The degradation of Christian women living in the Islamic world continued in the month of June.
In Syria, after the al-Qaeda linked rebel group conquered Qusair, a city of the governate of Homs, 15-year-old Mariam was kidnapped, repeatedly gang raped according to a fatwa legitimizing the rape of non-Sunni women by any Muslim waging jihad against Syria’s government, and then executed.
According to Agenzia Fides, “The commander of the battalion ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’ in Qusair took Mariam, married and raped her. Then he repudiated her. The next day the young woman was forced to marry another Islamic militant. He also raped her and then repudiated her. The same trend was repeated for 15 days, and Mariam was raped by 15 different men. This psychologically destabilized her and made her insane. Mariam became mentally unstable and was eventually killed.”
In Pakistan, Muslim men stormed the home of three Christian women, beat them, stripped them naked and tortured them, and then paraded them in the nude in a village in the Kasur district. Days earlier, it seems the goats of the Christian family had accidentally trespassed onto Muslim land; Muslims sought to make an example of the Christian family, who, as third-class citizens, must know their place at all times.
The rest of June’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not according to severity:
Attacks on Christian Worship: Churches and Monasteries
Iraq: During the middle of the night, armed men attacked St. Mary’s Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad; they wounded two Christian guards, one seriously. Later the same day, bombs were set off at two Christian-owned businesses, both near the church; they killed one Christian shop owner, a parishioner at St. Mary’s. Since the U.S. “liberation” of Iraq in 2003, 73 churches have been attacked or bombed, and more than half of the country’s Christian population has either fled or been killed.
Kenya: Motorbike assailants hurled an explosive device into the Earthquake Miracle Ministries Church in Mrima village church compound during the Sunday of June 9, injuring 15 people, including one pastor who had both his legs broken, another pastor who sustained serious injuries, and a 10-year-old child. Said another church leader, “The Christians living around the scene of the incident are still in shock and are wondering as to the mission behind the attack, while several pastors looked demoralized. But others said prayers will help them stand strong in sharing the Christian faith.” Islamic extremists from Somalia’s jihadi organization Al Shabaab are suspected of this and other attacks on Christians in the coastal areas of Kenya.
Nigeria: Four churches were burned in an attack committed by members of the jihadi group Boko Haram in Borno State in the Muslim-majority north of the country. According to Agenzia Fides, “A group of armed men with improvised explosive devices and petrol bombs attacked the Hwa’a, Kunde, Gathahure and Gjigga communities on Gwoza Hills, burning the 4 churches, raiding and looting cattle and grain reserves belonging to the population.” Discussing the ongoing terrorism Christians in the north are exposed to, one pastor lamented, “There are Christian villages that have been completely wiped out by these Muslim terrorists… Christian fellowship activities and evangelism outreaches are no longer possible…. For a number of years, the attacks on Christians in these three local government areas have caused the displacement of thousands of Christians there. There is a very lamentable problem, as we are no longer able to worship God as Christians in this part of Nigeria.”
Syria: An Islamic jihadi rebel wearing a suicide belt reportedly detonated himself outside the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in an old Christian quarter in Damascus; the attack left four people dead and several injured. Rebel sources confirmed the attack but said it was caused by a mortar bomb. Around the same time, jihadi rebels massacred the Christian village of al-Duwair near Homs, while destroying its churches. Also, according to Agenzia Fides, a Belgian Catholic priest, Fr. Daniel Maes, 74, of the religious Order of “Canons Regular Premonstratensian,” was last reported as being “in the sights of jihadi groups who intend to eliminate him and invade the monastery of San James mutilated in Qara,” which dates back to the fifth century. Earlier the priest had denounced the “ethnic cleansing” carried out on Christians in Qusair, after the town was taken by the rebels and jihadi groups: “The surrounding Christian villages were destroyed and all the faithful who were caught were killed, according to a logic of sectarian hatred… For decades, Christians and Muslims lived in peace in Syria. If criminal gangs can roam and terrorize civilians, is this not against international laws? Who will protect the innocent and ensure the future of this country? … Young people are disappointed, because foreign powers dictate their agenda. Moderate Muslims are worried, because Salafists and fundamentalists want to impose a totalitarian dictatorship of religious nature. The citizens are terrified because they are innocent victims of armed gangs.”
