Many people who share the Islamophobic persuasion have suggested the idea: for every mosque built in the West, one church should be built in Mecca, or Medina, or Cairo, or Islamabad, or Tehran.
Fair is fair.
This has remained a mere fantasy for those of us who live in dhimmified countries — which includes most of Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia. None of our leaders would have the temerity to ask for such a thing.
But Russia — that’s another matter. According to The Washington Times:
A Russian Church for a Saudi Mosque?
This delightful story just came in thanks to getreligion.org: The Saudis have recently asked permission to build a mosque in Moscow, a city where there are only four mosques and 2 million Muslims. The Russians, however, are saying they want, in return, an Orthodox church in Saudi Arabia.
As we all know, the Saudis have a habit of constructing mosques in dozens of world capitals while forbidding houses of worship for any religion whatsoever outside its Wahabist brand of Islam. They’ve gotten some bad PR locally for some of the hate language in textbooks at the Saudi Academy in northern Virginia. Not only are hapless Christians terrorized and jailed for daring to hold private prayer services in Saudi Arabia, but God help them should they try to convert someone to their religion. And that’s for a fellow People of the Book: One can only guess at what the treatment of Buddhists and Hindus must be like.
Wouldn’t it be so ironic if the Russians were the first Christian body to win acceptance of the right to build a church in, say, Riyadh? (Some of the Russians are calling for a church in Mecca, but the chances of any other religion getting a foothold within walking distance of the world center of Islam is less than zero.) Of course we all know the Saudis aren’t about ready to let Bibles or other religious literature, let alone a church, anywhere near their homeland, but all the same, it’s amusing to see the Russians give the Saudis a taste of their own medicine.
Indeed it is.
Vienna, November 26 — The king of Saudi Arabia has announced that he is ready to support the construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center in Moscow, a city with only four mosques for its more than two million Muslims. In response and probably to block this, Orthodox Christians in Russia have called for opening a church in Saudi Arabia.
These two proposals have sparked an often intriguing discussion by Russia’s Muslims and Christians over the role religion plays in defining the two societies and about the role of law in regulating that, a discussion that could either enrich or complicate the Kremlin’s relations with Muslims inside Russia and Muslim states abroad it is currently trying to court.
Last Thursday, Rushan Abbyasov, the head of the international department of the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) announced that the Saudi king had agreed to finance the construction of a mosque and a cultural center in Moscow “if the Russian authorities will offer a site” appropriate for them (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=27412).
Given that Moscow has only four mosques — the same number it had at the end of Soviet times — but a Muslim population that may number as many as 2.5 million, Muslims in the Russian Federation were delighted by the offer and the attention from abroad it suggests. But many non-Muslim Russians were horrified that another mosque might be opened in their capital.
After the Saudi offer was reported, three Russian Orthodox groups — the Moscow section of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the Radonezh Society, and the Byzantine Club — released an open letter to Saudi King Abdullah suggesting that there should be another mosque in Moscow only after a Russian Orthodox church was opened in Mecca.
Their appeal noted that “Saudi Arabia is building mosques in dozens of Christian countries” and then asked whether it would not be only just if permission were given to Christians to build a church within its borders for Christians living there, something Riyadh has been reluctant to permit (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=documents&div=835).
And in support of their argument, the three groups cite the comment of Jean-Louis Cardinal Toran, the head of the Papal Council on Inter-religious Dialogue that “if Muslims consider it correct to have a large and beautiful mosque in Rome, then it is equally correct for Christians to have a church in Riyadh.”
The Orthodox groups also argued that it would be “very important” to lift the restrictions now in force against Christians visiting the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina,” to all visitors to Saudi Arabia to wear crosses, and to create special courses about Christianity in general and Russian Orthodoxy in particular.
Moreover, they suggested that if the Saudis want to begin broadcasting their television programs to the Russian Federation and its Muslims, then “it would be just” to offer “Your subjects the opportunity to watch Russian Orthodox channels and thus to learn that “Christians don’t believe in three gods, don’t distort the Bible and don’t pray to idols.”
Individual Russian commentators were more outspoken about the Saudi proposal. Arkady Maler, who writes frequently on cultural issues, said that the king’s offer should be rejected not only because Christians can’t build churches in the kingdom but also because Saudi Arabia is the homeland of Wahhabism, which some Russian jurisdictions have declared illegal.
Consequently, he said, no more mosques should be built, especially by the Saudis, in the Russian capital until there are churches in Saudi Arabia, because there is no reason to build another mosque in Moscow which at most would serve only “a few thousand people,” far fewer than the number of Christians in Saudi Arabia (www.rus-obr.ru/opinions/1267).
Dmitry Volodikhin, a Russian nationalist fantasy writer, added an additional reason for opposing the construction of a Muslim center in Moscow: The Russian capital, he said, needs to restore more Russian churches for Orthodox Christians before it thinks about building new mosques for Muslims (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=27460).
What makes this interesting is that Ashirov, whose comments have often put him at odds with both other Muslim leaders in Russia and with the Kremlin, here adopts a position that the Russian government likely would be very comfortable with, while the Russian Orthodox nationalists are staking out one that could cause trouble for Moscow at home and abroad.
So the Russian nationalists, who take their Orthodoxy seriously, are more interested than their own government in pushing the Saudis into a corner.
This is a story that’s worth following. The Saudis will never give in, of course, but it’s the thought that counts.
Don’t you wish that the political leaders of the West — not to mention the Church of Rome and the major Protestant denominations — could show half the spine that these guys have?
For those who are interested, these are the original Russian-language references used in the above article: