On Monday, March 12th, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah – Saudi Arabia’s supreme religious official – created a stir when he stated that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” While responding to a question from a Kuwait-based NGO delegation to clarify Islamic law’s position about a proposed Kuwaiti ban on the construction of new churches, the mufti argued that the Prophet Muhammad said the Arabian Peninsula must exist under only one religion and, thus, all churches in the region must be destroyed.
Needless to say, his words have provoked heated responses from Christians throughout the Middle East. All fair-minded people are rightly upset by his remarks, which hold the dangerous likelihood of triggering acts of violence against churches in the Middle East. As Muslims, however, we are also deeply disappointed and offended by the mufti’s blatant disregard for the principles for which Islam’s Holy Scripture and prophet have stood.
The Koran establishes the principle that the origin of all religions is in divine revelation and that their Founders were divinely appointed messengers who must be equally respected. It further commands Muslims to defend all places of worship – churches, synagogues, temples, cloisters, etc – even with their own lives. Far from sanctioning any destruction, our faith instructs us to protect places of worship of all religions.
How can the highest recognized cleric in Saudi Arabia have completely abandoned such clear and direct commandments in the Koran? It is entirely disappointing to see a man in a position of leadership in the Muslim world sanction – and even promote – the violent destruction or demolition of any house of worship, wherein the name of God is oft commemorated.
In fact, Islam goes even further. Muslims have also been made to promise to defend followers of other faiths from unjust and cruel attacks. In 628, the Prophet Muhammad delivered the Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. This charter protected the human rights of all Christians and remains a guide for all Muslim states’ relations with non-Muslim minorities. In this charter, the Prophet Muhammad made a declaration that nullifies the Saudi Mufti’s call to destroy all churches. The charter, still preserved in Mt. Sinai today, states: “None of their churches or other places of worship will be desolated, destroyed or demolished. No material of their churches will be used for building mosques or houses for the Muslims. Any Muslim doing so will be regarded as disobedient to God and His Prophet.”
The only logical deduction to make from the Prophet of Islam’s clear instruction is that this Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is disobedient to God and His Prophet. The Prophet Muhammad even goes further by stating “every help shall be given (Christians) in the repair of their churches.” So we can forget the notion of destroying churches. We, as Muslims, are expected to help in repairing churches.
For those Muslims who may assert that this charter does not apply today, they need not look any further than Muhammad’s first words of the charter: “I have caused this document to be written for Christians of the East and the West, for those who live near, and for those of distant lands, for the Christians living at present and for those who would come after, for those Christians who are known to us and for those as well whom we do not know.” The charter concludes, “Let this document be not disobeyed till the Judgment Day.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community calls upon the appointed leaders in different parts of the Muslim world to adhere to the words of the Prophet of Islam and to stop prohibiting the free exercise of faith. As followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – who claimed to be the second coming of Jesus and Messiah for all people to remove misconceptions in religion, revive the true teachings of Islam, and bring mankind back to God – the community advances his message that Islam forbids any act of aggression or terrorism against any religion. Before innocent people are victimized by those seeking to fulfill the mufti’s commandment, he must align himself with the views of Islam’s scripture and Prophet by retracting his dangerous statement.
Nasim Rehmatullah is National Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA – the oldest Muslim Organization in America. Harris Zafar is National Spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a frequent lecturer about Islam around the country. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org