5 February 2019 – Much is currently being made of Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates. While this is an important step forward for religious freedom in the region it should be noted that it is taking place in the UAE. A place overwhelmingly occupied by foreigners. In fact, most of those attending mass during his visit will not be Arabs at all but expatriate Filippino workers.
The ‘big fish’ on the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia, is entirely unaffected by all of this. In fact, there is not a single legal church in the country (which is deeply ironic since Saudi Arabia sponsors the building of mosques all around the world). The shocking reality is that the Saudi authorities believe that their ban on non-Muslim places of worship follows the wishes of the ‘prophet’ Muhammad who is believed to have expelled all Christians and Jews from the peninsula just before his death.
Here is the relevant tradition (hadith): “Umar heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims…” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 4366)
One wonders whether Pope Francis will denounce this complete denial of the principle of freedom of religion during his visit.
Somehow I’m not holding my breath.