AP, Mar. 11, 2003
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam, will not allow churches to be built on its land, according to Defense Minister Prince Sultan.
Islam is the only accepted religion in Saudi Arabia, home to the faith’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina.
“This country was the launch pad for the prophecy and the message, and nothing can contradict this, even if we lose our necks,” Sultan told reporters Saturday. His comments were published by Saudi newspapers and confirmed by several journalists who attended the press conference.
Sultan said that foreigners have been allowed to worship freely in their homes since they began arriving in Saudi Arabia in 1951 but permitting a church in the country “would affect Islam and all Muslims.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency, complained that a new State Department list of countries that severely limit religious freedom omits several that deserve censure, including U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. The commission’s annual reports say that religious freedom “does not exist” in the Gulf Kingdom.
“Those who talked (about churches in Saudi Arabia) are church people and they are, unfortunately, fanatics,” Sultan said, according to Monday’s Okaz daily newspaper. “We are not against religions at all … but there are no churches – not in the past, the present or future.”