A Saudi offer to build a large mosque in Moscow has prompted Russian Orthodox organisations to ask for permission to build an Orthodox church in Saudi Arabia. Several western Christian churches have asked for or suggested such reciprocity with Saudi Arabia, which funds mosques abroad but bans any religion but Islam at home. It’s an issue that can only become more pressing if King Abdullah continues to preach interfaith dialogue and tolerance around the globe while not practicing it at home.
The Russian Muftis Council announced the Saudi offer to fund a mosque last week, promting an open letter to King Abdullah a few days later by what Interfax news agency called Orthodox public organisations. It didn’t come from the Russian Orthodox Church itself, but watch this space. The Russians have become increasingly active on the world religious scene as they emerge from the communist era and it would not be surprising to see them take a position on this question as well. There is probably also a domestic angle to this. Islam is the second largest religion in Russia and growing, so the Orthodox Church might feel a bit of competition. (Photo: St. Basil’s Cathedral on Moscow’s Red Square, 27 Jan 2007/Denis Sinyakov)
“You often say that Islam is a religion of justice. However, if Saudi Arabia builds mosques in dozens of Christian countries, isn’t it just to build a church for Christians living in Your Kingdom!” says the letter quoted by Interfax. “It would be just to create the same conditions for Saudi Christians as Muslims have in Russia … It is the only way to make interreligious dialogue honest and just.”
Do you think it’s important to see churches built in Saudi Arabia? Should this be a litmus test for assessing Abdullah’s dialogue campaign?