So why is it that when Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, declares that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,” the major media do not see this as even worth reporting? And no one, to the best of my knowledge, has noted that he said this to the members of a terrorist group.
Here are the facts: Some members of the Kuwaiti parliament have been seeking to demolish churches or at least prohibit the construction of new ones within that country’s borders. So the question arose: What does Sharia, Islamic law, have to say about this issue?
A delegation from Kuwait asked the Saudi Grand Mufti for guidance. He replied that Kuwait is part of the Arabian Peninsula — and any churches on the Arabian Peninsula should indeed be destroyed because the alternative would be to approve of them. The Grand Mufti explained: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us, ‘Two religions shall not co-exist in the Arabian Peninsula,’ so building (churches) in the first place is not valid because this Peninsula must be free from (any other religion.)”
In Saudi Arabia, of course, non-Islamic houses of worship were banned long ago and non-Muslims are prohibited from setting foot in Mecca and Medina.
There’s more: The inquiring Kuwaitis were from the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society. That sounds innocent enough, but a little digging by Steve Miller, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, revealed that 10 years ago the RIHS branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan were designated by the United Nations as associates of — and providers of funds and weapons to — al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden or the Taliban.
The U.S. government has gone further, designating also RIHS headquarters in Kuwait for “providing financial and material support to al-Qaida and al-Qaida affiliates, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba,” which was “implicated in the July 2006 attack on multiple Mumbai commuter trains, and in the December 2001 attack against the Indian Parliament.” Such activities have caused RIHS offices to be “closed or raided by the governments of Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Russia.”
This should be emphasized: the Grand Mufti is not the equivalent of some backwoods pastor. He is the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, where there is no separation of mosque and state, and where the state religion is the ultra-orthodox/fundamentalist reading of Islam known as Wahhabism. He also is a member of the country’s leading religious family.
In other words, his pronouncements represent the official position of Saudi Arabia — a country that, we have been told time and again, changed course after 9/11 and is now our ally and solidly in the anti-terrorism camp. While it has long been the official and unwavering Wahhabi position that non-Muslim worship cannot be tolerated within Saudi borders, it is news — or should be — that Kuwait has now been geographically and theologically incorporated into the Arabian Peninsula.
All this stands out against the backdrop of the intensifying persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. Churches have been burned in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. This week, the U.S. Commission on International Human Rights released its 14th annual report identifying the world’s worst religious persecutors. Of the 16 countries named, 12 are Muslim-majority or plurality.
Why are reporters not asking administration officials whether they are troubled by Saudi Arabia’s senior religious authority meeting with supporters of al-Qaida and telling them that, yes, Christian churches should be demolished? Why have reporters covering the United Nations decided these are not issues of concern? How about the centers for “Islamic-Christian understanding” that have been established — with Saudi money —- at such universities as Harvard and Georgetown: Do they suppose there is nothing here to understand, no need for any study of the Saudi/Wahhabi perspective on church-burning and relations with terrorist groups?
My guess is that all of the above have persuaded themselves that there are more pressing issues to worry about, such as the world-wide epidemic of “Islamophobia” and the need to impose serious penalties on those responsible. I understand. I really do.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.