BEIRUT: The destruction of a holy Shiite shrine near Damascus and exhumation of the body within, allegedly at the hands of Sunni rebels, was met with fury and condemnation by Shiite leaders across the region Friday.
News of the desecration of the shrine and removal of the body of Hujr bin Uday al-Kindi – one of the Prophet Mohammad’s companions – emerged late Thursday. It further raises the specter of regional sectarian strife as the fighting in Syria increasingly pits Sunni rebels against Alawites, Shiites and other minority loyalist forces.
Hujr bin Uday al-Kindi was a companion of the Prophet Mohammad and is widely revered by Muslims, particularly Shiites.
Hezbollah condemned the act in a statement, questioning the sincerity of promises by the Syrian opposition to protect religious shrines.
“This crime poses the big question: Where is the Syrian opposition that claims it wants to protect shrines and religious centers?” a statement said.
“Hezbollah is extremely worried about constant violations of shrines, and calls on every responsible person to assume his responsibility in this regard in order not to be an accomplice to these crimes, and to prevent these things [from happening] … because it foretells a large conflict and gloomy evil.
“Hezbollah expresses its great pain for the news … Desecrating holy sites – which we were afraid of, and which Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned of two days ago – has actually happened.”
In a speech Tuesday, Nasrallah publicly warned Syria’s Sunni fighters against such actions, warning of “serious repercussions” if rebels attacked or damaged the revered Shiite shrine of Sayida Zeinab, outside Damascus.
Unconfirmed reports say the shrine and other sites in Syria revered by Shiites are now being guarded by members of President Bashar Assad’s Popular Committees, mostly sectarian-based civilian militia.
In Raqqa, in the central north of the country which was overrun by mainly Islamist rebels in March, local leaders say tribal councils have tried unsuccessfully to prevent attacks on the Ammar Ibn Yasir Shiite shrine.
The Amal Movement said the desecration of Hujr bin Uday al-Kindi’s shrine, in the Adra region of Damascus governorate, amounted “to an aggression against the feelings and symbols of all Muslims,” and served only Israel.
“It is one episode of the great conspiracy hatched by the enemies of this nation to spark sectarian strife that is carried out by takfiri groups,” Amal said in a statement.
The act was also condemned by Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the deputy head of Lebanon’s Higher Shiite Council, and Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“The targeting of the great companion’s shrine stands for targeting the Muslims’ cohesion,” a statement from Maliki’s office said, according to AIN news agency.
Reports carried by Syria’s state news agency SANA said the Endowments Ministry condemned the destruction as the work of “takfiri terrorist groups” and “a flagrant attack on all Muslims’ sanctity.”
There was no immediate response from the opposition Syrian National Coalition Friday, and members did not reply to requests for comment.
Details about how or when the shrine was destroyed were scarce. Nor was it clear where the body had been taken.
Photos posted on SANA and social media websites showed the shrine before and after it was destroyed, with the tomb walls collapsed and broken and a deep hole in the ground where the body was purportedly removed.
A post on the opposition Adra Revolutionary Committee’s Facebook page tacitly acknowledged the desecration had taken place, but blamed the Syrian regime, which it said was trying to foment sectarian divisions.
“We have received many messages regarding the exalted companion Hujr bin Uday al-Kindi,” the group’s moderator said in a message.
One person asked the group to explain to Shiites who assaulted the grave and why, “because they do not believe it is the regime that did this in order to turn it into a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites.”
The moderator pointed to what was described as a “massacre” against rebels by regime forces a day earlier in northern Banias, saying: “[We are not] people who think the grave, even though it was the companion’s grave, is more important than a human being.
“As the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, said: ‘It is easier for Allah to destroy Al-Kaaba than spill a Muslim’s blood …Why are you then spilling Muslims’ blood?’