December 9, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3435

Protest in Kuwait over Municipal Council's Refusal to Allow Christians to Build Church

December 9, 2010
Kuwait, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 3435

In early November 2010, the Kuwait City Municipal Council denied without explanation a request submitted by the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry for a permit to build a Greek Catholic church in the Al-Mahboula region of southern Kuwait. It was reported that during the council meeting at which the request was denied, four members walked out in protest. Several articles in the Kuwaiti press claimed that the denial contradicted Islamic and Kuwaiti values of tolerance and openness, as well as the Kuwaiti constitution. The articles even contrasted the religious fanaticism and extremism spreading throughout Kuwait and the entire Islamic world to the West's openness vis-à-vis Islam despite the many terrorist attacks there in its name.

The following are excerpts from articles on this issue.

Kuwaiti Human Rights Society: Decision Violates Freedom of Worship

The Kuwaiti Human Rights Society issued a public statement pointing to the contrast between the rejection of the request to build a church in Kuwait and the push for the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York. It read: "The Municipal Council's decision underscored the important contradiction between the 1962 constitution – guaranteeing freedom of worship and [the freedom] to carry out religious rites to all sects – and the reckless and obstinate behavior of several elected politicians and Kuwait City Municipal Council members.

"The refusal to [allow] a Catholic church to be erected in the Al-Mahboula region [also] highlights the religious intolerance [in Kuwait] and contradicts demands that Muslims be allowed to build their mosques and houses of worship in the countries of the Christian West. There is no better proof of this than the demands to build a mosque in New York near Ground Zero – site of the [World] Trade Center that was struck by terrorism on 9/11.

"There is no doubt that the standpoint of most members of the Kuwait City Municipal Council is based on the extremist thought of keeping [the other distant] – [thought] aimed at harming all sects and faiths [other than their own], even Muslim ones. This is the same way of thought that pushed [some individuals] to dispatch the explosive parcels to Chicago... [and that pushed] a group of terrorists to storm the Our Lady of Salvation church in the Al-Karrada [neighborhood] of Baghdad, Iraq – causing the deaths of over 50 innocent Iraqi civilians.

"The extremist acts that hide behind Islam... will exacerbate the tension [in the region] and cause thousands of citizens to emigrate out of fear of terrorism, violence, and loss of jobs and livelihood. This is evident in the increased emigration of Iraqi Christians, who belong to one of the country's most ancient cultures. The Copts likewise suffer from violence and discrimination in Egypt, which is considered a land imprinted with peaceful relations and religious and social tolerance..."[1]

Kuwaiti Human Rights Society Chairman: In the West, There Is a Mosque at Every Street Corner

Kuwaiti Human Rights Society chairman 'Ali Ahmad Al-Baghli criticized the Islamic world for banning the construction of non-Islamic houses of worship, in contrast to the Christian world's broad tolerance for Islam despite the killing of innocent Christians all over the world in Islam's name:

"...Several years ago, one of our heroic elected representatives demanded that Andalusia be returned to Islamic rule and liberated from the yoke of its Christian citizens, who had retaken it from the Muslims... Imagine if his wish had come true, or imagine that Andalusia had remained under Muslim rule – and that the reins of power had been in the hands of Muslims who hold to a way of thought [based on] uprooting the other and considering him an infidel – like what is being perpetrated in Kuwait by members of the Ummah Council [parliament], the municipal [council], and the fatwa department of the Religious Endowment Ministry... Had this nightmare been realized, not a single church in Spain would have remained the possession of its original owners!...

"The Islamic centers and mosques on every corner and in every residential area in the Christian West and in Buddhist Asia, [starting with] the Islamic center in Rome that is located [only] hundreds of meters from the Vatican – the greatest bastion of the Christians – demonstrate Westerners' tolerance towards other religions, especially Islam. This is despite the fact that many [Muslim] believers have spilled innocent [Christian] blood in countries throughout the world.

"Therefore, the decision by irresponsible people – like [the members of the] committee of the Al-Ahmadi district [in which Al-Mahboula is located] and most of those at the [Kuwait City] Municipal Council meeting – to forbid the building of a church in the Al-Mahboula region is unacceptable at all levels and detrimental to the reputation of Kuwait, its citizens, its constitution, and its laws. For this decision, Kuwait will be reprimanded at the international human rights conferences.

