Catholic Church and Riyadh officials have signed a new pact to unify Christianity and Islam in Saudi Arabia in the hope of creating “one world religion.”
The deal will see new churches build across the Arab kingdom under cooperation from the Vatican and local Wahhabi leaders.
Saudi Arabia is currently the only Gulf state with no public Christian places of worship.
The agreement, signed between Wahhabi leaders and a Vatican cardinal, will establish a cooperative relationship between the two religions, giving citizens of either faith a new place to worship under a new “blanket” religion.
After returning from Riyadh, one of the most senior Catholic Church officials, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, said to the Vatican News website that the Saudi Arabian Government wants a “new image” for the country, saying:
“This is the beginning of a rapprochement… “It is a sign that the Saudi authorities are now ready to give a new image to the country.”
RT reports: Tauran was in Saudi Arabia for a week in the middle of last month, in a visit that was widely covered by local media, and mostly ignored by the English-language press.
He met with the de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and with multiple spiritual leaders.
The final accord signed between Tauran and Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, a leading Wahhabi NGO, paves the way not only for building projects but has outlined plans for Muslim-Christian summits once every two years and for greater rights for non-Islamic worshippers in the Gulf kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has a reputation as one of the most religiously intolerant regimes in the world.
Non-Muslims are punished for any displays of their religion outside of their homes, while any Muslim who decides to convert to another faith is subject to a death sentence for apostasy.
Islamic religious law is imposed uniformly on all those residents in the oil-rich state, regardless of beliefs, while dedicated religious police oversees compliance.
Nonetheless, there has been an influx of migrant workers to the kingdom in the past decades, and more than 1.5 million Christians are thought to be in the country, mostly from the Philippines.
Attempts to negotiate a more visible status for Christianity by the Vatican date back years and, in 2008, it also announced a potentially “historic” agreement to construct the first modern-day church, a plan that was eventually shelved.
But the possibility of at least a cosmetic display of tolerance appears more likely in the reign of the image-conscious Mohammed bin Salman, who has already abandoned several landmark customs, such as those forbidding women from driving, or requiring them to be under the constant supervision of their guardians.