Liberal Austrian Muslims counter radical Islamists

Effort comes as a response to mufti’s inflammatory comments on houses of worship.

Berlin anti Israel rally 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Berlin anti Israel rally 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
BERLIN – A group of liberal Austrian Muslims are seeking to counter a recent call by the Saudi grand mufti to “destroy all the churches” in the Gulf region by promoting the construction of a church in the fundamentalist Islamic country that bans Christian houses of worship.
According to a report last week in the Catholic Austrian press agency (KAP), the Initiative of Liberal Muslims in Austria (ILMÖ) issued a strongly worded statement calling for the approval of the construction of a church by the Saudi authorities. It is not acceptable that Saudi Arabia finances the building of mosques and religious centers in Europe, while the construction of churches in the country are outlawed, noted the ILMÖ.
The group of liberal Austrian Muslims also condemned the statement of Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh, who issued a fatwa in March urging the decimation of churches in the Gulf region.
Amnesty International, when queried by The Jerusalem Post, said that the mufti’s statement was cause for concern.
“The grand mufti’s reported comments, which fit into a wider pattern of discrimination against religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, are a serious cause for concern,” Susanna Flood, Amnesty International’s director of media, told the Post by email.
“ Such statements are contrary to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The London-based spokeswoman continued that, “as head of the official Council of Senior Clerics, he is an important government official and as such Amnesty International considers him to have a responsibility to uphold human rights, rather than call for acts such as destroying churches that would violate people’s human rights.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also slammed the comments, when queried by the Post.
“The Saudi mufti’s reported comments about the undesirability to build any new churches and the desirability of destroying existing ones, are only the latest in a long string of official Saudi public declarations and policies intolerant of, and sometimes outright hostile to, other faiths and religions,” Christoph Wilcke, the Saudi specialist for HRW, wrote in an email.
“The mufti’s comments – even if restricted to questions about the Arabian Peninsula, where some Muslims argue a prophetic tradition holds that no houses of worship for religions other than Islam must be built – are certain to be deeply offensive to believers of other faiths who have long suffered from religious persecution and discrimination in Saudi Arabia in particular,” the Berlin-based Wilcke added “As the head of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the mufti’s words also carry with it legal interpretative weight, and the council’s intolerance toward unorthodox interpretations of Islam became clear once more in its recent a priori condemnation of Hamza Kashgari as an apostate.”
Both HRW and Amnesty International confirmed to the Post that they omitted from their websites criticism of the grand mufti’s call to destroy all churches.
HRW has been engulfed in criticism over the years for accepting money from the Saudi government.
The Israeli watchdog organization NGO Monitor argued that the leading human rights groups have ignored Saudi Arabia’s anti-Christian human rights record.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the head of Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, wrote the Post on Sunday, saying that “the two selfstyled ‘human rights superpowers’ – HRW and Amnesty – have a history of appeasing and cooperating with the worst Middle Eastern dictatorships and violators of universal human rights.”
“HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson lost all credibility when she marketed the Ghaddafi family as human rights reformers and cozied up to the Saudi elites to raise funds. HRW and Amnesty have reflected the agenda of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which dominates the UN Human Rights Council,” he continued.
“Following the lead of the OIC and UNHRC, both NGOs have long ignored massive human rights violations against Israeli Jews, as well as the systematic oppression of Christians.”