My nieces, like many Filipina nurses, has worked in Saudi. On arrival, their luggage was searched and the inspector instructed them to throw away their rosaries.

I guess, like Dracula, he was afraid to touch the object for fear of contamination. So the women were ordered to throw the rosaries away themselves: an action which to a Christian is a serious defamation of a holy object.

Because the girls desperately needed the job to support their families, they did so, figuring that God understood, but when their contract was over, they chose to work elsewhere, at lower wages.

Yup. Our friends the Saudis do this routinely, confiscating rosaries and Bibles from Filipino Christians, even though 900 thousand work there. Many risk deportation or worse if their prayer groups are invaded, but that doesn’t stop lay pastors from holding bible studies, or Catholic groups like “Couples for Christ” from holding prayer meetings. Indeed, local Christian churches are training laypeople in evangelization so that they can serve their fellow workers in these countries.

Nor are Filipinos the only Christians in Saudi: many Indians there are Keralan Christians, and many Lebanese and Africans also are Christians of various faiths.

Shiite countries like Iran allow Christians to worship freely.

Even the smaller Gulf states, with their strict Sunni princes and pious Shiite population, routinely allow freedom of religion for their Christian guest workers, although they warn Christians to keep a low profile so as to keep local extremists quiet.

My cousin always preferred working in Kuwait, with it’s vibrant Catholic community there. Similarly, Dubai has a local Catholic parish with several priests and masses in a half dozen languages.
The big news this week is that Qatar opened their first Catholic church, on land and paid for by the local Emir. There are 45,000 Filipinos in that country, so the priest will also be a Filipino. There are also plans to build churches for other faiths (e.g. Orthodox and Protestant Christians).

The church in Doha was built on land donated by Qatar ruler Emir Amir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who recently has supported inter-religious dialogue despite maintaining Islamic law, which forbids Muslims to convert to other religions.

Opposition loudmouths are already theatening the church:

Critics have branded the concept as “repulsive” while supporters said building places of worship for other religions is a right guaranteed by Islam.

One former minister insisted there should have been a public referendum.

“The cross should not be raised in the sky of Qatar, nor should bells toll in Doha,” wrote columnist Lahdan bin Issa al-Muhanadi in the Doha daily Al-Arab — adding an apology in case the concept upset any readers in this country of 900,000, of whom only 200,000 are native Qataris.

The former dean of the sharia (Islamic law) school at Qatar University, Abdul Hamid al-Ansari, disagreed, saying having “places of worship for various religions is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Islam”.

So for those who see Islam as a monolith, the answer is that it is not so, but that the strict fanaticism oozing over from Saudi Arabia still incites local extremists to protest.

The reason I bring this up is that these same voices are using propaganda to fire up their base to impose censorship on western countries.

According to the AP:

DAKAR, Senegal – The Muslim world has created a battle plan to defend its religion from political cartoonists and bigots.

Concerned about what they see as a rise in the defamation of Islam, leaders of the world’s Muslim nations are considering taking legal action against those that slight their religion or its sacred symbols. It was a key issue during a two-day summit that ended Friday in this western Africa capital…”Muslims are being targeted by a campaign of defamation, denigration, stereotyping, intolerance and discrimination,” charged Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the group…. They also point to articles within various U.N. charters that condemn discrimination based on religion and argue that these should be ramped up.

Well, fellahs, those cartoons are not making fun of the prophet as a teacher of God’s word as much as they are ridiculing bomb throwing extremists who use the name of the prophet to justify their hatred.

Good Filipinos who grow up reading Rizal’s books know one can criticize political and church corruption without rejecting the deity.

However, as the saying goes: What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

If Islamic countries are going to condemn discrimination based on religion, then why not look at your own sins, and insist that Saudi Arabia allow basic religious freedom for it’s Shiite Muslim minority, and it’s large Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant Christians, and Hindu overseas guest workers.

After all, if the US allows Saudi Arabia to fund “think tanks” to promote their propaganda at state funded universities and in private universities like Harvard and even Catholic institutions like Georgetown, couldn’t someone point out that in the name of justice, shouldn’t Saudi Arabia allow their one million Christians to at least legally own a Bible?

Just wondering.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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