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Turkey’s Top Muslim Cleric Slams Saudi Mufti Over His Call to Destroy Churches

The Saudi “Grand Mufti,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Aal-Al-Shaykh caused outrage a few weeks ago when he said all churches in Kuwait should be “destroyed.” It must be pointed out that the Grand Mufti is not popularly elected by a consultative body, nor did he gain the position through any merit, such as being the highest learned Islamic scholar in Saudi Arabia.

The position of Saudi Grand Mufti is actually a political one, harking back to the alliance between the House of Saud and the House of Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab in the 18th century.

The Saudi Grand Mufti received his position through inheritance, the suffix appended to his name, “Aal-Al-Shaykh” in fact means “family of the Shaikh,” i.e. indicating he is a descendant of the 18th century Muslim reformer and founder of the Saudi Salafi/Wahhabi trend, Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab.

It is for these reasons that he is considered a lightweight when it comes to Islamic scholarship and is in fact derided by many Saudis from all walks of life.

Now Turkey’s top Muslim cleric has publicly condemned the Saudi Grand Mufti, declaring his statement to be invalid and a contradiction to Islam and its relations with other faiths (H/T: Ibn Abu Talib):

Turkey’s Top Muslim Cleric Slams Saudi Mufti Over His Call to Destroy Churches


Turkey’s top imam blasted the Saudi grand mufti’s call to “destroy all the churches” in the Gulf region, saying that the announcement is in total contradiction to the peaceful teachings of the Muslim religion.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Mehmet Görmez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, said he cannot accept the Islamic religious order –fatwa — issued by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh, adding that the mufti’s remarks run contrary to the centuries-old Islamic teachings of tolerance and the sanctity of institutions belonging to other religions.

He emphasized that Islam has always respected religious freedom. “The opinion of the grand mufti also obviously contradicts the agreements that the Prophet of Islam signed with the non-Muslim communities both in Medina and in the region. It also plainly overlooks the right of immunity given by Islam to the holy shrines and temples of other religions on the basis of the rule of law throughout its history,” Görmez explained.

Sheikh Abdulaziz reportedly made the controversial statement during a meeting with a delegation from the Kuwait-based Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage in response to a query about Shariah law concerning the construction of churches in Muslim countries.He issued the fatwa in March, saying that further church building should be banned and existing Christian houses of worship should be destroyed.

Görmez slammed Abdulaziz, stating, “We strongly believe that this declaration has left dark shadows upon the concept of rights and freedoms in Islam that have always been observed on the basis of its sources, and it will not be recorded as an opinion of Islam.”

He also added, “We, therefore, entirely reject the aforementioned opinion and hope that it will be amended as soon as possible.”

Turkey’s top Muslim cleric challenged the Saudi grand mufti’s assertions on the established principles in Islam. “We believe that the mentioned opinion is evidently against the aims of Islam, especially in a region that witnessed the descent of the Holy Quran and the first application of the Sunnah of the Prophet. It is against the Muslim tradition’s established practice of respecting non-Muslims’ rights as well,” he noted.

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  • Believing Atheist

    Saudi Arabia isn’t very kind to AJ’s own people the Pakistanis and it abuses Pakistani guest workers by keeping them in slave-like conditions beating them severely and initiating human trafficking of Pakistani children.

    “Saudi Arabia is a destination country for workers from South and Southeast Asia who are subjected to conditions that constitute involuntary servitude including being subjected to physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of wages, confinement, and withholding of passports as a restriction on their movement; domestic workers are particularly vulnerable because some are confined to the house in which they work unable to seek help; Saudi Arabia is also a destination country for Nigerian, Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Somali, Malian, and Sudanese children trafficked for forced begging and involuntary servitude as street vendors; some Nigerian women were reportedly trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation”

    I say once again this Mufti and AJ should condemn their own people (in AJ’s case her country of residence) for their human rights violations if they wish to be fair and honest.

