Backlash in Bahrain over plans to build largest Catholic church in the region

The latest, from the Associated Press:

The building of the largest Roman Catholic church in the Gulf was supposed to be a chance for the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain to showcase its traditions of religious tolerance in a conservative Muslim region where churches largely operate under heavy limitations.

Instead, the planned church — intended to be the main center for Catholics in the region — has turned into another point of tension in a country already being pulled apart by sectarian battles between its Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities.

Hardline Sunni clerics have strongly opposed the construction of the church complex, in a rare open challenge of the country’s Sunni king. More than 70 clerics signed a petition last week saying it was forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

One prominent cleric, Sheik Adel Hassan al-Hamad, proclaimed in a sermon during Friday prayers last month, that there was no justification for building further churches in Bahrain, adding, “anyone who believes that a church is a true place of worship is someone who has broken in their faith in God.”

In response, the government ordered him transferred out of his mosque, located in the elite district of Riffa, where many members of the royal family live and the king has several palaces. But the transfer order touched off a wave of protests by the cleric’s supporters on social media sites and by Sunni-led political blocs. Finally, the government was forced last week to cancel the order.

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