Edmonton

Edmonton imam beaten on hajj would go back

The Edmonton imam who was arrested and reportedly beaten last month while on the Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia says Canadian officials would have intervened much sooner and spared him jail time but weren't able to fly in embassy staff quickly.

The Edmonton imam who was arrested and reportedly beaten last month while on the Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia says Canadian officials would have intervened much sooner and spared him jail time under "horrid conditions," but they weren't able to fly in embassy staff quickly.

Usama Al-Atar was leading a prayer service in Medina for people on the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is a pillar of Islam, when Saudi religious police confronted him.

"I was strangled. There was police. And my arms, they grabbed me really heavily by my arms, so my arms were wounded," Al-Atar said Sunday as he spoke out about his ordeal for the first time since returning to Canada over the weekend.

The imam, who has a PhD in chemistry and is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, was charged with breaking a police officer's arm, although he said he did not resist the arrest in any way.

He was released 36 hours later after the Canadian Embassy intervened, when he described the "horrid conditions" under which he was held.

The process would have taken "about 10 to 12 hours, and I should have been released," but the Canadian diplomats, based 725 kilometres away in the capital Riyadh, couldn't  find a plane to fly someone in on, Al-Atar said they told him.

Al-Atar said he hopes his story will lead to greater religious tolerance in Saudi Arabia, "especially for people like myself and guests to the kingdom, adding he has seen many improvements in recent years. "We're hoping that the improvements continue on."

Despite the attack, Al-Atar said he plans to continue to take the pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

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