Monday, March 19, 2012

Destroy the Churches!

The declaration of Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Abd al-Aziz b. Abdullah that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula should be destroyed is getting some attention. I first saw this a few days ago at Crossroads Arabia and thought little of it. Saying offensive and somewhat crazy extreme things is practically the job description for the head of that country's religious establishment, which fears the moral collapse of society if women start driving cars.

The comments were made in response to a question from Kuwaiti MP Osama al-Munawar, who apparently traveled to Saudi Arabia just to get that response. Here is what one writer in the Emirati newspaper al-Bayan had to say about him:
"Some are becoming crafty at pulling the strings of religion for the purposes of self-promotion.

"Consider Osama Al Munawar, a new Kuwait MP who posted an incendiary tweet even before setting foot in the parliament building. 'He called for the demolition of churches in Kuwait. And though his statement was immediately denounced and booed, he still managed to achieve the intended effect of drawing attention to himself, and titillating a specific segment of society.'

"Under pressure, Mr Al Munawar later issued an explanatory statement, but it only made matters worse. He said he was not talking about existing churches but would oppose the licensing of new churches."

You can read some of the denouncing and booing here. Al-Munawer is one of four MP's who has joined together to form a hardline salafi bloc called "Justice." Its leader is Muhammad Hayif al-Mutairi. According to Falah Abdullah al-Mdaries's Islamic Extremism in Kuwait, Hayif was a perennial parliamentary candidate before winning his first term in 2008 as a member of the Defending the Nation's Principles Gathering (DNPG), the formation of which was apparently spurred by the women's suffrage movement. In parliament, he made a reputation as a harasser of Shi'ites, even opposing having Shi'ite funeral rites be legal.

Al-Munawar's proposed law, if he actually wrote one, is certainly a dead letter. However, this bloc is not without some power to make life more annoying for Kuwaiti Christians. He has threatened to summon the Minister of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) and Islamic Affairs for questioning if the ministry approves the construction of new churches, while Hayif has already pledged to fight a recent church approval bureaucratically. The ministry proceeded to seek information on churches in Kuwait, possibly to make a show of investigating the situation. Christians can take heart, though: the ministry also hired the daughter of a Christian pastor.

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