Attacks on Christian Freedom: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
Indonesia: The Indonesian Ulema Council in Tegal issued a fatwa against Catholic schools, saying they are “forbidden” and “morally unsound” for young Muslim students, despite its pupils, both Muslim and Christian, routinely scoring higher than in other schools. “For the schools,” reported Asia News, “the fatwa is a great blow, coming in the wake of attacks from Muslim extremists and local governments that included threats of closure that were however eventually dropped… [M]any Muslim families have come to the defence of the two schools, claiming their right to a quality education. In fact, many schools run by nuns, priests and lay Catholics offer such excellence in education that they are sought after by non-Christians.” Earlier the influential Indonesian Ulema Council lashed out during flag-raising “because Mohammed never did it;” before that announcement, the Islamic clerics “launched anathemas against Facebook for its ‘amoral’ nature, as well as yoga, smoking and voting rights, in particular for women.”
Pakistan: A 16-year-old boy who converted to Christianity from Islam a year ago, and began attending Bible lessons in a Protestant community, was abducted in Peshawar. Local sources said he was kidnapped by Taliban-linked Islamic militants “and his fate may already be marked, as he is considered ‘guilty of apostasy,'” the penalty of which is death. As one Pakistani pastor explained: “If a young Muslim converts to Christianity in Pakistan, he is forced to live in hiding. Every Muslim might feel compelled to kill him. The change of religion is not punished by the civil law, it is punishable by Islamic law. For this reason cases of Muslim conversion to Christianity are very rare and some convert in secret.”
Somalia: Islamic terrorists from Al Shabaab (“The Youth”) publicly executed a 28-year-old man after determining that he had in fact become a Christian. Aiming at his head, he was shot “to death.” As Morning Star News explains, “Somalis are considered Muslim by birth, and apostasy, or leaving Islam, is punishable by death.” After the execution, the man’s parents, widow and son fled the region. The Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabaab has vowed to cleanse Somalia of all Christian presence, and its members have murdered dozens of Muslim converts to Christianity.
Uzbekistan: Four police officers raided the home of a 76-year-old Christian woman, ill with Parkinson’s disease. After removing her from her bed and without producing a search warrant, they “turned everything in the home upside down,” and confiscated her Bible and other Christian materials. Since then, the woman has been subjected to innumerable legal proceedings. Most recently, she was convicted of “Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan with a purpose to distribute or distribution of religious materials by physical persons.” The judge ordered that her Bible, 14 Christian books, six DVDs and a video be destroyed. She was told by court officials, “This is a Muslim country and all of your Christian books including the Bible are outlawed.” Because these proceedings have caused her extreme anxiety, after one hearing an ambulance was called for her.
Dhimmitude: A Climate of Hate and Contempt
Bangladesh: A mob of some “60 extremists” raided a predominantly Christian village. According to the Barnabas Aid group, “they plundered the residents’ livestock and other possessions and threatened to return to burn down homes. The attackers then moved on to nearby Bolakipur and targeted a Christian seminary. Battering down the doors, they forced their way into the building and severely beat the rector and a number of students. The previous day, two church leaders from Tumilia were beaten and robbed.”
Egypt: “Unknown persons” kidnapped a 7-year-old Christian girl in Dakhaleya Province in northern Egypt. The girl, Jessica Nadi Gabriel, was attending a wedding ceremony with her family when she was seized and torn away. Her father later revealed that the 7-year-old girl’s abductors called him demanding a ransom of 650,000 Egyptian Pounds (nearly $100,000 USD). Two weeks earlier, a 6-year-old Coptic boy who was kidnapped and held for ransom, was still killed and discarded in the sewer—even after his family paid the Muslim kidnapper the demanded ransom. Also, a Coptic Christian man named Milad, living in Tanta, said that “unknown persons” invited him and his family to renounce Christianity and submit to Islam and convert. According to widely-read Egyptian newspaper, Youm7, “They also snatched at the crucifix he was wearing around his neck, and threatened to kidnap his children and wife if he refused to convert to Islam.” As they wore the trademark white robes and long beards, the man identified them as members of the Salafi movement in Egypt. Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson was urging the Coptic pope to forbid the Copts from protesting against Muslim Brotherhood rule — even though they, as Christians, would suffer under it most — while Al Azhar, the world’s oldest Islamic university, based in Cairo, called on new Catholic Pope, Francis I, to declare that “Islam is a peaceful religion.”
