Christians across the Middle East are expressing anger and frustration after the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia said it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” 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 Bikyamasr.com.
The mufti’s statements had followed Kuwait’s move to ban churches from being constructed in the country.
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.