  • Anj

    Happy Easter to all the Christian loonwatchers!
    I think people are just getting heated slightly for nothing. Any criticism of Saudi Arabia is normally directed at the house of saud. Who can deny that the ruling family are traitors to Islam. As a result the state sponsored grand muftis suffer from a lack of credence.
    That is exactly why Muslims generally look to al-azhar or turkey for guidance!

  • AJ


    I didn’t vanish. You don’t expect me to be here 24/7 now do you? If you really want to know, it’s rainy in Riyadh and I was taking a nap. Anyway, the fatwa that Michael displayed is from the Islamic year 1421 which converts to the year 2000 AD and I already referred to that in my previous comment. We already know that they don’t allow churches in Saudia. I am trying to find what the Mufti did in March 2012 which has created all this stir and where he talks about destroying Kuwaiti churches. So we are still not there yet.

  • Dees

    Happy Easter, to all my Christian Loonwatchers. May you remember what our Lord Jesus Christ did on the Cross for us all. He died that we may live. God bless.

  • I keep hitting some button by mistake which submits my comment before it’s complete. To continue:

    Both Michael Elwood and I have pointed out how the Qur’an not only does NOT call for the destruction of churches and synagogues in Muslim lands; it calls on Muslims to fight in order to PREVENT their destruction. In the ‘fatwa’ as quoted by Michael Elwood, the Shaikh says that Muslims may not oppose the Muslim leader who calls for destruction of churches; while the Qur’an calls on Muslims to do precisely what the Shaikh forbids. For a Muslim, whose authority is greater: God’s in the Qur’an, or the Shaikh’s in his ‘fatwa’?

    Both in the Qur’an and in the letter of Muhammad (God’s blessings on him and his family) to St. Catherine’s monastery, Muslims are called on to protect Christians (and Trinitarians, at that) and their property until the Last Day; yet the Shaikh says that ‘scholars’ “unanimously” agree that the building of churches in Muslim lands is prohibited. Again, who has more authority: God and His Prophet, or the ‘scholars’? But if the ‘scholars’ are in “unanimous” agreement that churches are prohibited, why is it that churches and synagogues have been allowed to exist in Muslim lands from the time of Muhammad onwards?

    As to your statement that I am not able to read the Qur’an AT ALL: that is simply absurd. The fact that I cannot read it in the Arabic in which it was originally delivered does not mean that I can’t read it AT ALL. I can read it in the English versions, compare English versions with each other, and read the footnotes of ‘interpreters’ like Yusuf Ali and Muhammad Asad. I may not be able to form an ‘authoritative’ opinion on the details of the meaning of some individual verses; but the general meaning is clearly discernible in the English versions. And this controversy relates to the general meaning which is clear in the English versions, not to details of translation.

    To “Usman” – I referred to Sura 5:41-49 where the the message of God through Muhammad clearly declares that the Torah, the Gospel given to Jesus (God’s blessing be with him), and the Qur’an all come from God and are all parts of one continuous Revelation. The Christians and Jews – despite the fact that they are said to have corrupted, covered up, forgotten, or changed the messages they were given – are called “the people of the Book” over and over, meaning that they belonged to the same “Religion of Truth” (Islam – devoted submission to God) to which the followers of the Prophet Muhammad belonged. Some, at least, in each group were on “the right path”; and they and their property were to be protected, even to the extent of fighting to prevent the destruction of their buildings.

    It is also said that “your God/Allah and our God/Allah is one and the same” and “your Lord is the same as our Lord”. The previous revelations are in fact said to be simply portions of the (one) Scripture. All of the Prophets brought the same message: submission to God alone (Islam). In 3:64, all of the people of the Book are called to confess that statement which they held in common.

    It seems to me that for anyone who will do as the Qur’an frequently exhorts – use his reason and reflect – the message is clear that all of the people of the book constitute one ‘people’, ‘family’, and ‘religion’. They might constitute distinct ‘subsets’ or ‘branches’ of the one Religion of Truth; but they are not completely separate ‘religions’, and so the ‘hadith’ used by the Shaikh would not constitute a demand that Christian churches not be allowed in the Arabian Peninsula or any portion of it. So if you can point to any references in the Qur’an in which it is said that they ARE separate religions I hope you will point them out to me. If such verses actually exist, they would seem to me to constitute an “inner contradiction” within the Qur’an which Sura 4:82 says would prove that the Qur’an is not from God.

