Moscow has some 2 million Muslims but only four mosques. Possibly in response, the king of Saudi Arabia wants to support a new mosque in the heart of Russia. That’s fine, the Russians said, but only if they can build an Orthodox Church in the Muslim holy land. Fat chance.
These two proposals have sparked an often intriguing discussion by Russia’s Muslims and Christians over the role religion plays in defining the two societies and about the role of law in regulating that, a discussion that could either enrich or complicate the Kremlin’s relations with Muslims inside Russia and Muslim states abroad it is currently trying to court.
Julia Duin of the Washington Times writes:
As we all know, the Saudis have a habit of constructing mosques in dozens of world capitals while forbidding houses of worship for any religion whatsoever outside its Wahabist brand of Islam. They’ve gotten some bad PR locally for some of the hate language in textbooks at the Saudi Academy in northern Virginia. Not only are hapless Christians terrorized and jailed for daring to hold private prayer services in Saudi Arabia, but God help them should they try to convert someone to their religion. And that’s for a fellow People of the Book: One can only guess at what the treatment of Buddhists and Hindus must be like.
Wouldn’t it be so ironic if the Russians were the first Christian body to win acceptance of the right to build a church in, say, Riyadh? (Some of the Russians are calling for a church in Mecca, but the chances of any other religion getting a foothold within walking distance of the world center of Islam is less than zero.) Of course we all know the Saudis aren’t about ready to let Bibles or other religious literature, let alone a church, anywhere near their homeland, but all the same, it’s amusing to see the Russians give the Saudis a taste of their own medicine.