Counter-Terrorism: Church Politics in Arabia

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April 3,2008: Several of the Persian Gulf states are quietly considering ways to allow guest workers to open houses of worship. Not just Christians, but even Buddhists and other "Stone Worshipers" – to which there's likely to be an explosive reaction. Qatar is not waiting, and allowed local Catholics to build a church in Doha, the capital of the emirate. Local Islamic conservatives are mad, but the emir is popular, and is eager to find ways to keep expatriate workers, who make up about 60 percent of the 900,000 emirate population, content. Moslem foreigners are preferred for jobs in the Persian Gulf, and especially Saudi Arabia, but often only non-Moslems are available. Most of the Catholics in the Persian Gulf area are Filipinos, Lebanese or Indians. Catholics from all over the region contributed to build the $15 million Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, which opened this past Easter in Doha.

Throughout most of Arabia, non-Moslem houses of worship have been forbidden for about 1400 years (since the Prophet Mohammed founded Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia). But in the last few decades, some local rulers have allowed local Christians to maintain discreet (not easily identifiable) churches. But in Saudi Arabia, no non-Moslem houses of worship have been allowed. Technically, non-Islamic worship is forbidden as well, but the government tolerates religious services in private homes. Even this may be changed, as the king of Saudi Arabia has been pressuring his religious advisors to get behind an effort to allow non-Moslem churches and open worship. This is a bold move, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia have no illusions now about the intentions of Islamic conservatives. Many of the hard core Moslems in Saudi Arabia want to replace the monarchy with a religious dictatorship. For the past three decades, the government has tried to negotiate with the Islamic conservatives. But the invasion of Iraq in 2003 so enraged the Islamic conservatives that they abandoned their long term plan to overthrow the monarchy (via control of the education system), and got behind al Qaeda terror attacks. This backfired, and the Islamic conservatives lost a lot of public support. Since then, the monarchy has been putting more pressure on the Islamic conservatives to give up their support of Islamic terrorism, and become more tolerant. Or else. But like everything else in Saudi Arabia, change comes slowly. Just getting the Saudi clergy to talk to their counterparts from other religions has required much effort from the government.

 


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