Iran: According to a June 19 Morning Star News report, “Six more Christians were sentenced for practicing their faith last week, while Iran’s presidential election of a moderate politician was not expected to soften the regime’s persecution of religious minorities.” The same six Christians had been arrested earlier in February 2012, when police raided their house-church meeting. Officials rejected their appeal for release on bail; they are being held in Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz, which houses hardened criminals and often lacks heating or health facilities, and where officials routinely deny medical treatment to prisoners.
Pakistan: Three months after a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, burning down two churches and 160 Christian homes, few of the perpetrators are in prison. Hundreds of those detained immediately after the incident were released; of the 83 who were arrested, 31 have been released on bail. “Most of the people who were stopped after the attack were declared innocent by the police and immediately released, for corruption or political pressure,” said a Christian lawyer. Meanwhile, the Christian whose arrest on blasphemy charges was the occasion for the rampage has gone on trial, even as he insists he never insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Palestinian Authority: Five schools in Gaza—two Catholic and three Christian—face closure if the Hamas government follows through on an order forbidding co-educational institutions. According to Fr. Faysal Hijazin: “This will be a big problem. We hope they will not go through with it, but if they do, we will be in big trouble. We don’t have the space and we don’t have the money to divide our schools.” In addition to finding additional space, he said, the schools face having to hire more teachers. Under Islamic law, men and women teachers would not be allowed to teach classes to members of the opposite sex older than the age of 10. “It is a concern that in education things are getting more conservative,” said the priest. “It reflects the whole society. This is of concern to both Christians and moderate Muslims. It is not easy to be there.”
Tanzania: Two Christian pastors were attacked by Muslims. On the night of Sunday, June 2, a Muslim mob broke into the home of Robert Ngai, the pastor of the Evangelical Assemblies of God Church in northeastern Tanzania, and attacked him with machetes. The pastor received serious cuts on his hands and arms when he raised them to protect his head from the blows; when last heard of, he was in the intensive care unit. Two nights earlier, the home of Daudi Nzumbi, Pastor of the Free Pentecostal Church of Tanzania congregation in Geita, also came under attack. However, the attackers fled after they were confronted by Pastor Nzumbi’s large, barking dogs. When Nzumbi called police, the officer in charge told him, “I cannot protect every pastor!”
About this Series
Because the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic proportions, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:
1) To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, Muslim persecution of Christians.
2) To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Sharia.
Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; apostasy and blasphemy laws that criminalize and punish with death those who “offend” Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like dhimmis, or second-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to India in the East, and throughout the West wherever there are Muslims—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.
India-UAE tourism and education linkages
In spite of the continued uncertainty with regard to the trajectory of the covid19 pandemic, globally, countries are trying to return to normalcy. Significantly, the performance of United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 was not just back to pre-covid levels, but actually managed to do better.
H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises and Chairman of the UAE Tourism Council highlighted these point while providing tourism figures for Q1 2022.Hotels received an estimated six million visitors in the first quarter of the year – a rise of 10% from 2019. Revenues for the first quarter of 2022, were AED (United Arab Emirates Dinar) 11 billion or USD 3 billion (2.9 billion) which was a jump of 20% from the first quarter of 2019.
The stellar performance of UAE’s tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 is being attributed to a number of factors including two major events — the Dubai Expo 2020 and the World’s Coolest winter campaign.
In order to attract more visitors to the Dubai Expo 2020, UAE had also relaxed conditions for international travellers. The Emirate has also introduced new visitor visa categories with an eye on giving a boost to tourism. What is remarkable is that during the first quarter of 2022, average occupancy increased 25% from 3 nights to 4 nights and witnessed an 80% growth (no other country had such high occupancy rates)
The total number of tourists received was 4 million, and not surprisingly, Indian nationals along with tourists from UK, US and Russia accounted for a significant percentage of tourists to UAE. While other countries like Singapore have also opened their borders to international tourists, including Indians, and removed restrictions, the biggest advantage the UAE has is its geographical location – especially for tourists from the South Asian region. Given that the travelling time is less, even short breaks are possible.
Apart from this, getting a UAE visa is relatively easier than one for the west and even ASEAN countries. UAE also has enough to offer for families in terms of shopping, recreation etc. There is also a wide variety of options, as far as hotels are concerned. Since a significant number of Indians have business links or even offices in Dubai, in many cases holidays are coupled up with business trips. The fact that UAE hosts important cricketing events – in 2021 it hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 and T20 world cup – will help it in attracting more Indian tourists in the future.
