ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Yesterday's bombing at a Muslim holy site in the Saudi city of Medina stands out even among a wave of recent attacks. It wasn't the death toll or who the victims were. The attack didn't approach the 250 people now reported by the Iraqi government who have been killed in Baghdad's Sunday bombing, and the prime suspect, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, has already killed thousands of Sunnis and Shiites to the horror of Muslims around the world. This bombing stood out because of where it took place. Medina is the site of Muhammad's house and tomb. NPR's Leila Fadel reports.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Saudi state TV flashed pictures of the four people killed, members of the security force.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef visited the wounded, thanking God the attacker didn't quite reach the mosque where the Muslim Prophet Muhammad is entombed.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: And Islamic religious scholars from across the world expressed rage and disbelief on television and in statements that anyone would attack Medina where pilgrims pray to God and where the prophet is buried. One Syrian religious scholar who is anti-ISIS, Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, tweeted quotes from hadiths, sayings and teachings of the Prophet. (Reading) Anyone who harms the people of Medina God will melt like iron in fire or salt in water.
Jonathan A.C. Brown is a professor of Islamic civilization at Georgetown University.
JONATHAN A C BROWN: You're talking, you know, the house of the Prophet. You have to be pretty low to do that.
FADEL: The attack is particularly emotional for Muslims of all sects and from the conservative to the liberal because in theory, Brown says, all Muslims venerate this place because Muhammad started the Muslim community here. This was his house, and he's buried here, and so are many of his companions.
BROWN: It's not like a Shiite shrine or a Sunni shrine or - you know, this is literally the burial place of the prophet of God. And this is his mosque. This is his house.
FADEL: The Saudi regime bills itself as the protectors of the religious sites in Medina and Mecca where militants laid siege to that mosque in 1979. Brown says the goal in attacking a place like Medina would be one of two things.
BROWN: Those are the two possibilities for someone doing this as a Muslim. Either they are literally trying to attack their own religion, which is psychotic. And the second one is that they are so intent on trying to delegitimize the Saudi government, they don't care about doing violence in this sacred place and trying to kill Muslims who are engaged in this tremendous act of devotion that every Muslim agrees on.
FADEL: The visuals of smoke rising from just beyond the Prophet's Mosque will likely intensify Muslim anger against violent extremism that's already claimed thousands of Muslim lives. In fact, Brown says the most widely agreed upon point among Islamic scholars save a couple who work for ISIS is that the group is either heretical to the extreme or apostate. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.