Saudi’s Hard Line Stance Against Christians Challenged by Historical Monastery

ICC Note: It is reported that Saudi authorities knew about the presence of a historical monastery for at least a generation, but decided not to go public because it would challenge the Kingdom’s ban on Christianity. Although Saudi Arabia has undergone a string of liberalizing changes, it is unlikely that they will lift the ban on Christianity. The revelation of the monastery, however, does challenge the historical narrative of Islamic scholars about the Kingdom’s history.   

08/12/2018 Saudi Arabia (La Croix) –  The ruins of what may be a 7th century monastery hidden in the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia could shore up the belief that Islam once tolerated church-buildings in the region.

While the ruins have not yet been confirmed, independent studies suggest they are authentic, The Economist reports.

Saudi authorities are believed to have known about the monastery for at least a generation but decided not to go public with the discovery.

The country has undergone a series of dramatic reforms this year under the stewardship of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman by allowing women to drive, reopening cinemas and permitting open-air concerts.

High-profile officials have also been purged in an alleged bid to stamp out corruption but pundits say the birthplace of Islam is unlikely to approve churches for its 1.4 million Christians 14 centuries after they were expunged.

“Elsewhere it’s no problem, but two dins, or religions, have no place in the Arabian peninsula,” the magazine quoted a senior prince as saying without giving his name.

Yet the existence of the monastery presents a challenge to the legitimacy of this view, which echoes a saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, as well as the accuracy of Saudi’s official historical records, experts say.

Scholars note that that the six other countries on the Arabian Peninsula including Qatar and Bahrain all have churches.

But while the modernist Crown Prince Muhammad has espoused some liberal views, saying in November the country should be “open to all religions, traditions and people,” Catholics still claim to be persecuted.

Bishop Camillo Ballin of the Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia, said prayer meetings must still be held in secret as private gatherings are tolerated but public displays of Christian symbols are not.

Saudi scholars are now urging more debate on the subject to see if the Prophet’s call to ban two religious authorities may have been mistranslated, according to The Economist.

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