BERLIN – Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia, issued a religious fatwa in March, saying it is “necessary to
destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula.” His declaration unleashed
sharp criticism from Christian bishops in Germany, Austria and Russia on
The Roman Catholic bishops in Germany and Austria slammed the
sheikh’s ruling as an unacceptable denial of human rights to millions of foreign
workers in the Gulf region.
Of the roughly 3.5 million Christians that
live in the Gulf Arab region, many are Catholic workers from India and the
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 March fatwa came in response to a Kuwaiti
lawmaker who asked if Kuwait could ban church construction in the Arab state.
According to Arab-language media reports, the sheikh ruled that further church
building should be banned and existing Christian houses of worship should be
“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.
is working on a book about the Vatican and Israel, said the fatwa will have
consequences for Christians in the region, and the West should respond with a
counter “antigenocidal campaign” based on the UN’s Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified on January 12,
“This fatwa is like Iran’s Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction
of the State of Israel. Both, the Jews and Christians, today are targeted for a
new impending genocide.”
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the
German Bishops Conference, said the mufti “shows no respect for the religious
freedom and free coexistence of religions,” especially all the foreign laborers
who made its economy work. “It would be a slap in the face to these people if
the few churches available to them were to be taken away,” he said.
Arabia bans all non- Muslim houses of prayer, forcing Christians there to risk
arrest by praying in private homes.
There are churches for Christian
minorities in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and
The bishops conference in Austria, where Saudi King Abdullah plans
to open a controversial center for interfaith dialogue, demanded an official
explanation from Riyadh.
“How could the grand mufti issue a fatwa of such
importance behind the back of his king?” they asked. “We see a contradiction
between the dialogue being practiced, the efforts of the king and those of his
Bishop Paul Hinder, who oversees Catholic churches in the
United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yeman, told Catholic news agency KNA that the
fatwa had not been widely publicized in Saudi Arabia.
“What is worrying
is that such statements have influence in part of the population,” he
Reuters contributed to this report.