Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, members of dissident religious minorities and groups were targeted with religious repression. In Palestine, the third prominent Jewish holiday of the month brought a new set of restrictions targeting Palestinian religious practice. In Israel, an aspect of Haredi religious practice has increasingly become a point of contestation between religious authorities and Jewish worshipers. In Iran, Iraq, and Yemen, security forces arrested members of dissident religious groups and a few morality-related events were reported.
In Palestine, Israeli state forces restricted the movement of Palestinians and repressed religious practice last week, to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot — a weeklong holiday that commemorates God’s protection of the Israelites after they left Egypt. In terms of restrictions on movement, Israeli military forces announced the closure of the Gaza Strip and West Bank borders and crossing points, putting the two areas under a security closure for the length of the holiday. In Jerusalem, the restrictions were even tighter with roads and streets closed to facilitate settler access to Al Aqsa compound during the Sukkot celebrations. Also, Israeli military forces blocked Palestinian access to the Sebastia archaeological site in Nablus, which is under shared control between Israel and Palestine, and forcibly closed several surrounding stores to facilitate settler access to the area during Sukkot. Finally, for the third time in September, Israeli military forces closed the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs to Muslim worshipers in Hebron city as Jewish religious celebrations continue in the city (Palestine Information Center, 21 September 2021). The latest restrictions come amid a month of Jewish religious celebrations, including Yom Kippur, that have led to increased limitations on Palestinian movement and heightened religious repression.
In Israel, Haredi civilians tried to prevent police from installing a water filtration system at the Zofnik mikvah — a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion — in Jerusalem last week, amid a wider dispute between Jewish worshipers and religious authorities over the use of the mikvah. In objecting to the installation of the filtration system, they argued that the filtration system was not kosher — religiously permissible in Jewish law. The dispute comes a week after Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar ordered a halt to the custom of Jewish women immersing themselves in a mikvah a day before Yom Kippur to heighten their sense of spiritual purity (Jerusalem Post, 15 September 2021). Amar stated that the decision was aimed at preventing unmarried women who wish to have sex from immersing themselves. The pretext for this directive comes from Jewish family purity laws, which require married women to immerse themselves once a month, seven days after the end of their menstrual cycle, before having sex with their partners (Chabad).
In Iran, Iraq, and Yemen, authorities targeted people with judicial harassment for not conforming to the state’s official interpretation of Islamic morality and prosecuted dissident religious groups last week. In Iran, the cyber police unit arrested a citizen in Marvdasht city for running a dating page on Instagram. Meanwhile, authorities in Shiraz city arrested four Baha’is after raiding their homes and confiscating their belongings without charging them. A Revolutionary Court in Shiraz also sentenced two Baha’is with over six years of imprisonment in total and a two-year travel ban over charges of “membership in an opposition group” and “propaganda against the state” (HRANA, 23 September 2021) In Iraq, police forces arrested eight individuals in the southern part of the country for disseminating “extremist” content that “insults [Shiite] religious authorities” and for “sowing disunity among Iraqis” (Shafaaq News, 24 September 2021). The individuals were arrested after they distributed flyers to Shiite pilgrims that included quotes from Muslim and Shiite holy figures censuring the existence of clergy in Islam. Iraqi security forces have arrested Muslims in the past when they publicly declared beliefs that did not conform with official Twelver Shiite orthodoxy (for more see this ACLED Regional Overview). Finally, in Yemen, the pro-Houthi government imposed new restrictions on women’s autonomy. Houthi supervisors and tribal leaders issued a document outlining financial penalties for men in Bani Hushaysh district who allow their wives or daughters to use makeup, own smartphones, or work for relief organizations.
Also, in Yemen, religious leaders used their authority to incite civilians to join the pro-Hadi war effort last week. A pro-Hadi Awqaf (endowments) office in Ad Dali governorate issued a circular to its mosque preachers directing them to encourage mosque-goers to join the fighting against pro-Houthis forces. The circular was issued on the same day that pro-Houthi forces made advances and conquered new territories in Shabwah governorate.
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