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The Bahrain Electricity and Water Authority – a governmental body adherent to the Minister of Electricity and Water, Wael bin Nasser Al Mubarak – decided to suspend all new transactions related to the Ja’fari Endowments Council – also a governmental body – as a result of a dispute between the two bodies over electricity and water charges on Husseini Ma’tams (Shiite places of worship and ritual performance) held in the country. These charges were a result of the measures taken by the Electricity Authority – as a result of a Law issued by the Minister of Justice in 2012 – holding that Husseini Ma’tams are considered public utilities, rather than places of worship, knowing that the latter are exempted from electricity fees according to the country’s laws. Accordingly, the Electricity Authority began imposing charges on Ma’tams for electricity and water services. As of 2012 this issue has been a matter of dispute among local subjects, and has generated a number of legal and political positions, while the general track of this case – or file – was that of worsening religious conditions in the country, and it was increasing the agitation of those conditions, to the extent that its legal and institutional presence, as well as its legal role in state-building, was being limited.

This decision is a new legal burden on religious rights activists, and marks a new violation of religious rights and of the private affairs of the Shiite community in Bahrain, such as: religious endowments, scientific affairs, religious institutes, preaching activity, religious organizations, places of worship, rituals and ceremonies, Shari’a courts, and personal statuses.

This paper seeks to examine the different dimensions of this issue, specifically with regard to the case of Ja’fari Endowments and Ma’tams in Bahrain, so as to present a vision which refutes the government’s allegations about Ma’tams not being considered places of worship, given that this allegation shapes a critical threat to the future of the Shiite sect in Bahrain. This could create more serious repercussions in the future if not approached in a manner that guarantees the just and full religious rights of the Shiite sect – which is an indigenous component comprising the majority in the country.

This paper presents different aspects of the topic in question, it first addresses the private nature of the legal personalityof sects and belief groups according to international and local laws. It then presents a detailed study around the definition of places of worship, endowments, and the legal bodies responsible for organizing and supervising them in the Ja’fari sect. Following that, is a comprehensive discussion on the specificities that prove that Ma’tams cannot be enlisted under any definition among the prevalent definitions of the term. Finally, the issue of fees and governmental grants is addressed briefly.

The paper intends to prove that Shiite places of worship– for example – have a private legal personality and should be subjugated under the category of places of worship, where they enjoy the same legal and religious specificities. The paper also aims at taking a position in the matter of the state’s provision of grants, benefits, and fees, to affirm that charging electricity and water fees on Shiite places of worship –for example – or cutting fees from their welfares without their knowledge is in violation of all legal and religious laws. At the end of the paper, a set of recommendations that are believed to shape a proposed guideline to address the crisis of Ma’tams and Ja’fari endowments in the country, so as to preserve the indigenous presence of the Shiite community and to secure its freedom, independence, and rightful equality with other religious entities, sects, and belief groups in Bahrain.