Bahrain’s monarch grants land for new church in surprise move

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Originally published in barnabasaid

Bahrain’s monarch has granted a plot of land for the building of a new church in a bold move that goes against a recent Saudi fatwa calling for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula.

A senior church leader thanked King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim, and his ruling family “for their magnanimous gesture of goodwill” in providing a 9,000-square-metre piece of land for a church building in Awali. He said: “This is a sign of openness, important for Bahrain, and I hope it will serve as a model for other countries too.”

Awali is an area with a large expatriate population that currently has one small church, which is shared by two groups.

The king’s welcome move comes as a surprise given a fatwa issued earlier this year by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region”. The ruling is based on a hadith in which Muhammad on his deathbed declared, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.”

The fatwa came in response to a query from Kuwait about proposed legislation regarding churches in that country. Kuwaiti MP Osama Al-Munawer had said that he planned to submit a draft law calling for the removal of all churches; he later explained that existing churches should remain but the construction of new non-Islamic places of worship should be banned.

King Hamad’s provision of land for a new church has been criticised from both within and outside his own country.

Abdel Halim Murad, leader of the Salafist Asalah party in Bahrain, said that the building of churches in Islamic lands was haram (forbidden) and that the sound of church bells could not be allowed to drown out the call to prayer in the Arabian Peninsula.

A statement signed by 71 Sunni clerics in Bahrain demanded that the king’s decision be reversed.

And Shi’ite clerics in neighbouring Iran condemned the move in light of the king’s destruction of dozens of Shi’ite mosques in a crackdown on the community following “Arab Spring” protests last year. Shi’ites, the majority group in Bahrain, have been demanding reforms from the Sunni monarchy that has ruled Bahrain for more than two centuries; radical elements want it overthrown.

Christians comprise about 6.6% of the Bahraini population. Many of them are expatriates, predominantly from South and South-east Asia and the Middle East. Expat Christians can meet together freely, but there is a lack of church buildings, and evangelism among Muslims is illegal.

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