"That is why anyone with a shred of intelligence – the people, the civil society institutions, [and] the honorable members of the Ummah Council and the government – must come out against this way of thinking, which is foreign to our society and [which means] uprooting [the other]... [They must] stop it, so that Kuwait will once more be a land of openness, tolerance, and pluralism..."[2]

Al-Siyassa Journalist: "What Religious Freedom Are We Talking About in Kuwait?"

Kuwaiti columnist Yousuf 'Abd Al-Karim Al-Zinkawi also compared the West's tolerance toward Islam with Islam's intolerance of other religions: "While the world of Christianity, with all its branches, allows other religions to build numerous mosques and houses of worship alongside the churches, without fearing for the future of Christianity, some Muslims refuse to allow houses of worship of any other religion – not just churches for Christians – to be built. What religious freedom are we talking about in Kuwait? Where is [any] behavior based on Islamic tolerance?..."

Al-Zinkawi noted the large discrepancy between political candidates' promises prior to election and how they fulfilled their promises: "The members of the Al-Ahmadi [district] committee, who denied the request to build a church, and their ilk – the municipal council and the Ummah Council members – all attained their posts via democratic [process,] which is rooted in the constitution. They swore to uphold this constitution, but they openly violate it and undermine every aspect of it without compromise. During election season, they [hold] this constitution over their own heads to shield them from the volleys of criticism, and throw out pretty words and shining promises to fulfill rosy dreams – to indiscriminately rally all the groups [to them]. But the moment they accomplish their aims, and reach parliament, they turn their backs on much of their electorate and oppose the hopes of the rest."[3]

Al-Watan Columnist: Denying Christians the Right to Build a Church Contradicts Democracy and the Constitution

Shamlan Yousef Al-'Issa, columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan and professor of political science at Kuwait University, also stated that the Kuwait City Municipal Council's decision contradicted constitutional values, and added that the increasing religious extremism in the country was the product of the spread of political Islam and of the absence of social openness and religious humanism. He wrote:

"...When the Foreign Ministry requested approval [for the construction of a church,] it was under the assumption that Kuwait is a pluralistic democratic state, whose leadership and most of whose [citizens] reject religious fanaticism, extremism, and excess. Since our modern world is one of openness and the rejection of religious fanaticism, the Foreign Ministry's request to construct a church came as no surprise. Why [then] did some municipal [council] members deny this request..?. The answer is that these people are religious fanatics [who] dismiss the beliefs of others, holding them in contempt merely because they are of a different religion. That is why they are keen to prevent [these others] from building their own houses of worship, even if doing so violates the constitution...

"Why is there withdrawal from social mores in Kuwait today? Is it logical that the Father of the Constitution, Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Salem Al-Sabah,[4] permitted the building of churches and [non-Islamic] houses of worship in the 1950s, and that after 50 years of democratic behavior the municipal [council] refuses to permit the construction of a church or [even] of a Buhura[5] mosque – [as happened] a year ago...?

"Why is there religious fanaticism in our modern Kuwait? Why does it prevail in our society? There are many reasons... The most important of these are the spread of all kinds of movements and parties of political Islam; the absence of democratic and liberal streams and movements; withdrawal from social mores; the silent majority's failure to speak out about all the deviations, violations, and discrimination in our society; and, even more importantly... the absence of a humanist religious perspective, of the concept of tolerance, and of openness and enlightenment in our society."

Al-'Issa then called on the Kuwaiti people to fight elected representatives who violate the constitution and disseminate extremism and terrorism: "The extremist fanatic thinks himself the sole possessor of Islam's absolute truth, and considers all other religions and [religious] schools of thought null and void. From a democratic standpoint, the refusal [to allow Christians to build a church] means that these elected representatives, who reached their positions in the municipal council via democratic election, reject the simplest concept of modern democracy – respect for ideological and religious pluralism.

"If the constitution explicitly permits all religions and [religious] schools of thought to freely conduct their religious rites – why do [these representatives] refuse to let them build houses of worship?

"We say for the thousandth time: There is no democracy without democrats. People of Kuwait, unite and fight the enemies of moderate religion and the disseminators of extremism and terrorism."[6]


[1], November 2, 2010.

[2] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), November 7, 2010.

[3] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), November 2, 2010.

[4] Kuwaiti emir in 1962, when the constitution was ratified.

[5] A Shi'ite sect originating in western India and Pakistan, many of whom immigrated to the Arabian Peninsula.

[6] Al-Watan (Kuwait), November 2, 2010.

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