In a statement on Sunday, Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani expressed
deep sorrow at the news of murder of the little boy in Medina, condemning the
heinous crime committed by a person with anti-Islamic and inhumane thoughts.
He also denounced a muted response by international organizations and the rulers of Muslim countries, particularly those of Saudi Arabia, to the cruel crime.
According to what circulated on social media, Zakariya Bader al-Jabir --said to be six or seven years old-- was savagely murdered by a taxi driver in front of his mother in Medina late last month.
The New Arab website says his mother’s recitation of salutations for the family of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) outraged the taxi driver who, according to "witnesses”, broke the window of his car, before grabbing the "seven-year-old” boy by the back of his shirt and slitting his throat in front of his mother.
The Muslim Vibe website’s account is also similar to that of the New Arab. It says the mother and the child had taken a taxi on their way to al-Masjid al-Nabawi Mosque in the middle of the day, when the driver "pulled over the car, got out, and forced the boy out of the car near a coffee shop in the al-Tilal neighborhood.”
"The taxi driver then broke a glass bottle to obtain a shard of glass, which he then used to cut the throat of the child and stab him,” the report said.
The Muslim Vibe has quoted onlookers as saying a policeman who happened to be stationed nearby had also attempted to stop the man from attacking the child but was unsuccessful in saving the boy. The policeman restrained the man until police backup was called.
But there is no concrete evidence of any of this; the boy was killed, but the motivation behind the attack remains unknown, and no more details of the alleged killer have emerged.
A human rights NGO, Shiite Rights Watch, narrates the story of the "six-year-old” boy in another way:
"The mother and her son took cab to visit the shrine of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Medina. An unknown man approached them and asked the mother if she is Shiite when they arrived at the shrine, the woman said yes. Minutes after this conversation a car stopped by the woman and pulled the child away from her and attacked him with a broken piece of glass,” the report said, quoting activists as saying.
The Saudi Gazette website also quotes informed sources as saying that the assailant was a 35-year-old man sitting in a coffee shop in al-Tilal neighborhood and went out when he saw the young boy walking in front of him in the company of his mother.
"The sources said the killer quickly grabbed the boy from the hands of his mother, broke a bottle he found near the coffee shop and stabbed him. The boy had ordered a meal from a nearby restaurant and was going to collect it when the man saw him," the report said.
"The sources said the mother was a heart patient working in Jeddah and she had come to Medina with her son to pray at the Prophet Mohammad’s Mosque."
The Shiite community of Saudi Arabia later gathered in mourning and showed solidarity with the parents. The community also reported this incident was "a result of ongoing violations and lack of protection by the Saudi authority toward its Shiite population,” the Shia Rights Watch reported.
Videos went viral earlier this week, purportedly showing the dead body of the little boy in a mosque, where Shiite cleric Sheikh Amri is mourning his death and making a speech to a group of people gathering around the body. The cleric tries to console the father and then leads the funeral prayer of the boy.
"This young child reminds us of Karbala. Zakariya is also the victim of Harmala. May Allah grant him paradise with the infant of Imam Hussein (AS),” the cleric is heard saying in one video, referring to the martyrdom of third Shiite Imam, Hussein ibn Ali, and his family members, including his infant Ali-Asghar, in Karbala.
While Saudi Arabia has been quick to claim mental health issues on the part of the taxi driver as an explanation for why the boy was murdered, locals have claimed this was an act of sectarianism because the boy was from a Shiite Muslim background, and point to the fact that many crimes against the Shiite minority of Saudi Arabia have been committed before.
On the contrary to claims of mental health problem, which were apparently alleged by a person claiming to be Zakariya’s uncle, social media users say the person was a fake one, and his claim was false.
No official statement has been issued by either the police department or the Saudi government as of now over the potential link to sectarianism in this investigation, and this highlights the need for a transparent probe into the heinous crime.
The Saudi Shiite community has been under military crackdown by their government and many Shiite activists are in prisons and on death row.