Mourners hold ‘funeral prayer’ for Jamal Khashoggi at US memorial

Washington, DC – Mourners attended a prayer and memorial service for slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Washington, DC, the city where he was based before his killing exactly a month ago.

Friday’s memorial included a funeral prayer known as “salat al-ghaib” or “prayer for the absent”, which Muslims perform for the deceased when their body has not been found.

The Saudi citizen was killed at the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and Turkish authorities say his body was dismembered shortly afterwards. 

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz delivered a recorded message at the memorial, calling on the Saudis to release information about the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body, so that he can be buried according to Muslim rite.

“Even though a month has passed since Jamal’s murder,” Cengiz said, adding: “His body has still not been given to his loved ones and his funeral prayer has still not taken place.

“This is the smallest thing that you can do after a loved one has passed away in the religion of Islam.”

The Turkish citizen asked US authorities to use their influence to pressure the Saudis to open up about where the body was.

Others present at the memorial included Khashoggi’s colleagues, US politicians, rights activists, and Saudi dissidents, including Abdullah al-Awdah, whose father, the reformist Islamic scholar Salman al-Awdah, is currently detained by Saudi Arabia.

Al-Awdah told Al Jazeera it was “never too late” for the US to take a more critical approach towards Saudi human rights violations.

“[The US response] was late and it was delayed, we are disappointed that we lost Jamal’s life in order for the [US] to wake up and realise there is oppression in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“While we talk now there are journalist friends of Jamal … who have now been referred to the Saudi courts on terrorism charges.” 

Mourners perform a funeral prayer for Jamal Khashoggi in Washington, DC [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia has offered multiple explanations for what happened to Khashoggi since he disappeared, first claiming he had left the consulate, then claiming he had died in a fistfight with the 15-man team sent to kidnap him, and later claiming he died of accidental asphyxiation.

Riyadh has arrested 18 people linked to the killing but it has so far ignored Turkish requests to extradite the suspects to Istanbul so they can be tried there.

Questions also persist over the role Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have played in the killing, with many analysts arguing that such an audacious killing could not have taken place without his knowledge beforehand.

According to US media reports, the crown prince told Donald Trump‘s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, during a phone call that Khashoggi was a “dangerous Islamist”. Saudi Arabia denied the reports. 

Such a comment, if true, cuts a sharp contrast with Saudi Arabia’s public relations effort, which included a photoshoot where Mohammed bin Salman was pictured paying condolences to Khashoggi’s sons. 

The founder of the Justice for Jamal campaign, Ahmed Bedier, said that the US needed to act decisively against the Saudis or other autocratic regimes in the Middle East would also be encouraged to target dissidents living abroad.

Bedier said that if the US did not move to punish the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s killing, it would send the message to the Saudis that “they could do what they’re doing with impunity”.

“It sends the message to other dictators in the region that you can do whatever you want to journalists, and the US will turn a blind eye.”

‘Clear message’

When it comes to the Khashoggi case, there have been loud calls from across the political spectrum in Congress for Saudi Arabia to be brought to account over the killing.

Speaking at Friday’s memorial, Democrat Congressman Gerry Connolly, who represents the district where Khashoggi lived, said the case was a test of US values.

“Who are we? Are there things that rise above bilateral ties and self-interest? How much is a human life worth?” He asked, stressing that the murder “can’t be a tragic episode we move on from”.

“Unfinished business is unfinished business, the United States must speak with a full throttle voice on this matter.”

Leading Republican figures, such as senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, have also emphatically dismissed the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death.

“We must send a clear message that we will stand for our values,” Graham said on Twitter last week, adding: “And those who follow the path set by Saudi Arabia will pay a heavy price.”

US President Donald Trump has warned of consequences for those found responsible for the killing but has been reluctant to suggest severe sanctions, such as cancelling arms deals, citing the impact on the US economy.

However, Connolly warned the Saudis that he and other US legislators will “not forget” the killing and would continue to pursue the matter until the truth was revealed and justice was meted out. 

Congressman Gerry Connolly speaks at Friday’s event [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

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