What could the Grand Mufti of Saudia Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh, have been thinking when he called late last month for the destruction of all Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula? It seems that he was responding to a query by a Kuwaiti legislator about whether Islamic law contained any precedent for the banning of the construction of Christian houses of worship. The cleric ultimately ruled that not only should construction be stopped but that existing churches should be destroyed, citing what he said was a deathbed request by the Prophet Mohammed. An Indian teacher based in the United Arab Emirates for nearly three decades suggests that the aggressive approach some Christian communities take to worship and evangelization could intimidate or anger other faith communities. The teacher, who declined to be named, said he has witnessed numerous Christian groups in the UAE who run into trouble with local authorities for simply worshipping too loudly. “Last month [February] there was news that more than 30 Ethiopian Christian women worshipping in Saudi Arabia were deported,” the teacher said. “Every week I see a pattern in Christian worship. Christians [can appear] vigorous and noisy in the eyes of non-Christians, so much so that in Sharjah the police have ordered groups to worship more quietly.” But despite these methodological clashes, there does seem to be greater acceptance on an ideological level. For example, the Christian presence in the Persian Gulf seems to be growing. A new Russian Orthodox church has been built in Sharjah. The Anglican Church has also built a new house of worship in Ras Al Khaima. A worship program headlined by Christian music artist Don Moen and a visiting pastor from Korea in Abu Dhabi was attended by the UAE education minister and his council. Other examples abound of a growing presence of Christians as well as churches and religious institutes of higher learning. It is difficult to say with any degree of certainty why the Grand Mufti has advocated the destruction of all Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula. It could be, as in other areas in South and Southeast Asia, a response to the contentious issue of evangelization. In the meantime, the All India Christian Council has condemned the ruling. The group’s president, Joseph D’Souza, said the ruling placed all Christian churches throughout the region in jeopardy and could have severe repercussions for religious minorities. Secretary general of AICC John Dayal has called on the Indian government and other countries to use their good offices to ensure that nations in the Arabian Peninsula rebuff what he calls the Grand Mufti’s bigoted statement. He further urged governments to assure the safety and security of churches in Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. Christianity is already forbidden in Saudi Arabia, which has no Christian churches. Father CM Paul is an India-based Catholic journalist
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