A Saudi mufti´s warning (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Elliott Abrams 03/16/12)
Israel Hayom Articles-Index-Top
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the
Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission
and can be found on Abrams’ blog “Pressure Points” here.
The Middle East Forum reports that:
According to several Arabic news sources, last Monday, Sheik Abdul
Aziz bin Abdullah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it
was “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” The grand
mufti made his assertion in response to a question posed by a
delegation from Kuwait: A Kuwaiti parliament member recently called
for the ”removal” of churches (he later “clarified” by saying he
merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait), and the
delegation wanted to confirm the Sharia’s position on churches.
Accordingly, the grand mufti “stressed that Kuwait is a part of the
Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it is necessary to destroy all
churches in it.”
This report brought back memories of a trip to Saudi Arabia that I
took in January 2001, before joining the Bush administration. I
traveled there as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom, and the delegation (which included Cardinal
McCarrick) met with government officials and religious authorities.
To several, we made the argument that as Saudis claim to value
religious faith and practice so deeply, surely they could understand
the terrible hardship they were creating for the many Christians who
lived in the kingdom by forbidding them to worship. They can worship
at home, came the reply (somewhat disingenuously, for we knew that
the religious police often broke up such private religious services).
That isn’t enough, we argued, especially for Roman Catholics whose
religion includes the sacraments that only a priest can administer.
And there are roughly a million and a half Catholics, mostly
Filipinos, here in Saudi Arabia, we said. Too bad, came the reply;
they knew our rules before they came, and the rule is no religion
other than Islam in Arabia. No churches. Period.
Well, we noted, there are churches in every other country on the
Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE.
You are the only exception. Are you suggesting that all those
churches should be closed? Yes, came the reply. Every one of them.
So the reported statement by the grand mufti came as no surprise to
me. Nor is it a surprise, considering his interpretation of Islam,
that the religious police make it so difficult for Christians even to
worship privately, in their homes. In a better world, the U.N. Human
Rights Council would be denouncing these violations of freedom of
religion, as would the whole Organization of Islamic Cooperation,
given that Saudi Arabia is the only one of its 57 member countries
that absolutely bars churches. In the world in which we actually
live, denunciations of the Saudis for this are almost non-existent.
To give credit where it is due, the U.S. government, in the latest
International Religious Freedom Report issued by the State
Department, honestly states: “Freedom of religion is neither
recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in
practice [in Saudi Arabia] ... The government officially does not
permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country to conduct religious
services, although some do so under other auspices and are able to
hold services. These entry restrictions make it difficult for non-
Muslims to maintain regular contact with clergy. This is particularly
problematic for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, whose faiths
require that they receive sacraments from a priest on a regular
This is not as frank as some of the earlier Bush administration human
rights reports, which until 2005 stated flatly: “Freedom of religion
does not exist” in Saudi Arabia. The grand mufti’s statement ought to
be widely denounced around the world, but won’t be — a scandal and a
From “Pressure Points” by Elliott Abrams. Reprinted with permission
from the Council on Foreign Relations.
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