Imagine if Pat Robertson called for the demolition of all the mosques in America. It would be front-page news. It would be on every network and cable-news program. There would be a demand for Christians to denounce him, and denounce him they would — in the harshest terms. The president of the United States and other world leaders would weigh in, too. Rightly so.
So why is it that when Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, declares that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,” the major media do not see this as even worth reporting? And no one, to the best of my knowledge, has noted that he said this to the members of a terrorist group.
Here are the facts: Some members of the Kuwaiti parliament have been seeking to demolish churches or at least prohibit the construction of new ones within that country’s borders. So the question arose: What does sharia, Islamic law, have to say about this issue?
A delegation from Kuwait asked the Saudi grand mufti for guidance. He replied that Kuwait is part of the Arabian Peninsula — and that any churches on the Arabian Peninsula should indeed be destroyed, because the alternative would be to approve of them. The grand mufti explained: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded us, ‘Two religions shall not coexist in the Arabian Peninsula,’ so building [churches] in the first place is not valid because this peninsula must be free from [any other religion].” In Saudi Arabia, of course, non-Islamic houses of worship were banned long ago, and non-Muslims are prohibited from setting foot in Mecca and Medina.
There’s more: The inquiring Kuwaitis were from the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS). That sounds innocent enough, but a little digging by Steve Miller, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, revealed that ten years ago the RIHS branches in Afghanistan and Pakistan were designated by the United Nations as associates of — and providers of funds and weapons to — “Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden or the Taliban.”
The U.S. government has gone farther, also designating RIHS headquarters in Kuwait as “providing financial and material support to al Qaida and al Qaida affiliates, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba” which was “implicated in the July 2006 attack on multiple Mumbai commuter trains, and in the December 2001 attack against the Indian Parliament.” Such activities have caused RIHS offices to be “closed or raided by the governments of Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Russia.”
This should be emphasized: Al al-Sheikh is not the Arabian equivalent of some backwoods Florida pastor. He is the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, where there is no separation of mosque and state, and the state religion is the ultra-orthodox/fundamentalist reading of Islam known as Wahhabism. He also is a member of the country’s leading religious family.
In other words, his pronouncements represent the official position of Saudi Arabia — a country that, we have been told time and again, changed course after 9/11 and is now our ally and solidly in the anti-terrorism camp.
None of this might have come to light at all had it not been for Raymond Ibrahim, the Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. He was the first to call attention to the grand mufti’s remarks, based on reports from three Arabic-language websites, Mideast Christian News, Linga Christian Service, and Asrare, also a Christian outlet. It occurred to me that perhaps these not entirely disinterested sources had misunderstood or exaggerated. So I asked Miller, who reads Arabic, to do a little more digging. Calls to the State Department’s Saudi desk and the Saudi embassy proved fruitless, but he did find the mufti’s comments reported in a well-known Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Anba, on March 11.
All this stands out against the backdrop of the most significant news story the mainstream media insist on ignoring: the spreading and intensifying persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries (an issue I’ve written about before, here for example, and which Ibrahim has written about, most recently here). Churches have been burned or bombed in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The ancient Christian communities of Gaza and the West Bank are shrinking. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is facing the death penalty for allegedly “insulting” Islam. In Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani, sits on death row for the “crime” of choosing Christianity over Islam.
This week, as Nina Shea reported, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 14th annual report identifying the world’s worst persecutors. Of the 16 countries named, twelve have Muslim majorities or pluralities.
Why are the reporters covering the State Department and the White House not asking administration officials whether they are troubled by Saudi Arabia’s senior religious authority meeting with supporters of al-Qaeda and telling them that, yes, Christian churches should be demolished? Why have reporters covering the U.N. decided these issues are of no concern to the so-called international community? How about the centers for “Islamic-Christian understanding” that have been established — with Saudi money — at such universities as Harvard and Georgetown? Do they suppose there is nothing here to understand — no need for any academic scrutiny of the Saudi/Wahhabi perspective on church-burning and relations with terrorist groups?
My guess is that all of the above have persuaded themselves that there are more pressing issues to worry about, such as the worldwide epidemic of “Islamophobia” and the need to impose serious penalties on those responsible. I understand. I really do.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.