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More Turkish Pushback on Saudi Church Fatwa

Last month, Via Meadia reported that a top Saudi cleric had issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to destroy all churches in the Arabian peninsula. We were happy to note the response of Mehmet Görmez, head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, who eviscerated the Saudi cleric on political, moral, and Islamic grounds. We similarly welcome the recent comments made to a Turkish newspaper by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu:

“I believe this is a personal opinion rather than being the opinion of a state or an official,” İhsanoğlu said in an interview this week with Today’s Zaman. “It is a historically well-known fact that Islam respects the religions of ahl al-kitab (People of the Book) and their houses of worship.”

İhsanoğlu mentioned a treaty that Caliph Omar had signed with Christians in Jerusalem on the protection of churches, creating a model for the Islamic world of how to treat the houses of worship of other religions. According to him, the Ottomans had adopted the principles laid out in this treaty. “This document outlines the legal framework for the issue,” he said, adding that Islam’s respect of all three faiths is also clearly seen in cities with mostly Muslim inhabitants. “We must keep these beautiful examples in mind.”

The dueling clerics remind us of the huge religious differences between the Turkish AK party and Saudi Wahhabism. Islamism is not a single ideology. There are many different forms, and if the Sunni surge is successful in beating back Shiism in Syria and Lebanon and the Gulf, the Sunni Middle East will continue to be divided between different poles. Turkey and the Saudis do not see eye to eye, and this has the potential to become an important geopolitical fact.

Further, most non-Muslims categorically reject the idea that the classical Ottoman form of tolerance was fair or acceptable. White southerners used to tell visitors that African Americans were happy with their lot; African Americans didn’t see it that way. Christians and Jews similarly do not share İhsanoğlu’s views that they are treated well in the Islamic world. Balkan Christians and Armenians remember the Ottoman Empire as a dark age of backwardness, corruption, exploitation and tyranny.

Still, the concept that tolerance is intrinsic to Islam is an important one, and Via Meadia is glad to see senior religious leaders in the Islamic world holding it up as an ideal.

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  • Wifman

    What about Turkey’s own ban on church building?

    My cousins were born in Istanbul and christened in a tool shed.

  • davidr


    Your assertion that tolerance is intrinsic to Islam coming from an historian is curious. Are we to ignore 1400 years of Muslim jihad and conquest. And even if you choose to ignore the historical record, you will be exceedingly hard put to find messages of tolerance in the Qu’ran, hadith and sunna- the foundational texts of Islam. On the contrary, these texts contain the most appalling and vile instructions and references on the treatment of infidels. You may see the OIC coming out against church burning in Saudi, its bad PR for the ummah. But you certainly won’t find them coming out in favor of building them or allowing Christians or Jews to practice openly in downtown Jeddah. As Ibn Warraq has succinctly put it: “there are moderate Muslims; Islam is not moderate”.

  • Jim.

    Talk, talk, talk.

    Re-consecrate the Hagia Sophia, and we’ll respect your intentions as genuine.

  • Beauceron

    This as attacks on christian clerics are on a steep rise in Turkey (see, for instance, “Clerics Angered at Continued Attacks on Christians in Turkey” )

    It seems to me that the Sauds are at least honest about their hatreds, while the Turks are merely dissembling. Of course, Turkey murdered or cleansed itself of their once quite large Christian population some time ago.

    I’ll take the Saudi honesty any day, thanks.

  • WigWag

    Things are never as simple or clear-cut as they seem. The Ottoman record was mixed. As Via Meadia notes, at times it was relatively tolerant in an intolerant age; at other times it was horrendous.

    Yes the Ottomans welcomed the Jews and for a time were relatively liberal with its Christian subjects. On the other hand they were barbaric to the Serbs, they treated Christian Bosnians awfully, they discriminated against Christians in Albania (which is why most converted to Islam), they defiled the Hagia Sofia and they took the Temple Mount, the most holy site in the Jewish world and, at force of arms, turned it into a Muslim shrine.

    Despite all of this, Via Meadia is right; the Ottoman record is mixed.

    For two relatively sympathetic accounts of how the Ottomans treated the Christian and Jewish worlds as well as Arab Muslims see,

    Dan Goffman’s, “The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe”

    and Mark Mazower’s “Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950”

    Both books are available for the Kindle.

  • Allen Mitchum

    To summarize the previous comments, actions speak louder than words. Some might even consider the comments by the Secretary General cited above a form of taqiyya. After all, history and Islamic scripture tell a much different tale than the Secretary General’s words.

  • Bebe

    I’ll paraphrase Madame Roland, O Religion, what crimes are committed in your name!

    Of course, for the posters who mention Islam’s faith by the sword policy, one can cite Christianity’s 1,000 years of bringing the Truth to the heathens in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Polynesia with the cross and the gun.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This just looks like a jockying for power within the Sunni establishment, with Christian Churches being use as the political football.

  • ari

    jim is right on. this could be dissimulation-the same game it has been playing for the past 10 years.

    notice that in sharia law, no other religious buildings are allowed in arabia, but elsewhere in dar-al-islam they are tolerated with a number of restrictions. so for turkey, it does not have this problem.

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