About 300 people marched from the Human Rights Monument on Elgin Street to a grassy clearing across from the Sussex Avenue embassy, where many used the opportunity to express their anger at the Saudi government for persecuting religious minorities and for what they see as supporting terrorist organizations.
Canada’s government was also chided for its $15-billion deal to sell military vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Protesters carried banners that read “Muslims Against ISIS,” “Rebuild Al Baqee” and “Respect Muslim Heritage.”
And among chants there were: “Al Baqee, Al Baqee, rebuild Al Baqee ” and “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your dirty war.”
The Jannat al-Baqee cemetery in Medina, Saudi Arabia, was chosen by Islam’s Holy Prophet Mohammad (SW). It is the place where many of his descendants were buried.
But it was destroyed in 1925 by the government of Saudi Arabia, which left behind no sign of any grave or tomb.
Yesterday, pilgrims who seek to visit and pray at the site are harassed or prevented from doing so, according to march organizers.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia follows an extreme ideology known as Wahhabism, which is rejected by many in the Muslim world, including the minority Shia Muslim protesters who marched in Ottawa.
All cultures, civilizations and religions, including Islam, are proud of their traditions and heritage, said Jaffar Hashmi of the Ottawa Al-Baqee chapter.
“Humanity does its utmost to preserve them, not destroy them,” he said. “These are heritage sites. They have to be rebuilt and restored.”
Berak Hussain drew a comparison between calls to restore the Baqee cemetery and Canadians preserving this nation’s history by building sites such as the National War Memorial, which protesters passed en route to the embassy.
Many Canadians would rightfully be heartbroken and furious if a future government ever destroyed the cenotaph and prevented people from visiting the site.
“It’s an outright insult,” she said, accusing the current Saudi government of trying to rewrite history.
Raising her voice to demand the sacred sites be restored and protected is also a way of speaking out against terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Boko Haram, she said.
Such a protest on the streets of Saudi Arabia may not as safe as it is in Canada, where free speech is a basic right, said Toronto’s Gulzar Rizvi.
“We can tell Canadians we have been denied access to our shrines in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Saturday marked the first time a Baqee protest was held in Ottawa. Similar events have been held in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Houston, as well as major cities in Europe and the Middle East.
The march was supported by the Al Baqee Organization, a U.S. group committed to raising awareness about the preservation of Islamic heritage.
The NGO strives to protect and stop further destruction of endangered heritage sites and restore all destroyed heritage sites, starting with Jannat-ul-Baqee because its destruction marked the beginning of such incidents in the modern era.
The Saudi government’s goal is to eradicate the Islamic legacy and heritage, and systematically remove all its vestiges so future generations of Muslims will have no affiliation with their religious history, the NGO says.