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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Saudi Arabian authorities arrest people praying for Palestine; British actor among the detained

Saudi Arabian authorities are arresting people praying for Palestine at holy sites in Mecca and Medina. This is particularly shocking as Saudi Arabia claims to be a Muslim country…

British actor and presenter on family pilgrimage in Mecca reported soldiers detained him for wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.

Islah Abdur-Rahman went on the Islamic pilgrimage in late October and is concerned about Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on Palestinian symbols.

He said, “I was stopped by four soldiers for wearing a white keffiyeh around my head and a Palestinian coloured tasbih [rosary beads] around my wrist.

“I was taken to an off-site detention facility for possible crimes. After detention, additional troops asked me my nationality, why I was here, where I came from, and how long I was here.
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While discussing and taking his visa, the soldiers urged Abdur-Rahman to duplicate his keffiyeh styling.

He said, “It was evident that the scarf was the issue. “They spoke Arabic but kept saying ‘Palestinian keffiyeh’ and looking at the scarf.

After I was released, a worker grabbed my scarf and stated, ‘This is not nice, Israel-Palestine is not good, so don’t wear it, it’s not allowed.’”

After turning over the keffiyeh, Abdur-Rahman signed a release form and gave his fingerprints.

After a spiritual trek, Abdur-Rahman was surprised to find himself in a correctional center. The shock was complete.

“At first, I was scared because I was in a country that wasn’t mine, I had no rights, and they could do anything to me without my consent,” he said.

My apprehension gave way to sadness. The sadness increased when I realized this is a drop in the bucket for Palestinians.”

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It was “upsetting” for Abdur-Rahman to happen in a house of worship during Israel’s unrelenting bombing of Gaza, which has killed over 11,000 Palestinians, including over 4,000 children, since October 7.

“It made me realize how Palestinians in Gaza and their country must feel being abused by the Israeli government for being Palestinian. I think it deepened my empathy,” he said.

Abdur-Rahman documented his experience on Instagram to show how Palestinians “don’t have a voice” and “not want to give the wrong impression of Mecca, which is a beautiful place”.

He says he has received online hate mail from Saudi Arabians defending what happened and that no flags or emblems are allowed in houses of worship after publishing his experience.

According to Muslim belief, Al-Aqsa in Palestine is one of the holiest locations in Islam, thus it was acceptable to me. I’ve heard from folks who went through what I did and got in trouble, he said.

Detained for praying for Gaza

Abdur-Rahman’s testimony is trending online.

One video posted on social media on November 10 portrays an Algerian pilgrimage participant being imprisoned by Saudi police “for sympathising with Palestinians and praying for them”.

“I was detained for more than six hours for supplicating for our brothers in Palestine,” he adds in the video.

“I am not sharing this for no reason; I want to warn everyone, especially visitors to Mecca and Medina. I didn’t discuss politics or regimes.

In Medina, I prayed for the children and victims in Palestine. Is praying for the oppressed illegal?

“I hadn’t finished my dua when soldiers took my phone and made me delete a Gaza prayer video.”

The man said he was escorted to numerous police stations and tried to explain he was praying. He deleted the video when asked.

I was held for six hours despite having high blood pressure and diabetes. My fingerprints were collected and I was imprisoned for ‘sympathising and praying for Palestine’ like a criminal, he claimed.

He closes the video by telling viewers to be careful when visiting holy locations and that he was lucky to be released and that others were kept for far longer. He also reported that an Indonesian woman with a Palestinian flag hijab was seized.

Famous sheikhs have also advised against war-related statements and gestures.

The head of Saudi Arabia’s religious affairs at the Grand Mosque, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, advised against interfering in Gaza on November 10.

“You are seeing what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Palestine, what else should we do other than pray for them,” he asked.

Muslims should not concede to these provocations and allow circumstances divide them. They must consult their guardians and scholars and avoid actions they are not allowed to do.”

Meanwhile, you can support Palestine wherever you are and there are various ways to do it. Here are some suggestions:

Inform yourself and others about Israel-Palestine. Online and library resources can help you understand the conflict’s history, current state, and Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. Knowing more empowers you to act. Share what you learn on WhatsApp and social media.

Help Palestinian groups. Many Palestinian organizations support peace and justice. You can donate, volunteer, or promote these organizations.

Stop buying Israeli goods. BDS is a global movement that calls for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel until it ceases its occupation of Palestinian areas and follows international law. BDS movement information is at bdsmovement.net.
Call your representatives and ask them to support Palestinian peace and justice measures. Government and legislature websites include elected officials’ contact information.
Speak out against Palestinian human rights violations. Write letters to the editor, phone talk radio, or protest.

Support Palestinian businesses. Also learn Arabic, as it helps you connect with Palestinians and understand their culture.

Every action, no matter how tiny, can aid Palestinians.


Saudi Arabia’s detention of Gaza and Palestine supporters at Mecca and Medina is highly troubling. These actions undermine free speech and religion and aim to muzzle Palestinian voices.

Islah Abdur-Rahman’s detention for wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh and tasbih is particularly alarming. Regardless of size, the Saudis are targeting any support for Palestine.

Detaining the Algerian man praying for Palestine violates religious freedom. Prayer for the oppressed is a religious act that should never be criminalized.

The Saudi authorities’ attempts to crush dissent are shown by famous sheikhs’ warnings against war-related words and gestures. These warnings are meant to silence critics of Israel’s Gaza atrocities.

The world community must strongly condemn these activities. Saudi authorities must be held accountable for suppressing religion and speech.

Meanwhile, it must be noted that every Palestine-supporting action matters. People can support Palestine in various ways right now. Learn Arabic, support Palestinian groups, boycott Israeli products, contact government officials, speak out against human rights abuses, support Palestinian businesses, and educate yourself and others about the issue.


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