This story, reported by an Israeli source, about the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia calling for the demolition of all churches in the Arabian peninsula, may at first sight seem like an old story. In fact it is not, it is merely that the Mufti has said exactly the same thing before now; presumably he has had to repeat himself as people were not paying attention the first time.
There are several very interesting things that one should bear in mind when considering the Grand Mufti’s latest pronouncement. Here are just a few of them.
This is the Grand Mufti talking. It is not some bearded loon, or some fringe extremist, but rather the chief religious authority of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home to the two holy mosques and so on. So this man speaks with authority. It is as if the Archbishop of Canterbury had spoken.
The Grand Mufti is appointed by the Saudi government. The Saudis are allies of us Brits and the Americans.
Search however hard, you will never ever find any pronouncement by any Catholic prelate calling for the destruction of mosques anywhere in the world. Rather the Church’s approach is laid down in the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, which has only nice things to say about Muslims. But imagine for a moment if a Catholic prelate were to call for the destruction of mosques, or indeed any restriction on Muslim worship. This would be an unwarranted interference in freedom of religion and would evoke a storm of protest.
Hilariously, the Mufti seems to be pushing at an open door. There are no churches in Saudi Arabia. That is because all non-Muslim worship in the Kingdom is illegal. There may be some places of worship inside embassies, but that is something of which people prefer not to talk, as it might count as provocative. There may be priests active in the Kingdom, but if so, they do not go about openly. There are some churches in the Gulf states, which has clearly got the Mufti going. The people who go to Mass in such churches now know that the Mufti is on to them. They are mainly workers from the Philippines and India, who have a pretty hard life as it is. Of course, this would be funny, if it were not for the fact that the Arabian peninsula depends for its prosperity on foreign workers, many of whom are Christian, and many of whom are notoriously badly treated. Now the Mufti wants to demolish their beloved churches. Nice one.
Finally, let us remember the very simple word “reciprocity”. This is something that we believe in, but the Saudis do not. There is, as has been pointed out many times, a mosque in Rome, our holy city. This was built with the Pope’s approval. When are the Saudis going to return the favour, as civility demands?
The Vatican has no diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as it cannot have diplomatic relations with any state that does not recognise freedom of religion. I am an official Catholic theologian, though my fatwas never quite get the attention I feel they deserve. The Mufti has repeated himself, and so will I. The West should show it is serious about human rights and disrupt diplomatic and cultural relations with the Saudis. This is a moral necessity. Until we do so, we are exposed as hypocrites.