    If, after these lengthy comments, any of you still find reason to disagree with me in my unqualified repudiation of the ‘fatwa’ of this Shaikh, and of the reasoning behind his argument from the purported hadith of the Prophet, there is probably nothing I can add. I will at least try very hard to refrain from further comments on this particular subject. 😀

  • Averroe’s Ghost

    Oh my it appears as if AJ has vanished. How about that what Micael elwood wrote above? Do you now finally affirm what has been apparent all this time? He found for you something you could not find on the same link you provided.

    Do not stick up for this Mufti Abdul Aziz, there is no need to and it only hurts your own credibility. There is no point. Stop. Join us in condemning him and others who want to destroy the sanctuaries and holy places of others and thereby contradict Islam’s teachings and give Islam a bad image.

  • “Kitana” and “Averroes’ Ghost” – Thank you for your kind supportive words. And thanks to “Michael Elwood” for your (as always) knowledgeable comments and the effort you made to find and reproduce in English the actual ‘fatwa’ of Shaikh
    Abdul Aziz.

    To “Snoman” – My questioning whether the Shaikh had ever read the Qur’an was sarcastic exaggeration. Had I been speaking, that would have been evident in my tone of voice; it doesn’t come through as well in print. Obviously the Shaikh would have to be familiar with the Qur’an in order to have that position. What is a shame is the way he makes himself appear to be completely ignorant by his anti-Qur’anic ‘fatwa’. When someone such as he makes such absurd statements, he completely destroys an ‘respect’ I might have had for him.

    Both Michael Elwood and I have pointed out how the Qur’an not only does NOT

  • Michael Elwood


    “I’m confused about the word ‘unanimous’. Pray, who are the ‘scholars’ who have ‘unanimously agreed’ to this?”

    He probably means unanimity among Saudi scholars. I don’t think they recognize non-Saudi scholars.

  • aiman

    Good catch, Michael.

    From the fatwa:

    “Scholars (may Allah be merciful with them) have unanimously agreed that building these places such as churches in the Arabian Peninsula is more sinful because of the clear and sound Hadith reported on the prohibition of combining two religions in the Arabian Peninsula.”

    I’m confused about the word “unanimous”. Pray, who are the “scholars” who have “unanimously agreed” to this?

  • deccal

    @Abdul Rahim, condemned as opposed what? Is the ideology of the Mullahs any better than that of the wahabists?

  • deccal

    @Mustafa H.E. the AKP may oppose kemalism but the reality is that they are in favor of an anglo-saxon (as opposed to french) form of secularism, with more room for religious expression. Erdogan himself has voiced approval of secularism while he was in Egypt. The AKP will not “rethink Kemalism and it’s radical secularist ideology in favor of Islam”, Erdogan also said he would never legalize polygamy.

  • Michael Elwood


    “Here is the link to the Grand Mufti’s website which holds his fatwas as well. I tried to use the search button with the keyterms, “kuwait”, “kuwait church”, “kuwaiti church” and also “church” but couldn’t pull this fatwa up where he has asked to destroy Kuwaiti churches. I think in one fatwa, he says that churches should not be built but I can’t find the one where he says that existing churches in Kuwait should be demolished. Maybe someone else can find it.”

    Here’s a fatwa from the website you cited that expresses that particular opinion:

    “Thus, scholars have unanimously agreed upon the prohibition of building temples such as churches in Muslim countries. Likewise, it is not permissible that two religions are confessed as formal religions in the Muslim lands, and there must be no rituals or temples for non-Muslims such as churches or any other building. Scholars unanimously agreed on the obligation of destroying churches and other places of worship if they were built recently in the Muslim lands. It is not permissible to oppose the Muslim ruler in destroying them, but you must obey him. Scholars (may Allah be merciful with them) have unanimously agreed that building these places such as churches in the Arabian Peninsula is more sinful because of the clear and sound Hadith reported on the prohibition of combining two religions in the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated, There should not be two religions together in the Arabian Peninsula. (Related by Imam Malik and others. Moreover, it finds further grounds in the reports of “Sahih Al-Bukhari” and “Sahih Muslim”.”

