Churches in Saudi Arabia

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.


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  • Joe Canner

    There aren’t any churches in Saudi Arabia to begin with; expatriate Christians in Saudi Arabia meet in homes or in rented facilities. So, this is presumably aimed at other countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Hopefully, these countries will not feel compelled to follow this fatwa.

  • Georges Boujakly

    is your understanding that these expatriate Christians can meet openly in Saudi Arabia as gatherings of Christians?

    From primary sources, I am told that expatriate Christians meet in homes but in hiding, fearful of being discovered.

  • Dan Arnold

    Interesting that commenters seem far more passionate about the Patient Affordable Care Act than about our persecuted brothers and sisters (based on both the quantity and qualitative content of the comments). I find it difficult to argue against the idea that, in the West at least, politics and economics is our ground of being.

  • Joe Canner

    Georges #2: I wouldn’t say that expatriate Christians meet openly, but I don’t know that I would call it “hiding”. Perhaps a better word would be “discreetly”. As I understand it, there are also expatriate compounds (oil company staff, diplomats, etc.) where residents can be a little more relaxed. However, I don’t have recent first- or second-hand knowledge, so I can’t say for sure.

    Dan #3: Speaking for myself (having posted more frequently on health care than on this topic today), I feel kind of helpless to do anything more than pray about the situation in the Arabian peninsula. I suppose we are all kind of helpless on health care until SCOTUS rules, but after that at least we have some say in the future direction of federal attempts to deal with this issue.

  • Robert A

    #3 Dan Arnold,

    Your observation is correct and pointed. We should be tirelessly advocating for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. Anyone trying to convince me that Islam is a religion of peace can never explain away these kinds of incidents. Islam isn’t run from America and the western Islamic assemblies have marginal influence in the global movement. If you want to see where the real exhibition of Muslim power lies, you’ve got to go to the source. We have one example here.

    What is sadder is many American Christians will be the first to defend the Islamic fatawa, claiming Christians are just as or worse offenders than Muslims. The fact is, they aren’t.

    I pray for my Christian brothers and sisters…and hope Muslims will soon learn of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Jeremy

    Dan: That’s probably because you’ll find pretty much universal agreement about this being a bad thing. Not much to debate or interact with other than sympathetic platitudes.

    Robert – Lovely straw man you’ve built there. Hope you enjoyed knocking it over.

    Anyway, this isn’t exactly unexpected. Saudi Arabia is far more conservative than many of its neighbors. The monarchy there is Western friendly, but not exactly bastions of tolerance.

  • Roger

    #3 Robert, I’m unaware of m/any Christians in the U.S. defending Islamic intolerance, but am willing to be enlightened by specific examples you care to share. Thanks!

  • Roger

    Sorry, that was for #5 Robert!

  • Percival

    The chances that other Arabian Peninsula countries will listen to this fatwa are virtually nil. However, you will find many Muslim reactionaries who agree with it. There is a lot of history to back the fatwa.

    Christians who meet in Saudi Arabia have to be very discreet when they meet, especially non-Western Christians who face serious consequences if they are arrested for meeting. The restrictions also vary somewhat according to the region of the country.

    On a side note. There are hundreds of Saudi secret believers now. I remember when there were none.

  • Treva Whichard

    Having lived in Riyadh, I can say that we Christians didn’t hand out tracts or have religious bumper stickers on our male only driven cars, neither did we worship in hiding – but we did maintain a low profile. There weren’t any Christian church bldgs – we used rec center mtg rooms, homes, lobbies of large corporations, etc. Don’t think there is much, if anything to demolish. Nonetheless, we should stand against this kind of interfaith intolerance.

  • Austin

    No church in Saudi ? This is unbelievable. If a mosque could be allowed to be built in Rome, the Saudi authority ought to have reciprocated this without asking by inviting Papal to build a cathedral in Saudi. This would have projected them as liberal and tolerant in their religious practice.