Friday, April 06, 2012

Grand Mufti in Saudi threatens churches with destruction and Gulf politicians oppose church building

Streit um Kirchen-Baustopp in der Golfregion |

The debate on church buildings launched by Islamicist politicians in the Gulf continues. The Sheikha Fraiha Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a member of the Kuwaiti royal family and chairman of the Kuwaiti "Society for the Ideal Family," has attacked the Islamist parliamentarian Walid Al-Tabtabaei, because he attacked her commitment to the construction of an Armenian Apostolic Church.

The lawyer for the Sheikha described the attacks of the MP as "absurd and offensive," as the foundation "Pro Oriente" reported on Friday, according to Kathpress.

The Sheikha in the previous week had visited the Armenian Apostolic Prelature in Salmiya. This is twelve kilometers southeast of Kuwait City, a seaside town, which has both a business center and a well-off residential character, where many Armenians live. (Cathcon- know Salmiya very well) During her visit, Sheikha gave her support for the Armenian Apostolic Church to obtain land for the construction of a church.

Al-Tabtabaei declared on Monday that questions of this kind are outside the competence of the Princess. The approval of church buildings are matters for the City Council and the Ministry of Pious Foundations (Waqf). The Islamist leaders called for "diwan" (Ministerial Advisory Council) around the Emir to take action against "unlawful initiatives" by members of the ruling family.

Back in May of last year, the Armenian Apostolic Catholicos of Cilicia, Aram I had asked Emir Sabah Jaber Al-Sabah to allow the construction of an Armenian Apostolic Church in the Principality. Aram I had visited Kuwait on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian school. In his meeting with Al-Sabah, the Emir gave the Catholicos a memorandum for all Christian religious leaders of the Principality with regard to property rights for land to build houses of worship.

Austria's bishops had recently expressed concern about the debate launched by Islamist politicians about churches in Kuwait and other Gulf states. They sharply criticized an extremely anti-Christian legal opinion (fatwa) of the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. He made a declaration at the request of Walid Tabtabaei and other Kuwaiti MPs that it was forbidden to build other churches in the Arabian Peninsula- including the Gulf States. The Mufti also demanded the destruction of all churches in Saudi Arabia, "because there are too many."

See also my guest blog for The Times, Articles of Faith- a Catholic in Kuwait written after my three month long sojourn in that land.

Cathcon- the Sheikha is a pioneer of tolerance for the Christian Churches- also intervening in another battle to build a church in Kuwait.  Why should it be so difficult to observe even the minimum standards of human tolerance?  This is all part of a wider discussion of the proper interpretation of the Arab Spring.   There is increasing tension between the powers of the Emir, whose extensive family dominates the government and the Parliament, which calls for reforms but became more Islamicist at the last elections. 
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