Australian Shia communities react to prominent cleric's execution

Australian Shia communities react to prominent cleric's execution

Community gatherings and a call to action have marked the Australian Shia community's response to the execution of a prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia.

Community gatherings and a call to action have marked the Australian Shia community's response to the execution of a prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was one of 47 people executed over the weekend for terrorism offences.

The execution has prompted global protests, along with warnings the act could inflame sectarian rivalry in the Middle East.

But as Naomi Selvaratnam reports, within the Australian Shia community, it is raw shock and sadness.

It was the particular execution that many hoped would never happen, the killing of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

The cleric had been both a persistent critic of Saudi Arabia's ruling elite and a human-rights advocate for the country's Shi'ite minority.

The Saudi Interior Ministry has defended the execution, saying anyone who commits what it calls terrorist acts will have to face justice.

But Melbourne sheikh and Islamic lecturer Ali Dirani says every Muslim, in Australia and around the world, will be touched by the execution.

"Every Muslim, I think, that's a practising Muslim, and especially the Shia, they felt the loss. And there is resentment on how the Saudi government didn't respect the many requests and many demonstrations globally, requesting to free Sheikh Nimr. He spoke against oppression, and it's a human right to be able to voice that out, and it doesn't become an execution."

Hajj Dirani says Sheikh Nimr took a stand against tyranny, voicing concern about the Saudi government's role as an alleged sponsor of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

The president of the Australian Shia Gathering Place in Melbourne, Hassan Al-Khirsany, says Sheikh Nimr will be remembered as a brave and influential man.

"Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is one of the scholars in Shia, and, unfortunately, his fate is that he (was) in Saudi Arabia and he had to speak up to get their rights, because there are no rights there at all for the Shia community in Saudi Arabia. So he's one of our scholars, and, in the execution that happened to him, we missed a very important scholar."

Mr Al-Khirsany says local Shia groups have gathered over the weekend to grieve and remember the prominent cleric.

He says, upon hearing the news, people immediately met up at local community centres and mosques.

"At Imam Ali Islamic Centre and also at local mosques. And there are lots of people gathering together and commemorating this bad occasion."

Protests internationally have ranged across Iran to Britain.

Hajj Dirani says he hopes Sheikh Nimr's execution will prompt people across Australia to take a stand against the Saudi authorities.

"I think the world needs to wake up -- those that have got ties with Saudi Arabia -- not to support it in any way or form, because the Saudi regime is responsible financially. The Saudi regime at the present time, there's many lives that have been taken at their hands, with their money and their support. So I do pray and hope humanity does wake up and those that have been fooled in the past by the Saudi regime wake up to it and don't become part of it."

But Hajj Dirani says practical measures are crucial to making their outrage heard.

"Any human being that is concerned about humanity, anything that they can do -- maybe sending letters, emails, condemning this to the Saudi Arabian embassy and any government that's got ties with Saudi Arabia -- I do hope that they do make a legitimate stand and make Saudi Arabia realise they can't just do actions like that and the world remains silent about it."

The human rights group Amnesty International says the executions demonstrate what it calls the Saudi authorities' utter disregard for human life.

The group says it fears many more people are now at imminent risk of execution.

Sheikh Nimr's nephew, Ali al-Nimr, is among those detained and sentenced to death.

Hassan Al-Khirsany says there is concern the next round of executions will begin soon.

"It won't stop. The Saudi regime is going on by killing and executing Shia scholars and Shia people that stand up against the regime there and the bad deal of the Shia community there. We will hear lots of news similar to this in the future."



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