UAE is not only likely to continue to remain as a favoured tourist destination, but in the near future, it is also likely to attract more international students, especially from India. Apart from its geographical location, and the fact that it is home to a substantial population of South Asian expats, it is also home to a number of campuses of UK and US universities.
Most importantly with an eye on attracting qualified professionals and researchers, UAE has introduced a long term residency visa, dubbed as Golden Visa for researchers, medical professionals and those within the scientific and knowledge fields, and remarkable students. Here it would be pertinent to point out that UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which came into effect earlier this month permits easier access for Indian engineers, IT professionals, accountancy professionals and nurses. The introduction of short term work visas will also help in attracting professionals from India.
In the past, one of the reasons why UAE lost out to other countries, in attracting professionals and students from South Asia (though the number of Indian professionals in UAE has been increasing in recent years), who preferred the West, Australia or Singapore, was the fact that UAE did not provide long term residency.
With the introduction of long-term visas, it is not only professionals, but even students who otherwise may have sought to pursue education in the west who will now look towards the UAE. One of the options, which students from India could go for is the dual degree program, which has been introduced by many UK universities, where they spend some time in UAE and the rest in UK. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that UAE universities are also offering scholarships with an eye on attracting international students. One of the provisions of the India-UAE Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) which both countries signed earlier this year is that India will set up an IIT in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has been seeking to re-invent for some years. A good example of this is the UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The Gulf nation has been able not only to handle covid19 successfully, but with its innovative and visionary thinking it has been able to do remarkably well in attracting tourists. Its ability to think out of the box will enable it to emerge as an important economic hub. UAE is likely to not just remain a favoured tourist destination, but also could emerge as a top preference for Indian nationals to study and work.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s heady days
These are heady days for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
With King Salman home after a week in hospital during which he had a colonoscopy, rumours are rife that succession in the kingdom may not be far off.
Speculation is not limited to a possible succession. Media reports suggest that US President Joe Biden may visit Saudi Arabia next month for a first meeting with the crown prince.
Mr. Biden called Saudi Arabia a pariah state during his presidential election campaign. He has since effectively boycotted Mr. Bin Salman because of the crown prince’s alleged involvement in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Mr. Bin Salman has denied any involvement but said he accepted responsibility for the killing as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Mr. Bin Salman waited for his 86-year-old father to return from the hospital before travelling to Abu Dhabi to offer his condolences for the death of United Arab Emirates President Khaled bin Zayed and congratulations to his successor, Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown prince’s one-time mentor.
Mr. Bin Salman used the composition of his delegation to underline his grip on Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. In doing so, he was messaging the international community at large, and particularly Mr. Biden, that he is in control of the kingdom no matter what happens.
The delegation was made up of representatives of different branches of the ruling Al Saud family, including Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed, the eldest son of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the detained brother of King Salman.
Even though he holds no official post, Mr. Abdulaziz’s name topped the Saudi state media’s list of delegates accompanying Mr. Bin Salman.
His father, Mr. Ahmed, was one of three members of the Allegiance Council not to support Mr. Bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince in 2017. The 34-member Council, populated by parts of the Al-Saud family, was established by King Abdullah in 2009 to determine succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Bin Salman has detained Mr. Ahmed as well as Prince Mohamed Bin Nayef, the two men he considers his foremost rivals, partly because they are popular among US officials.
Mr. Ahmed was detained in 2020 but never charged, while Mr. Bin Nayef stands accused of corruption. Mr. Ahmed returned to the kingdomn in 2018 from London, where he told protesters against the war in Yemen to address those responsible, the king and the crown prince.
Mr. Abdulaziz’s inclusion in the Abu Dhabi delegation fits a pattern of Mr. Bin Salman appointing to office younger relatives of people detained since his rise in 2015. Many were arrested in a mass anti-corruption campaign that often seemed to camouflage a power grab that replaced consultative government among members of the ruling family with one-man rule.
Mr. Bin Salman likely takes pleasure in driving the point home as Mr. Biden mulls a pilgrimage to Riyadh to persuade the crown prince to drop his opposition to increasing the kingdom’s oil production and convince him that the United States remains committed to regional security.
