"I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim." - Sahih Muslim 19.4366 (statement attributed to Muhammad from the Hadiths).
‘Destroy the churches’ bellowed the decree from the influential figure.
Who said this? And when?
• Genghis Khan?
• Some Muslim caliph from the Middle Ages?
• Head of the politburo of the now defunct Soviet Union?
No, the statement to ‘destroy the churches’ was uttered on March 12, 2012, from a supreme religious leader of one of the United States’ great allies: the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Abdulaziz al Shaikh made this statement (fatwa) in response to a Kuwaiti delegations question of whether their nation should prevent the construction of new churches.
The Grand Mufti’s reply: yes, you should prevent the construction of new churches in Kuwait. Then he went even further: infact, all churches in the Arabian peninsula that already exist should be destroyed.
Image the outcry if the Pope or the Orthodox Patriarch gave a decree that all mosques should be destroyed in their respective regions. Indeed, when a little known Florida pastor named Terry Jones from a small church gained international notoriety for promising to burn Qur’ans, western leaders were beating their breasts in outrage. Yet, here is the highly influential grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, speaking, not about the burning of Bibles, but about the wholesale destruction of churches.
The response from the West has been surprisingly mute. Sorry to say ... but could it be that Saudi Arabia has 25% of the world’s known oil reserves? And owning an increasing amount of western land, businesses, and media? While the Saudi regime, which is an absolute monarchy (they don’t even go through the pretense of having a rubber-stamp parliament), is not particularly popular at home, the sobering reality is that the unofficial opposition, if it ever came to power, is no more friendly to western democratic and pluralistic values than the Saudi princes. That Osama bin Laden was a hero to some (or many) of those in the Saudi opposition should be sobering to us all.
Of course, the bishops of the Catholic Church in Europe and the Russian Orthodox Church spoke out against this alarming pronouncement. Yet the US President and Secretary of State, both putative Christians, made no public pronouncement whatsoever. Also, no known statements have been issued by prominent evangelicals (at least, not which I could find -- please let me now if you find one).
This comment comes a few months after the Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein, spoke about killing the Jews at a meeting commemorating the 47th anniversary of the starting of the Fatah movement in East Jerusalem. He was quoting a hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad
"The hour of resurrection will not come until you fight the Jews," "The Jews will hide behind stones and trees. But the trees and the stones will call: Oh Muslim, oh servant of God, there is a Jew hiding behind me, so come and kill him." The Israeli attorney general Yehudah Weinstein has asked the Israel police to investigate whether Hussein incited violence. The mufti denies the allegation, saying he was merely quoting a religious text about the ‘end of days’ and did not incite or call for murder. He concluded that this quote did not apply today because we are not yet at the ‘end of days.’
I actually met Muhammad Hussein while doing research for my doctorate years ago. He was kindly, gentle, pious and sincere; he looked like a man who wouldn’t swat a fly.
What are we to make of these statements?
Here is the background: The Arabian peninsula, birthplace of Islam, is the location of several nations, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest. Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates are all located on the peninsula. Most of these countries house a large number of foreign guest workers, approximately 3.5 million, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, other parts of Asia and, to a lesser extent, western expatriots. Many of these are Christians. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, all these countries have churches and church compounds, where Christian services can be held with relative freedom ‘within the walls.’ In the UAE alone, in one compound serves as home for around 125 churches.
Saudi Arabia allows for no ‘above ground’ churches and even discourages meetings in private homes. It recently deported a group of Ethiopians for praying in a group at a private place. According to the Worldwatch List, Saudi Arabia ranks Number 3 as a persecutor of the church, after North Korea and Afghanistan. It is listed as an ‘oppressor,’ North Korea as ‘severe persecutor.’
The grand mufti’s statement to destroy the churches is based on an alleged statement by Islam’s prophet saying that there can be only one religion in the Arabian peninsula. The interpretation is debatable. It is also questionable whether his fatwa applies to the other sovereign countries in Persian Gulf region.
One of Saudi Arabia’s greatest critics came from the Ahl al-Bait World Assembly, a Muslim group, slammed the Mufti and his Wahhabi brand of Islam, even calling it a ‘fabricated cult.’ They pointed out that Muslims, Christians and Jews have co-existed for centuries.
It is true that there has been co-existence between the three monotheistic religions, but much of that has been under ultimate Muslim hegemony. Of the 57 Muslim-majority countries, a very few of them do allow relative religious freedom for their Christian minorities (Malaysia and Indonesia come to mind; both countries have growing Christian populations and even megachurches). However, this is the exception, not the rule. It is also a fact that Muslims living in the western world enjoy the full religious freedoms that are denied to Christians in their home countries.
While the mufti’s statement targets expatriate Christians working in the Gulf, the fact is that one of the outcomes of the ‘Arab Spring’ is growing persecution of indigenuous Christians: Egypt, Sudan, and Syria are notable examples. Amazingly, under the secular Baathist regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Bashar al Assad in Syria, Christian were protected. Once Saddam was out, Christians were readily targeted by militant Muslims. Even now in Syria, with Assad still clinging to power, there have been frightening reports of Christians being kidnapped and murdered, for no other reason than they are Christians; this was something that was unheard of a few months before.
Vigilant voices like the Barnabas Fund and Jihad Watch have no hesitation to speak out about this persecution and outrages statements. What we need is more prominent western political and church leaders with the courage to say: ‘Enough!’ No more statements of incitement. No more state-sanctioned and/or state-condoned persecution of Christians. No more threats to Israel’s existence. No more demanding ‘rights’ for your people in the West while denying those same rights to others within your domain. Enough is enough.