    I think the reason the fatwa is hard to find is because the Saudis are embarrassed by it and have not made it widely known:

    The Saudis have tried to project a “moderate” face to the rest of the world. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh is the same guy who gave a sermon against extremism that was touted by our self-appointed leaders as evidence of his “moderation”:

    However, this mufti and the ones who preceded him are known to promote extremism:

  • AJ

    Here is the link to the Grand Mufti’s website which holds his fatwas as well. I tried to use the search button with the keyterms, “kuwait”, “kuwait church”, “kuwaiti church” and also “church” but couldn’t pull this fatwa up where he has asked to destroy Kuwaiti churches. I think in one fatwa, he says that churches should not be built but I can’t find the one where he says that existing churches in Kuwait should be demolished. Maybe someone else can find it.

    I am not a Saudi myself but like to find what the truth is.

  • AJ

    @Usman, “demonizing wholesale “, exactly.

  • Abdul Rahim

    The Iranians already condemned this evil Wahabi doctrine, I am glad to see Turkey has followed Iran’s lead Mashallah!

  • Mustafa H.E.

    Also, Christians and Jews (Ahl Al-Kitab, people of the scripture) have lived on Muslim lands and have had churches and synagogues built on Muslim lands since the medieval period. This Christophobia and Judeophobia are recent phenomena, although it’s understandable thanks to western colonization, US military occupation and Zionism…but Jews and Christians have lived on Muslim lands well before things really went to hell in the Middle East after World War One, when Kemalist and Pan-Arabian nationalism and religious extremism began to take root.

  • Mustafa H.E.

    Just because Saudi Arabia happens to have Makkah and Medina doesn’t meant the Saudis are somehow more credible or blessed than the Turks, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Malays, etc. Our Prophet, Muhammad (S.A.W.) existed well before the establishment of the Saudi state. The Saudis are a new government that was formed from the ashes of World War One, when the allies carved out the Ottoman Empire, the last Caliphate.

    Also, Turkey’s government, thanks to the AKP, is starting to rethink Kemalism and it’s radical secularist ideology in favor of Islam.

    Now, I have nothing against Saudi people, and every Saudi, Kuwaiti, Emirati, etc I’ve met have been very nice to me. However I am no fan of the Saudi government, who, along with other gulf governments, would allow themselves to be used be used as a launchpad for an American war against Iran (much like they were used against Iraq)

  • Averroes’ Ghost

    I promised to post the clip of the Salafist scholar Sh. Hasan Dido Shinqiti, here it is:

    The first 30 seconds are a question about Israel Palestine conflict. He is quite uncompromising on that topic, saying they must be fought and expelled from where they expelled the others.

    At 30 sec mark he discusses the issue of the famous hadith about jazeeratul-arab. He mentions that most scholars believe it is Medina and Mecca. His evidence is the fact that the Prophet did not expel the Christians of Najran, or of the East, or the Jews of Tayma, Fadak with the consideration that these places were not considered “jazeeratul-arab.” He says Abu Bakr and Umar followed the Prophet in this and Umar only expelled the Jews of Khaybar after their aggression against the Muslims which was actually foretold by the Prophet in a prophecy.

  • Michael Elwood


    “The traditional understanding of ‘al jaziratul arab’ has referred to the Hijaz. Some have understood it to mean, as Averroes’ Ghost says, the Haramayn. It has never been extended to what we __today__ call the ‘Gulf’.”

    The Saudi mufti seems to prefer the modern understanding. Either way, I have a problem with the hadith, theologically and historically.

    Theologically, the hadith contradicts the Quran which says:

    22:40 They were evicted from their homes unjustly, for no reason other than saying, “Our Lord is GOD.” If it were not for GOD’s supporting of some people against others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids-where the name of GOD is commemorated frequently- would have been destroyed. Absolutely, GOD supports those who support Him. GOD is Powerful, Almighty.