The crown prince not only rejected US requests to help lower oil prices and assist Europe in reducing its dependency on Russian oil as part of the campaign to force Moscow to end its invasion of Ukraine but also refused to take a phone call from Mr. Biden.
Asked a month later whether Mr. Biden may have misunderstood him, Mr. Bin Salman told an interviewer: “Simply, I do not care.”
Striking a less belligerent tone, Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Hudson Institute visiting fellow and former editor-in-chief of Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English, noted this month that “Saudi Arabia laments what it sees as America’s wilful dismantling of an international order that it established and led for the better part of a century.”
Mr. Alyahya quoted a senior Saudi official as saying: “A strong, dependable America is the greatest friend Saudi Arabia can have. It stands to reason, then, that US weakness and confusion is a grave threat not just to America, but to us as well.”
The United States has signalled that it is shifting its focus away from the Middle East to Asia even though it has not rolled back its significant military presence.
Nonetheless, Middle Eastern states read a reduced US commitment to their security into a US failure to respond robustly to attacks by Iran and Iranian-backed Arab militias against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the Biden administration’s efforts to revive a moribund 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Several senior US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA director Bill Burns, met with the crown prince during trips to the kingdom last year. Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the crown prince.
In one instance, Mr. Bin Salman reportedly shouted at Mr. Sullivan after he raised Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The crown prince was said to have told the US official that he never wanted to discuss the matter again and that the US could forget about its request to boost Saudi oil production.
Even so, leverage in the US-Saudi relationship goes both ways.
Mr. Biden may need Saudi Arabia’s oil to break Russia’s economic back. By the same token, Saudi Arabia, despite massive weapon acquisitions from the United States and Europe as well as arms from China that the United States is reluctant to sell, needs the US as its security guarantor.
Mr. Bin Salman knows that he has nowhere else to go. Russia has written itself out of the equation, and China is neither capable nor willing to step into the United States’ shoes any time soon.
Critics of Mr. Biden’s apparent willingness to bury the hatchet with Mr. Bin Salman argue that in the battle with Russia and China over a new 21st-century world order, the United States needs to talk the principled talk and walk the principled walk.
In an editorial, The Washington Post, for whom Mr. Khashoggi was a columnist, noted that “the contrast between professed US principles and US policy would be stark and undeniable” if Mr. Biden reengages with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi religious moderation: the world’s foremost publisher of Qur’ans has yet to get the message
When the religious affairs minister of Guinea-Conakry visited Jeddah last week, his Saudi counterpart gifted him 50,000 Qur’ans.
Saudi Islamic affairs minister Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh offered the holy books as part of his ministry’s efforts to print and distribute them and spread their teachings.
The Qur’ans were produced by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, which annually distributes millions of copies. Scholar Nora Derbal asserts that the Qur’ans “perpetuate a distinct Wahhabi reading of the scripture.”
Similarly, Saudi Arabia distributed in Afghanistan in the last years of the US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani thousands of Qur’ans produced by the printing complex, according to Mr. Ghani’s former education minister, Mirwais Balkhi. Mr. Balkhi indicated that the Qur’ans were identical to those distributed by the kingdom for decades.
Mr. Ghani and Mr. Balkhi fled Afghanistan last year as US troops withdrew from the country and the Taliban took over.
Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported last year that Saudi Arabia, pressured for some two decades post-9/11 by the United States and others to remove supremacist references to Jews, Christian, and Shiites in its schoolbooks, had recently made significant progress in doing so.
However, the two groups noted that Saudi Arabia had kept in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.
The same appears true for the world’s largest printer and distributor of Qur’ans, the King Fahd Complex.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since his rise in 2015, been primarily focussed on social and economic rather than religious reform.
Mr. Bin Salman significantly enhanced professional and personal opportunities for women, including lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening gender segregation and enabled the emergence of a Western-style entertainment sector in the once austere kingdom.
Nevertheless, Saudi Islam scholar Besnik Sinani suggests that “state pressure on Salafism in Saudi Arabia will primarily focus on social aspects of Salafi teaching, while doctrinal aspects will probably receive less attention.”
The continued production and distribution of Qur’ans that included unaltered ultra-conservative interpretations sits uneasily with Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to emphasize nationalism rather than religion as the core of Saudi identity and project a more moderate and tolerant image of the kingdom’s Islam.
The Saudi spin is not in the Arabic text of the Qur’an that is identical irrespective of who prints it, but in parenthetical additions, primarily in translated versions, that modify the meaning of specific Qur’anic passages.
