Shi'a muslims as deviant in some circles, for example in this thread at Deenport:

What's the right response to this? I know that 'we Sunnis' don't condone this kind of behaviour but you can always cast this as a religious freedom issue. Also, the problem with certain third parties who are going to blame 'Islam' for this. Do we dissociate ourselves from the Shia completely (this is against Islamic practice and is done only by a small number of loons) or uphold their freedom to do this and kick our own Dawah into gear and try to educate these people out of this kind of thing?

emphases mine. Luckily othr commenters in the thread gently rebuke the above by pointing out that overgeneralization cuts both ways:

On the whole, i have found the shia community appear to be highly disciplined and well organised. Radio 4 coverage of the event DID state that other members of the congregation tried to intervene when they saw the youngsters intoduced to the ceremony. Its important not to generalise and accept that most shia families are as normal and balanced as their sunni co-religionists.

In many ways, the issue really serves to highlight the necessity of governmental oversight of religious practice. Not to define what religious practices are "correct" or not, but rather to simply be blind to religion when evaluating issues against the law. The question of whether self-flagellation is an authentic Islamic or Shi'a practice is a (bloody) red herring - the question is simply whether the actions violated Law. And they did, so Mr. Zaidi needs to be prosecuted accordingly. Bringing this issue into the domain of religious freedom only serves to cloud the issue, and taint the entire muslim community, Sunni and Shi'a alike.

As one commenter in the Deenport thread put it,

apart from the (elected) government, who else can provide public safeguards when religious practices veer into problematic areas, for instance where they are forced upon those who are uncomfortable with them, or simply don't accept them as 'correct' religious practices?

I do believe that ultimately, these safeguards protect religious minorities even while they impose limits on public manifestations of religion. Do we need protecting from ourselves? I think that sometimes we do...

well said.

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About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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