I am pleased to see that Mr. Syed Mustafa Zaidi of Manchester, UK has been found guilty of child abuse. Zaidi, a Shi’a muslim, forced two young boys to participate in a ritual self-flogging exercise during the holy month of Ashura, in which Shi’a lament the martyrdom of Imam Husain AS, the grandson of the Prophet SAW. This act of self-flogging is an extreme one, only observed by a tiny fraction of Shi’a muslims, and even Zaidi’s own religious community expressly forbade boys younger than 16 to take part in the ceremony. That has not stopped Mr. Zaidi from (predictably) claiming that this is an issue of religious expression and a necessary act of faith.
The issue is notable because it serves to highlight the necessity of governmental oversight of
religious practice. Not to define what religious practices are
“correct” or not, but rather to simply be blind to religion when
evaluating issues against the law. The question of whether
self-flagellation is an authentic Islamic or Shi’a practice is a
(bloody) red herring – the question is simply whether the actions
violated Law. And they did, so Mr. Zaidi deserved to be prosecuted
accordingly. Bringing this issue into the domain of religious freedom
only serves to cloud the issue, and taint the entire muslim community,
Sunni and Shi’a alike.