Bahrain charges religious reformers with questioning Islam

The Gulf nation of Bahrain plans to put three religious reformers on trial for allegedly questioning the foundations of Islam

ByThe Associated Press
February 20, 2023, 8:40 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The Gulf nation of Bahrain plans to put three religious reformers on trial Tuesday for allegedly questioning the foundations of Islam, a case that has divided the Shiite majority of the country ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

The three are members of Tajdeed, a local Shiite cultural society that advocates open discussion of religion, and whose members have questioned Islamic jurisprudence and scholarly opinions. Such questioning is taboo in many parts of the Muslim world, where religious and political authorities enforce orthodoxy.

Prosecutors specializing in cybercrimes referred three individuals to a criminal court, accusing them of “deliberately undermining the basics of the Islamic religion on which all Muslims and sects agree," the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported.

Jalal al-Qassab and Redha Rajab were summoned to appear in court, tweeted Nader Rajab, a founding member of Tajdeed. They face up to a year in prison if convicted. The third suspect has not been publicly identified.

Tajdeed has produced a series of YouTube programs that have angered prominent Shiite clerics in Bahrain, who have portrayed the group's work as an attack on Islam and called on people to ostracize its members.

Tajdeed says it does not question the Quran or the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad, which are at the heart of Islam, but rather the opinions of religious scholars and others who came later, including modern-day clerics.

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent pro-democracy activist in Bahrain who has been jailed in the past for his political views, has weighed in on the controversy, saying the “systematic incitement” against Tajdeed is a “flagrant violation of human rights.”

“Human rights are legislated for all, and we cannot highlight them in one place and overlook them in another,” he tweeted.

Bahrain was rocked by pro-democracy protests led by the Shiite majority against the Sunni monarchy in 2011. Authorities quashed the protests by force with aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but Bahrain has continued to see low-level unrest over the years.

The small island nation off Saudi Arabia is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.