Speaking to a delegation in Kuwait on March 12, 2012, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti, the nation's highest Islamic authority, stressed that since the tiny Gulf state was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, it was necessary to destroy all of the churches in the country. The ruling came in response to a query from a Kuwaiti delegation asking about Kuwaiti parliamentarian Osama Al-Munawer’s call to remove all churches there.
“The Sheikh based his proclamation on the famous tradition, or hadith, wherein the prophet of Islam declared on his deathbed that ‘There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula,’ which has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced in the region.”
While the Mufti asserted that the “justice system in Saudi Arabia is fair,” he nonetheless went on to say that, “all matters related to justice should be reviewed by Shariah courts as God the Almighty said in the Holy Quran."
Abdullah later added in clarification: "Kuwait [is] a part of the Arabian Peninsula and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it." Christianity is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and there are no churches there. The Arabian Peninsula includes the nations of Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Churches have always been banned in Saudi Arabia, and until recently Jews were not even allowed in the country. Those wishing to worship in the manner of their choosing must do so hidden away in private, and even then the morality police have been known to show up unexpectedly and halt proceedings.
This was a considered, deliberate and specific ruling from one of the most important leaders in the Muslim world. It does not just create a religious obligation for those over whom the mufti has direct authority; it is also a signal to others in the Muslim world that destroying churches is not only permitted but mandatory.
As the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah Aal al Sheikh has the highest position of religious authority in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is an Islamic scholar based in Mecca - the seat of Sunni Islam.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal al Sheikh is chairman of the Council of Senior Scholars, a scientific consultative commission composed of leading Sunni specialist scholars of shari‘a (Islamic law). He is also chairman of the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and fatwas (religious rulings), a special committee designated for the researching and issuing of religious rulings on jurisprudence, Hadith, and Aqida (creed) for the Sunni world.
As Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, al Sheikh is also the leading religious figure of the Saudi-based international network of Salafi Muslims. He stresses the importance of adhering to a literal interpretation of the scripture and following Islam as it was practiced by the early generations of Muslims. The rulings derived by al Sheikh are based heavily on a literal reading of the Qur’an and emphasize the need to strip away innovative cultural practices that have become a part of Muslims’ lives across cultures. The movement he leads is characterized by an authoritative stance on Islamic religious practice.