Islam leader calls for the destruction of all churches on the Arabian Peninsula
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
A call by an influential Saudi Sheikh to destroy all churches on the Arabian Peninsula has led the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) Human Rights Committee to express concern to the government of Saudi Arabia.
In a May 30 letter to Saudi Ambassador Osamah Al Sanosi Ahmad, the chairman of the CCCB’s Human Rights Committee Saint-Hyacinthe Bishop François Lapierre, PME, referred to a Mar. 12, 2012 statement by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who said: “only one religion”, Islam, “should exist in the Arabian Peninsula”, and thus “it is necessary to destroy all churches in the region.”
This statement preceded an April 12 ban in Kuwait of any new church construction and the passing of a blasphemy law that could bring the death penalty for critics of Islam or its prophet.
“Although this was widely circulated by news agencies more than two months ago, there have been no reports yet indicating that Saudi Arabian authorities have since corrected or denounced this call to religious violence,” Bishop Lapierre wrote. He cited the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights section 18 which sets out religious freedom rights for all.
“We ask your government to apply the principle stated in the Riyadh Declaration of 2003: ‘Compulsion in religion is forbidden according to the Divine law, international traditions and conventions which should not be practiced under any circumstances’” Lapierre wrote. “Such tolerance is not evident in the statement made by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah.”
The Bishop said Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud “is respected for promoting dialogue among the world’s leading faiths, his role in the convening of the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, Spain, and for having encouraged a United Nations conference on dialogue in 2008.”
“We strongly urge you to express to His Royal Highness our concerns about the statement by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, particularly in view of the urgent need for religious harmony and tolerance in the Middle East,” he wrote.
In an interview, Bishop Lapierre pointed out the Sheikh, who has been described as Saudi Arabia’s “supreme religious official” in news reports, is highly influential in the region. “He is not a small, radical imam. He is an important person,” said Lapierre.
The bishop stressed the importance of reciprocity when it comes to religious freedom. “It has to be recognized,” he said. “Here they can build mosques and it’s okay. It’s good,” he said. “It has to be reciprocated.”
Saudi Arabia does not allow any form of public Christian worship, even though Bishop Lapierre noted there are many Catholics from countries such as the Philippines who work there. “They are not allowed to worship publicly,” he said. “Even worshipping in private is dangerous for them.”
As a religious priest of the Société des Missions Étrangères" (Foreign Mission Society), Lapierre said he has seen first-hand the problems Christians face in countries like Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Bishop Lapierre acknowledged there can be a risk in speaking up about religious freedom in the region. But he said the Sheikh’s remarks provided an “occasion to remind and recall” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he said is “not just something for the Church.”