'Destroy all churches,' says Saudi Arabian Islamic leader

Saudi Arabia - Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the highest official of religious law in the Sunni country, has reportedly declared this week that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches" in the region, implying that no other religion besides Islam will be tolarated on the Arabian Peninsula - as there are currently no churches in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Asheikh made the statement Monday during a meeting with a delegation from a Kuwait-based NGO, Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage, in response to a question on what Shariah law says about building churches, according to the Arabic Christian publication, Linga.org.

The question was a reference to a recent controversial statement by a Kuwaiti member of parliament who reportedly called for the "removal" of churches. The MP reportedly specified later that he merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait. In February, legislation was introduced in the parliament to remove Christian churches from Kuwait and impose Islamic law, according to Catholic News Service.

Party officials said later the legislation would not remove the churches but prohibit the further construction of Christian churches and non-Muslim places of worship in the country.

Saudi Arabia is officially Muslim and other religions are forbidden. Nevertheless, a small minority of Christians are known to worship there, unofficially. According to one 2008 estimate, there were 800,000 Catholics living in Saudi Arabia at the time. Although there are no official church buildings, Christians are allowed to worship at homes and some other designated buildings.

Saudi Christians often include foreign immigrants. Recently, a Christian watchdog informed The Christian Post that a group of Christians from Ethiopia had been imprisoned in the Saudi kingdom for holding a prayer meeting in a private apartment.

In Kuwait, however, there are church buildings.

The Kuwaiti delegation reportedly wanted to confirm with the Grand Mufti what Islamic law says concerning the building of churches, to which Al-Asheikh stressed that Kuwait was part of the Arabian Peninsula and it was therefore necessary to destroy all churches. He referred to one of the phrases believed to have been uttered by the prophet Muhammad in which the prophet said that there are "not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula", which has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced in the region.

The Grand Mufti's words evoked some heated reactions. Raymond Ibrahim of Jihad Watch, a blog critical of Islamic laws considered extremist or intolerant, said that if a similar event took place in the Western world, its religious leaders would surely be shunned.

"Considering the hysteria that besets the West whenever non-authoritative individuals offend Islam - for instance, a fringe, unknown pastor - imagine what would happen if a Christian counterpart to the Grand Mufti, say the Pope, were to declare that all mosques in Italy must be destroyed; imagine the nonstop Western media frenzy that would erupt, all the shrill screams of 'intolerance' and 'bigot,' demands for apologies if not resignation, nonstop handwringing by sensitive politicians, and worse," Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum, wrote.