Sunday, March 25, 2012

Europe bishops speak out against Saudi Grand Mufti

Bikya Masr

"DUBAI: European Christian leaders have spoken out against Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah al-Sheikh, who last week said “all churches in the region should be destroyed.” Catholic bishops in both Germany and Austria were voiceful, saying that the statement was a “denial” of basic human rights for millions of foreign workers in the Gulf.

According to statistics, there are roughly four million Christians living in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi top religious figure said his anti-church comments in Kuwait, which has recently banned the construction of Christian churches in the country.

Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, head of the Russian Orthodox department for churches abroad, called the fatwa “alarming” in a statement on Tuesday. Such blunt criticism from mainstream Christian leaders of their Muslim counterparts is very rare.

The recent statement made by the Saudi leader, which a number of regional English sites, including the Jerusalem Post have cited as a fatwa, or an official religious opinion, despite it simply being a statement made by the Saudi Grand Mufti, has sparked a widespread backlash against the ultra-conservative kingdom.

It’s astonishing, horrible and amazing that the most important Muslim cleric in the land that gave birth to Islam can call for the destruction of churches without this genocidal fatwa attracting any international condemnation or protest,” wrote Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist with Il Foglio and expert on Christians in the Middle East, in an email to The Jerusalem Post. “Where is the White House? Where is Lady Ashton? Where is the Vatican? Where are the UN’s agencies?” he asked.

Christians in the region, including Arab Christians, have condemned the comments.

In Cairo and Beirut, the anger was loudest, but also through their calls were gestures of tolerance.

“I mean from a regular, end of the street mosque, this stuff happens all the time, but for the Grand Mufti of a country to say it is simply shocking,” Beirut resident Hani told

Ironically, the Saudi religious leader’s comments come only months after Saudi Arabia partnered with Switzerland on an institute of tolerance. At the time, many observers called the move “unsubstantiated” in reference to Saudi’s ultra-conservative Islamic views.

Speaking to a delegation in Kuwait, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, stressed that since the tiny Gulf state was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, it was necessary to destroy all of the churches in the country, Arabic media have reported.

Saudi Arabia’s top cleric made the comment in view of an age-old belief that only Islam can be practiced in the region.

According to religious scholars, however, even during the Prophet Mohamed’s time, Christians and Jews were allowed to practice their faith openly and freely. Christians in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan largely have open access to churches and places to pray, although regulations in Egypt have been condemned by Christian leaders and activists.

“What we see with this is the turn toward ultra conservatism in the region,” said Egyptian Coptic Christian Noha, adding that “what we need to do now is bring together people and show this mufti that us Christians and Muslims can live and share the same street. And that it is a right granted by Islam for others to pray in their own place.”

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is the highest official of religious law in the Sunni Muslim kingdom. He is also the head of the Supreme Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars) and of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas.

A Kuwaiti parliamentarian said last month he wanted to ban the construction of churches and non-Islamic places of worship in the Gulf state.

MP Osama Al-Munawer announced on Twitter he planned to submit a draft law calling for the removal of all churches in the country. He later clarified that existing churches should remain but the construction of new non-Islamic places of worship should be banned."

No comments: