AKI, March 20, 2008
Riyadh, 20 March (AKI)—No churches should be permitted in Saudi Arabia, unless Pope Benedict XVI recognised the prophet Mohammed, according to a Middle East expert.
While Saudi mediators are working with the Vatican on negotiations to allow places of religious worship, some experts believe it will not occur without this recognition.
Anwar Ashiqi, president of the Saudi centre for Middle East strategic studies, endorsed this view in an interview on the site of Arab satellite TV network, al-Arabiya on Thursday.
“I haven taken part in several meetings related to Islamic-Christian dialogue and there have been negotiations on this issue,” he said.
“It would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian churches recognise the prophet Mohammed.”
“If they don’t recognise him as a prophet, how can we have a church in the Saudi kingdom?”
Ashiqi’s comments came after a declaration launched by the papal nuncio of the Persian Gulf, the archbishop Mounged El-Hachem, at the opening of the first Catholic church in Qatar last week.
The prelate had announced the launch of “treaties to construct a church in Saudi Arabia where it is banned to practise whatever religion they want outside Islam”.
El-Hachem estimated three to four million Christians in the Saudi kingdom who want to have a church.
A member of Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council, Abdelaziz al-Thinani, rejected the prelate’s claims saying that there were no Christians among the Saudis who were all Muslims.
“Those few Christians do not reside in the country permanently, they come and go,” he said.
He denied there were four million Christians in the kingdom and said the issue of human rights should not be used to call for the construction of a Christian church.
Most of Saudi Arabia’s Christians are foreign workers. There are 8.2 million foreign workers in a country of 25.6 million people according to a report by the Saudi Labour Ministry.