From Bill Geertz:
Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim leader recently issued a religious decree calling for all Christian churches on the Arabian peninsula to be demolished, a move that elicited protests from the U.S. government and undermines recent efforts in the kingdom to promote interfaith tolerance.
Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh issued the fatwa, or Muslim religious decree, on March 11, although government-controlled media in the country so far have not reported it.
A U.S. official said the mufti’s fatwa is causing embarrassment for King Abdullah because al-Shaikh is said to be closely aligned to the king and ruling royal family.
Some observers note that the fatwa could put the mufti at odds with the monarch.
Also, King Abdullah recently sought to develop interfaith dialogue centers in Europe. The anti-Christian edict is undermining those efforts.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the issue of the fatwa during a meeting with the king March 30.
A State Dept. official declined to comment when asked if the fatwa was raised during the meetings, but said “issues of religious freedom and tolerance were raised in the secretary’s bilateral meetings in Riyadh.”
According to State Department officials who briefed reporters on the March 30 meeting between Clinton and the king, Clinton discussed the plight of women in Saudi Arabia during her 1 hour and 40 minute talk.
The meetings included discussion of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance, Syria’s revolution, Yemen, oil, and “reform in the Kingdom, including the role of women,” a senior State Department official said after the meeting.
According to Arabic press reports, the mufti made the comments to members of Kuwait’s parliament, stating that building any new churches in the Arabian Peninsula is forbidden under Islamic law. He then went on to state that all existing churches in the region should be demolished, according to Kuwait’s Arabic newspaper Al-Anba.
The comments followed a Kuwaiti government official’s call for ban on construction of new churches.