Commenting in 2005 on the King Fahd Complex’s English translation, the most widely disseminated Qur’an in the English-speaking world, the late Islam scholar Khaleel Mohammed asserted that it “reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture.”
Religion scholar Peter Mandaville noted in a recently published book on decades of Saudi export of ultra-conservative Islam that “it is the kingdom’s outsized role in the printing and distribution of the Qur’an as rendered in other languages that becomes relevant in the present context.”
Ms. Derbal, Mr. Sinani and this author contributed chapters to Mr. Mandaville’s edited volume.
The King Fahd Complex said that it had produced 18 million copies of its various publications in 2017/18 in multiple languages in its most recent production figures. Earlier it reported that it had printed and distributed 127 million copies of the Qur’an in the 22 years between 1985 and 2007. The Complex did not respond to emailed queries on whether parenthetical texts have been recently changed.
The apparent absence of revisions of parenthetical texts reinforces suggestions that Mr. Bin Salman is more concerned about socio-political considerations, regime survival, and the projection of the kingdom as countering extremism and jihadism than he is about reforming Saudi Islam.
It also spotlights the tension between the role Saudi Arabia envisions as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and the needs of a modern state that wants to attract foreign investment to help ween its economy off dependency on oil exports.
Finally, the continued distribution of Qur’ans with seemingly unaltered commentary speaks to the balance Mr. Bin Salman may still need to strike with the country’s once-powerful religious establishment despite subjugating the clergy to his will.
The continued global distribution of unaltered Qur’an commentary calls into question the sincerity of the Saudi moderation campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with rival efforts by other major Muslim countries to project themselves as beacons of a moderate form of Islam.
Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League convened some 100 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders to “establish a set of values common to all major world religions and a vision for enhancing understanding, cooperation, and solidarity amongst world religions.”
Once a major Saudi vehicle for the global propagation of Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, the League has been turned into Mr. Bin Salman’s megaphone. It issues lofty statements and organises high-profile conferences that project Saudi Arabia as a leader of moderation and an example of tolerance.
The League, under the leadership of former justice minister Mohammed al-Issa, has emphasised its outreach to Jewish leaders and communities. Mr. Al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 on a ground-breaking visit to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland.
However, there is little evidence, beyond Mr. Al-Issa’s gestures, statements, and engagement with Jewish leaders, that the League has joined in a practical way the fight against anti-Semitism that, like Islamophobia, is on the rise.
Similarly, Saudi moderation has not meant that the kingdom has lifted its ban on building non-Muslim houses of worship on its territory.
The Riyadh conference followed Nahdlatul Ulama’s footsteps, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement with 90 million followers in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and most populous democracy. Nahdlatul Ulama leader Yahya Cholil Staquf spoke at the conference.
In recent years, the Indonesian group has forged alliances with Evangelical entities like the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Jewish organisations and religious leaders, and various Muslim groups across the globe. Nahdlatul Ulama sees the alliances as a way to establish common ground based on shared humanitarian values that would enable them to counter discrimination and religion-driven prejudice, bigotry, and violence.
Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam advocates reform of what it deems “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike the Saudis, without reservations.
The unrestricted embrace of the UN declaration by Indonesia and its largest Muslim movement has meant that conversion, considered to be apostasy under Islamic law, is legal in the Southeast Asian nation. As a result, Indonesia, unlike Middle Eastern states where Christian communities have dwindled due to conflict, wars, and targeted attacks, has witnessed significant growth of its Christian communities.
Christians account for ten percent of Indonesia’s population. Researchers Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone reported in 2015 that 6.5 million Indonesian had converted to Christianity since 1960.
That is not to say that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities have not endured attacks on churches, suicide bombings, and various forms of discrimination. The attacks have prompted Nahdlatul Ulama’s five million-strong militia to protect churches in vulnerable areas during holidays such as Christmas. The militia has also trained Christians to enable them to watch over their houses of worship.
Putting its money where its mouth is, a gathering of 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued in 2019 a fatwa or religious opinion eliminating the Muslim legal concept of the kafir or infidel.
Twelve years earlier, the group’s then spiritual leader and former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, organised a conference in the archipelago state to acknowledge the Holocaust and denounce denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The meeting came on the heels of a gathering in Tehran convened by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that denied the existence of the Holocaust.
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