Published: 12:00 GMT Standard Time - Tuesday 20 March 2012
Saudi’s grand mufti calls for destruction of all churches in Arabian Peninsula
One of Islam’s most influential spiritual leaders has called for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula, sparking alarm for the region’s vulnerable Christian minority.
The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, declared on 12 March that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region”. His statement came in response to a query from Kuwait about proposed legislation to prevent the construction of churches in that country.
The ruling is in accordance with sharia; it is based on a hadith in which Muhammad on his deathbed declared, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula”.
Churches have always been banned in Saudi Arabia, but they do exist in other Arabian lands, albeit subject to severe restrictions. The grand mufti’s statement not only justifies the destruction of churches in the region but requires it. He is the president of the Supreme Council of Ulema (Islamic scholars) and chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. Ironically, Saudi Arabia has recently partnered with Austria on an institute of tolerance.
There has been no condemnation of the grand mufti’s pronouncement by Saudi Arabia’s Western allies. The Washington Times wrote on 16 March:
If the pope called for the destruction of all the mosques in Europe, the uproar would be cataclysmic. Pundits would lambaste the church, the White House would rush out a statement of deep concern, and rioters in the Middle East would kill each other in their grief. But when the most influential leader in the Muslim world issues a fatwa to destroy Christian churches, the silence is deafening.
The declaration comes as Christians in the Middle East are under intensifying pressure as a result of the Arab Spring, which has resulted in increased political influence for Islamist groups
It was triggered after Kuwaiti MP Osama Al-Munawer said last month that he plans to submit a draft law calling for the removal of all churches in the country. He later explained that existing churches should remain but that the construction of new non-Islamic places of worship should be banned.
The population of Kuwait is around 82% Muslim, and Sunni Islam is the state religion. Christians comprise almost six per cent of the population and Buddhists eight per cent. There are few official meeting places for Christians, and much of the Church is “underground”. But it is growing both numerically and in maturity; more believers are now gathering and witnessing openly.