20 March 2012

More on the Grand Mufti's words

Over at his online Coffeehouse, Brian - a friend who is more knowledgeable in things of the Middles East than I - cautions against an over-reaction to the recent calls of Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia to "destroy all the churches".

Among other things, Brian notes that the Grand Mufti's call would violate Article 2 of the Kuwaiti Constitution, as Yousef Al-Shayeji, Secretary General of Democratic Platform, said.  Even so, I don't think we such simply dismiss his words.

In an effort to correct the Grand Mufti's words, Dr. Bader Al-Dehani, Deputy Chairman of Kuwait Graduates Society, said:
It is inimical to democratic principles that revolve around values, tolerance, mutual respect and preservation of freedom to demolish any mosque, church or other places of worship.
If this is true, why are Christians not already to freely and publicly practice their faith in Kuwait and in other Muslim countries?  Why are they only allowed to practice their faith - in his own words - according to the permissions provided in the Constitution?

I am grateful for the many denouncements of the Grand Mufti's words, but where are the calls for the full, public, and authentic legal extension of the freedom of religion to Christians?

While it is true that in some places in the Muslim world Christians are granted some freedom.  The government of Qatar recently approved the building of a Maronite Catholic church in Abu Hammour.  Even so, this very permission demonstrates a lack of full and public freedom of religion for Christians in Muslim countries.

As another example, if we look at the Grand Mufti's Saudi Arabia, his words simply could not be followed because of one simple fact: there are no churches in Saudi Arabia, despite there being many Christians.  As Father Alexander Lucie-Smith writes in the Catholic Herald:
The Grand Mufti and all who think like him need to be challenged. Religious freedom is something we claim of right, not of privilege. The freedom of Christians to pray, to meet, to organise, to own buildings – these are non-negotiable.
His Eminence Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, in speaking of common misunderstandings of Christians about Muslims and of Muslims about Christians, recently said of Christians in the Middle East, "You cannot deny that they are the target of a kind of opposition. I have been in the Middle East for many years and what I felt was that Christians feel they are second-class citizens in countries where Muslims are the majority."

The Prince of Jordan, Hassan Ibn Talal, recently spoke at a conference that focused on the theme, "Christianity in the East: To Where?" He said, in part, "The Arab Christians are Arabs, and are the pioneers of thought and Arab revival."

Summarizing the Prince's remarks, Father Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. said, "Prince Hassan asked for the meeting to stop this exodus [of Christians] and to ask Christians very clearly to remain."  But if this is to happen, if Christians are to remain, Father Samir said, "The conditions to remain is to be recognised by the constitutions as true citizens, having the same rights of citizenship and true equalities as everybody."

I hope and pray that these conditions are being recognized for Christians in Muslim countries, but at the moment I don't see it happening.

The Grand Mufti's words come several months after Salem Abu Al-Futouh, an Egyptian Muslim cleric said that Islam will conquer Rome:
The Prophet Muhammad told us that Islam would spread. He told us about the Islamic conquest of Constantinople - Turkey of today - and indeed, it was conquered. He also told us about the conquest of Rome, which is Italy. People find this strange. "How can we conquer Italy?" they say. "We are too weak." You should consider the number of Muslims in that great Christian center - another person converts to Islam every day. Check on the Internet how many people want to convert to Islam in the very heart of that papal center of Christianity, on their own turf.  
Brothers and sisters, Islam spread by means of the power of Allah, because it is the religion of Truth. When a Westerner whose heart is not filled with the hatred of Islam, someone who has not been raised on the hatred of Islam, begins to contemplate all the religions, he finds no other religion that respects human rights, and is in keeping with equality, justice, freedom, and democracy.
How he can claim that Islam respects human rights (despite the numerous restrictions placed on women in Muslim countries) and is in keeing with equality and justice (while treating Christians, at best, as second class citizens and refusing to allow them the free practice of their faith) is beyond me.


  1. Where are you getting that Christianity can't be practiced in Kuwait? Buildings require permits from the government in lots of countries. Mosques also have to have such permission.

    I'm not denying there is discrimination, but the only place I know where it's actually not allowed is Saudi Arabia.

  2. Though upon brief reflection, you could definitely make the case that no one complains about unlicensed mosques the way some do about unlicensed churches.

  3. I read that somewhere about Kuwait; let me see if I can't track that source down.

    When I was in Turkey, we saw clearly that Christians were allowed to practice their faith _within_ their church buildings, but could not demonstrate their faith _outside_ their church buildings, either in the way of processions or speaking of Jesus to Muslims. This isn't religious freedom (I know Turkey hadn't yet entered the discussion, but my impression - from the elusive piece I read - was that Kuwait is similar to this).

  4. Here's a summary sketch from Aid to the Church in Need:

    "In Kuwait, Muslims account for 85% of the population (of which 70% are Sunni and 30% are Shiite) while Christians, Hindus and Parsis make up the remaining 15%. Similar to other Muslim countries, Islam is the religion of the state and legislation is based on Sharia law. Religious freedom is guaranteed, but religious instruction for non-Muslim confessions forbidden, as is attempting to convert Muslims. Conversion from Islam is considered a crime punishable by death, and in 1993-94 a convert to Christianity was condemned to be executed and fled the country, while his wife was kidnapped, raped, and forced to divorce him."

    Source: http://www.churchinneed.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AU_The_Suffering_Church_Worldwide_The_Middle_East

    There is also this bit from U.S. Embassy to Kuwait:

    "There are laws against blasphemy, apostasy, and proselytizing. While the number of situations to which these laws applied was extremely limited, the government actively enforced them, particularly the prohibition on non-Muslim proselytizing of Muslims.


    The law prohibits organized religious education for faiths other than Islam, although this law was not enforced rigidly.


    There is no specific law banning the establishment of non-Muslim places of worship; however, the small number of groups that applied for licenses to build new places of worship were denied permission and have been waiting for approval for years.


    Churches of the unrecognized denominations were prohibited from displaying exterior signs including a cross or the congregation's name, and also from engaging in public activities such as ringing bells. These congregations had sought to register in the past and were previously denied. "

    Source: http://kuwait.usembassy.gov/policy-news/irfr.html

  5. You're right that conversion and proselytization are the biggest issues facing religious freedom throughout the Muslim world. I wonder if the situation in Turkey is one of legality or social pressure. I know that that in that country, persecutors of Christians have tended to be secular nationalists rather than Islamists. The current prime minister has actually done stuff to improve church/state relations in that country.

  6. When I was in Turkey in 2003, the Christians there told us it was because of legality, and our Muslim tour guide confirmed this. To his credit, he was rather sympathetic toward the Christians and was very good to fellow seminarians and I.

  7. I just read the most recent State Department religious freedom report in Turkey, and the situation is improving. Turkey's nationalists, as all nationalists are to some extent, are obsessed with unity and homogeneity. Christians there should be glad they're not Kurds. I'm going there in May, and it's one of the things I'm curious about.

  8. I'd love to return to Turkey. I miss their hospitality, the beauty of their land, the history of the country, and their apple tea!