Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Features of Houthi Sectarian Abuse, Displacement of Minorities

Features of Houthi Sectarian Abuse, Displacement of Minorities

Sunday, 28 November, 2021 - 10:45
FILE PHOTO - Armed Houthi followers carry their rifles as they attend a gathering to show support for the Houthi movement in Sanaa, Yemen December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The Houthi militia’s hostility towards other sects and religions in Yemen dates back to before the Iran-backed group staged a nationwide coup. It expelled all Jewish community members in Saada governorate a year and a half after declaring its rebellion against the central authority in mid-2004.

The contentious Houthi policy had spread to affect the Salafist movement, whereby Houthis targeted their education centers in the Dammaj area and forcibly displaced faith group members in a campaign reminiscent of the imam’s rule in Yemen.

Houthis later expelled the rest of the followers of the Jewish religion, the followers of the Baha’i religion and Christianity, to begin the stage of doctrinal change in Yemen through altering school curricula, changing mosques and overtaking public media.

By the end of 2020, the Houthi militia had completed the expulsion of all adherents of the Jewish religion from Yemen, a religion that had existed in the country for millennia.

Reports have said that the very last Jews in Yemen were forced to flee the country in exchange for the release of Levi Salem Marhabi, a Jewish man who has been imprisoned by the Houthis since 2016. But Marhabi remains imprisoned despite a Houthi court exonerating him.

It was also confirmed that a group of Yemeni Christians, including Reverend Mushir al-Khalidi, had been deported after several months of detention.

Moreover, clerics from the Baha’i religion, which had been practiced in Yemen since the 1940s, were also deported.

According to a report released by ACAPS, from 2015, Houthis have been gradually enforcing policies linked to suppressing the religious practices of some Islamic sects. Reports on such incidences increased between July–September 2021.

The Houthis are repressing the population in two different ways:

1) imposing generic religious norms including taxes and celebrations.

2) suppressing non-Zaydi practice (such as the weddings, Salafi centers, and Tarawih prayer which is conducted during Ramadan).

There’s a mixture of ideological and pragmatic intentions behind this such as:

- Increasing revenue by collecting Zakat and taxing religious celebrations.

- Encouraging people to join the frontlines through sermons and other religious messaging, thereby increasing the number of fighters

- Emphasizing that ‘true believers’ are those from the Zaydi school of thought (implying that those unaffiliated are infidels) to increase supporters for Zaydi Islam and hence the Houthis.

There are deliberate attempts to create division among people from different Islamic sects. Incidents related to religion reported between July–September built on previous incidents related to tax collection, music suppression, the closure of Salafi mosques, the replacement of Sunni imams who didn’t reinforce Houthi policies, and making changes on the school curriculum, especially with regard to history and Islamic and social studies.

Sanaa residents told Asharq Al-Awsat that Houthis replaced mosques' imams who refused to abide by the group's policies. They also altered some of the Quran verses in their curriculum to teach and encourage violence instead of coexistence.

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