(Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Kingdom's grand mufti, prays at the Grand Mosque in Riyadh February 6, 2008. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)

Christian bishops in Germany, Austria and Russia have sharply criticized Saudi Arabia’s top religious official after reports that he issued a fatwa saying all churches on the Arabian Peninsula should be destroyed.

In separate statements on Friday, the Roman Catholic bishops in Germany and Austria slammed the ruling by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh as an unacceptable denial of human rights to millions of foreign workers in the Gulf region.

Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, head of the Russian Orthodox department for churches abroad, called the fatwa “alarming” in a statement on Tuesday. Such blunt criticism from mainstream Christian leaders of their Muslim counterparts is very rare.

Christian websites have reported Sheikh Abdulaziz, one of the most influential religious leaders in the Muslim world, issued the fatwa last week in response to a Kuwaiti lawmaker who asked if Kuwait could ban church construction in Kuwait.