By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
RIYADH/CAIRO (BosNewsLife)– The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia said Friday, March 16, that all churches in the Middle East must be destroyed, adding to concerns among Christians facing violence, including in Egypt, where two nuns are already recovering after a massive attack on their guesthouse.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah made the controversial statement after a question from a Kuwaiti non governmental organization.
Earlier a Kuwaiti parliamentarian had called for a ban on the construction of new churches in February, but so far the initiative has not been passed into law, news reports said. The NGO, called the Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage, asked the Sheikh to clarify what Islamic law says on the matter. He said in response that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region."
The Grand Mufti, who is the highest official of religious law in Saudi Arabia, as well as the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Scholars, cited the Prophet Mohammed, who said the Arabian Peninsula is to exist under only one religion, reported Russia Today (RT) television, which monitored the remarks.
His comments added to anxiety for two nuns in in Upper Egypt who said they faced “unimaginable fear” when an estimated 1,500 angry Muslim villagers brandishing swords and knives allegedly trapped them inside a guesthouse last week and threatened to burn them out.
The mob reportedly chanted Islamic slogans as they surrounded the guesthouse of Notre Dame Language Schools, a privately run, public school in the village of Abu Al-Reesh, where the two women worked as volunteers.
School workers hid a third nun from the mob in a separate building on the campus out of fear that the mob would attack her as well in the March 4 confrontation, news reports said.
Repeating scenes across Egypt, the mob reportedly accused the nuns of building a church in the area.
There is concern that authorities have not done enough to protect minority Christians in Egypt and other countries where the Arab Spring was initially seen by supporters as a way to improve religious and political rights for all.
While the violence was ongoing, elsewhere in Egypt a priest was sentenced this week to six months in jail for what Christians called a minor construction violation at his church building.
Makarious Bolous of the Coptic Mar Gerges Church in the southern town of Aswan was sentenced March 4, but trial observers said imams who called for the attack on his church nor the Muslim villagers who destroyed the church building last September were charged with any crime.
"I feel it is unjust" said Bolous, who was also fined $50 dollars in local currency. The priest remained free pending an appeal.
However with the influential Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia making calls for the destruction of churches, there was concern among Christians about the regional impact of these words across the Middle East. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).