As the Saudi Arabia hierarchy moves to a more progressive leadership, the predominately Muslim nation has reportedly brokered a deal with the Vatican to begin construction of Christian churches.
According to news reports coming out of the Middle East, Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa concluded negotiations with his counterpart Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran by signing a historic agreement in mid-April that would create an ongoing international dialogue and start construction.
The Cardinal traveled to Riyadh on April 16 and was given a rare audience with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud himself. His son, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, joined the meeting with the Cardinal’s delegation along with the current Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh. The delegation also visited the Center for the Fight Against Extremist Thought.
Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, plans to continue ongoing discussions about implementing the signed accord by establishing a joint special committee. Representatives from the Vatican and Muslim World League would be tasked with organizing alternating gatherings in each region to further tolerance every two years. The successful diplomatic outreach by Cardinal Tauran marked the first instance that a high-ranking Vatican official met with a Saudi king.
“During my meetings, I insisted very much . . . that Christians and non-Muslims are spoken of well in schools and that they are never considered second-class citizens,” Tauran reportedly told the Vatican News. He also indicated that he believes Saudi officials plan “to show that even in Saudi Arabia there is the possibility of discussion, and therefore of changing the country’s image.”
Saudi Arabia has been on a heightened pace to leave hardline Muslim ideologies behind and embrace an era that is being called “moderate Islam” under heir-apparent Crowned Prince Mohammad.
Saudi Prince Pushes Social and Religious Reforms
While rogue nations such as Iran boast military might and make idle threats against Israel and Western nations, Saudi Arabia has taken major steps to embrace 21st Century civilization and religious tolerance.
Crowned Prince Mohammad appears to have taken the country’s reins as he pushes forward bold initiatives such as the “National Transformation Programme 2020” and the Saudi Kingdom’s “Vision 2030.” Both are aimed at enhancing individual freedoms, religious tolerance, ending fossil fuel reliance and moving toward gender equality. Already, Prince Mohammed’s social justice programs have earned the country a seat on the United Nations Women’s Rights Commission.
In March, the crowned prince touted his domestic reform agenda by expressing his goal of interfaith tolerance after meeting with the head of London’s Anglican church.
He made the traditional step to visit the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in Lambeth Palace. Together, they looked over some of the oldest Christian, Muslim and Jewish texts on record.
“The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond,” a Lambeth Palace statement reportedly said.
The signed agreement with the Vatican by the Muslim World League makes good on several promises the crowned prince has made since emerging on the international stage.
Building Churches in Saudi Arabia Marks Historic Shift
The reigning family in Saudi Arabia has long been inspired by the hardline Muslim doctrine known as Wahhabism. This religious position follows a strict type of Islam that insists upon a literal interpretation of the Koran. Among its tenets, any person that does not practice Islam is considered an enemy and heathen. Extremists in groups such as ISIS have been known to apply this doctrine as an excuse to murder Christians.
To date, Saudi Arabia ranks as the only nation in the region that has an ongoing ban on erecting Christian churches. Until recently, it also criminalized open Christian worship in all its forms. Saudi Arabia is of particular significance because it hosts a pair of Islam’s most holy cities, Mecca and Medina.
The Vatican reportedly opened talks with the progressive Saudi leadership because many Christians who work inside its borders were forced to make sometimes perilous journeys out of country to worship.
Along with building churches in Saudi Arabia, the agreement underscores the need of all people of faith to denounce violence, extremism, and work toward the common goal of international stability.
~ Christian Patriot Daily