Edmonton imam thanks supporters after being released from Saudi jail

News Agencies – November 1, 2011

A Canadian imam who was arrested by religious police while on a pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Medina thanked the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the Canadian media and his supporters across the country for their efforts in ensuring his release. Edmonton-based imam Usama Al-Atar said he felt “deeply relieved” and “very grateful” to be reunited with his friends after spending 36 hours in a Medina city jail, according to a statement he issued on behalf of the IHRC, a U.K.-based organization that spearheaded an urgent appeal effort that brought international attention to his case.

He said the detainment facility he stayed in was “horrid” but didn’t elaborate on the specific conditions. He said that because he was staying in Saudi Arabia for two more weeks to complete his pilgrimage, it would not be “sensible nor wise” of him to speak to the media about his experience with Saudi authorities.

Al-Atar, a prominent Islamic scholar and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta chemistry department, was leading 10 pilgrims in prayer at a religious burial site in Medina when a group of Saudi religious police began to harass the group, according to witnesses, including Hayward. The religious police first asked Al-Atar to lower his voice and then asked the group to leave the cemetery, witnesses said. The police then accused Al-Atar of being a thief before restraining him, Hayward said Sunday. Eventually one of the religious police officers pushed Al-Atar into a small kiosk area where he reportedly struggled to breathe.