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Christian Churches May Face Threat On Arab Peninsula – OpEd

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By Milena Faustova

Recently, the Supreme Mufti of Saudi Arabia Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah said that all Christian churches on the Arab Peninsula must be destroyed.

This statement shocked not only many Christians, but many Muslims as well.

In fact, the Supreme Mufti’s words were his reaction to an initiative of a Kuwaiti nongovernment organization called “The Society of Revival of Islamic Culture”. These ‘revivers of culture’ – if they can really be called such – want to persuade the Kuwaiti authorities to adopt a ban on building new Christian churches in the country. Insofar as the Supreme Mufti of Saudi Arabia is a great authority for them, they asked him for his opinion. Unexpectedly for many people, he backed the idea of the Kuwaiti ‘advocates of culture’.

He claimed that, allegedly, an old rule exists that no other religion than Islam must be tolerated in the region of the Arab Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. The mufti called on the leaders of all the Muslim countries in the region to pull down all the already existing Christian churches and forbid the building of new ones.

The Russian Muslims are puzzled by what is behind the Saudi Supreme Mufti’s words.

“Maybe, the Supreme Mufti’s words were misinterpreted in the press?”, a high-ranking Russian Muslim spiritual leader Albir Krganov supposes.

“In the time of Prophet Muhammad, various faiths existed, and they all had their temples,” Mr. Krganov says. “People of various faiths came to the Prophet, and he always talked with all of them. It is said in the Koran that a person has the right not to be a Muslim and even to be an atheist.”

“I believe,” he says, “that at present, a state with only one religion is a utopia. Today, one can find many Christian churches in Muslim countries, as well as many mosques in Europe. Today, adherents of different religions live next door to each other at practically every point of the globe, and there can be no other way than tolerance.”

Unfortunately, there are few reasons to think that the words of the Supreme Mufti were misinterpreted in the press. For all the shock that his anti-Christian calls produced, they were not altogether unprecedented. Cases of persecuting Christians have become frequent in Saudi Arabia and other neighboring Muslim countries. For example, recently, several dozen Christians of the Ethiopian rite were arrested in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah for… performing a religious service at Christmas. In Saudi Arabia, a country populated mainly by Muslims of the Sunni rite, public services of any other religion than Islam are banned. Now, these Christians will most likely be expelled from the country.

However, this punishment may look not so severe if compared with a recent statement by one of Jordan’s religious leaders, Sheikh Abu Humam Al-Athari. In late 2011, he announced that women who are not Moslems may be kidnapped and even raped. Delirious as it may seem, this statement was supported by many Jordanians.

In the United Arab Emirates, a country which borders with Saudi Arabia, there are at present about 800,000 Christians of various denominations. However, there are hardly more than 10 Christian church buildings in the whole country. One of them, which was built only several moths ago with the assent of the authorities, belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. Now, the Russian Church is worried about what the fate of this parish and of other Christians in the Emirates will be if the country’s authorities listen to the call of the Saudi Supreme Mufti.

“Let’s hope that no one will support these delirious ideas,” Archbishop Mark, who heads a department of the Russian Church, which is responsible for its branches abroad, said in an interview with the Voice of Russia.

“In Russia, Christians and Moslems live next door to each other – and, as a rule, they don’t conflict at all. I know many Muslems personally, and I respect them as very devoted believers. I also know some Muslem spiritual leaders, and I should say that they are people with good qualities of a religious leader.”

“The Supreme Mufti probably said these words in an emotional state,” Archbishop Mark continued. “But being guided by emotions is not always the best way.”

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VOR

VOR, or the Voice of Russia, was the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service from 1993 until 2014, when it was reorganised as Radio Sputnik.

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