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.

Edmonton imam to keep low profile to end of pilgrimage

News Agencies – October 31, 2011

A Canadian Muslim cleric will have to keep a low profile and stay quiet about being arrested, bruised, bloodied and shackled in a holding cell while he completes a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.  Usama Al-Atar, a well-known Edmonton Shia spiritual leader, was arrested after a clash with Saudi religious police who noticed his group performing supplications at the Jannat al-Baqi, the graveyard near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.  “I was falsely arrested and held by Saudi authorities for the best part of the previous 36 hours in what can only be described as horrid conditions,” Dr. Al-Atar said in a statement.

The cemetery has long been a place of tension between Shia pilgrims and the religious police, who uphold a strict application of Wahhabist Islam at odds with other Muslim schools of thought. A friend travelling with Dr. Al-Attar said that the Saudi religious police had warned them twice the previous day that they were being too loud. Dr. Al-Atar, a post-doctoral chemistry researcher at the University of Alberta, is familiar to many Shia because he has given lectures around the world. The Edmonton cleric has denounced human-rights violations in Saudi Arabia and in neighbouring Bahrain.

Mahmood Mavani, president of the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Association of Edmonton, a southeast city mosque where Dr. Al-Atar served as an imam, praised the work of the federal government and the local MP, Mike Lake, in pressing for his friend’s release.

Canadian Imam beaten and arrested in Saudi Arabia

News Agencies – October 30, 2011

Usama Al-Atar, an imam from Edmonton, was beaten and arrested by religious police in Saudi Arabia while on a pilgrimage. His friends in Canada are disturbed by the incident and worried for his safety. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is aware of the arrest.

Al-Atar is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta where he researches solar cells and nanotechnology. Murphy said Al-Atar makes the hajj pilgrimage every year and hasn’t had problems on any of his six previous visits.