    Historically, it contradicts the existence of Jews and Christians in places that they were supposedly expelled from centuries earlier. For example, the Jewish equivalent of Ibn Battuta, Benjamin of Tudela, visited the Jewish community in Khaybar in the 12th century (for more examples, see “A history of Christian-Muslim relations” by Hugh Goddard).

  • Believing Atheist


    Generally Freedom House is pretty accurate.

    For instance, “Mainwaring, Brink, and Perez-Linanhe found the Freedom Index of Freedom in the World to have a strong positive correlation (at least 80%) with three other democracy indices”


    Kenneth A. Bollen found that “no criticisms … have demonstrated a systematic bias in all the ratings. Most of the evidence consists of anecdotal evidence of relatively few cases.

    It was founded by a liberal Republican (Wendell Wilkie) and a liberal democrat the wife of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt served as its honorary chairperson.

    I can’t access the original articles where they say this because I am not a member of the journals cited. But if you are you can click on the footnotes and you can see the actual findings.

    Anyway here is a more balanced report on human rights in Saudi Arabia in my opinion

  • Christian-friend

    adivinen a quien pienso que esta mintiendo por razones egoistas
    ahora, adivinen a quien los islamophobes piensa que el esta diciendo la verdad

    [Guess who I think is lying for selfish reasons.
    Now, guess who the islamophobes think he is telling the truth.]

  • Averroes’ Ghost

    I agree with Kitana too, thank you Stephen, your opinion is much respected and equally valued as anyone elses as always.

    You’re here long before “snoman” and others, I’ve seen your post, they would do well to show you some “respect” as well.

  • Averroes’ Ghost


    Harbinger of doom, prophetess of the comment section of LW, dramatic songstress of the end times. Spare us this BS. Can you please work some of your Saudi govt. PR elsewhere.

    All I see on LW has been strong declarations against the Israeli Apartheid regime, rejection of their warmongering and warprofitering at the expense of Iran. I have also seen them in treat Saudi fairly.

    This is a comment section please resolve yourself to the fact that their will be differences of opinion.

  • Usman

    @Michael Elwood

    The traditional understanding of ‘al jaziratul arab’ has referred to the Hijaz. Some have understood it to mean, as Averroes’ Ghost says, the Haramayn. It has never been extended to what we __today__ call the ‘Gulf’.

    @ Believing Atheist

    Freedom House is a fairly far right-leaning think tank. That said, Saudi Arabia’s government is terrible on human rights in many areas, yes. These demonizing statements of ‘what do you expect of Saudi Arabia’ as thoug it is some hellhole for human existence as you so easily tossed about it there as true, no.

    Stop demonizing wholesale and try for some balance. You can’t really believe it’s as horrible as some 6/7 score on a scale on civil rights defined by a rightwing US organization says it is, can you?

    @’I have also realized that Muslims are quick to jump on the lets-bash-Saudi-Arabia-because-then-we-can-prove-that-not-only-we-oppose-Islamophobia-but-we-also-bash-our-own-coreligionists bandwagon.’

    Yes, that’s precisely it.


    I don’t see any Shi’ah/Sunni conflict. I also consider such conflict to be pointless.

  • Believing Atheist

    One more thing I wish to say is that Saudi Arabia is hypocritical state. It maintains strict puritanical and stringent policies, which limit hedonistic and sensual pleasure but Saudi royalty engage in such pleasure themselves.

    From the Guardian:

    In what may prove a particularly incendiary cable, US diplomats describe a world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll behind the official pieties of Saudi Arabian royalty.

    Jeddah consulate officials described an underground Halloween party, thrown last year by a member of the royal family, which broke all the country’s Islamic taboos. Liquor and prostitutes were present in abundance, according to leaked dispatches, behind the heavily-guarded villa gates.

    This Saudi Mufti should condemn his own people unless of course he too likes to engage in hedonistic pleasure under the cover of religion, while pretending to be a holy man.

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