Alarming Trend: Self-Immolation for Human Rights

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

BouaziziBy definition, self-immolation means, “A deliberate and willing sacrifice of oneself, often by fire.” For many who choose this form of almost certain suicide, the reasons for the deed are vast and the intention is to draw attention to their plight or the plight of their family or people. A recent spate of self-immolations has spread across the Middle East at an alarming rate, leaving authorities baffled as to how to prevent even more copycat cases.

It all started in Tunisia, just prior to the New Year. Aggravated and fed up with years of abuse from Tunisian authorities, who routinely hassled him and sought to damage his fruit business in countless ways, Tunisian citizen Mohammed Bouazizi took matters into his own hands. He took his cart to a local governmental building and parked it right in front. He climbed atop his fruit cart, doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. Bouazizi was burned beyond recognition although his family members could recognize his voice. He succumbed to his injuries and died a few days later.

Bouazizi’s death aroused the Tunisian people to protest in the streets over the lack of basic human rights in the country and governmental corruption. The protest forced Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali to resign and flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia for safe haven. The victory of the Tunisian people, ignited by Bouazizi’s suicide, seems to have worked like a charm to create change in Tunisia. At least that is the message that people in neighboring Arab states are getting. As a result, unprecedented numbers of people in the Middle East have chosen to set themselves on fire to create change in their countries similar to that of Tunisia.

In Egypt, at least six people have set themselves on fire to protest their government’s policies. Another seven people have set themselves alight in Algeria and the first case of self-immolation has been recorded in Saudi Arabia. Morocco and Mauritania have also reported at least one case of self-immolation. Not all of the people who have set themselves on fire have died, but the majority has been burned beyond recognition. Bouazizi is being touted as a martyr and his deeds an effective means to an end.

What is most surprising is that all of the self-immolations have occurred in predominantly Muslim lands and many were by Muslims. Suicide, in any form, is strictly prohibited in Islam. And there is a great reward for Muslims who bear tyrant rulers with patience and trust in God Almighty. However, burgeoning inflation and hopelessness due to lack of education or job opportunities in many parts of the region, are adding fuel to the flames of an increasingly combustible situation.

For this reason, Egypt’s Al-Azhar University in Cairo issued a statement this past week reiterating that suicide (especially for political purposes) is forbidden in Islam according to the Shari’ah. Egyptian authorities also instructed all mosques in the country to make the prohibition of suicide in Islam the feature topic of this past Friday’s khutbah, or sermon. Similar statements have been shared in mosques across the Middle East.

In the interim, countries across the region are on high alert for similar self-immolations as the unrest in Tunisia continues and Bouazizi’s deed lives on in the hearts and minds of people willing to sacrifice their very lives for the sake of change.


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