Non-Muslim Filipino expats in Saudi Arabia told to be cautious
Manila: A migrant watchgroup urged Filipinos in Saudi Arabia to be more cautious in expressing their faith after the country's most influential Islamic scholar issued a fatwa against religious structures in the Arab Peninsula.
In a statement, John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, said it is understandable why a religious leader of a kingdom hosting a large population of migrant workers would issue such a restriction on the exercise of religion other than Islam.
He said that Saudi Arabia is not just any other country hosting a large Muslim population but is considered as the centre of the Islamic faith.
"Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state. It is where the two Holy Mosques are located," Monterona said, referring to the Masjid Al Haram in Makkah and the Masjid Al Nabawi.
He urged fellow non-Muslim Filipino workers and the Filipino community in Saudi Arabia to exert extra caution and avoid violating the religious restrictions imposed by the host government to avoid being penalised.
"The fatwa should be viewed as a warning. The host government. and Saudi religious officials are well aware that there are religious activities being held discretely in homes and apartments by non-Muslims," Monterona said.
He noted that last year there were a number of Filipino workers and other nationalities that were arrested by Saudi religious police in Riyadh for illegally conducting religious worship and activities.
"The Filipinos, along with their pastors, were eventually released on the condition that they will stop their regular religious worships and gatherings," Monterona said.
Out of the 1.2 million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, about 10 to 15 per cent are Muslim and about 5 per cent have converted to Islam, Monterona said.
Leaders of different Christian denominations--including the Russian Orthodox Church's Archbishop Mark of Yegoryesk and the Roman Catholic archbishops of Austria and Germany--have criticised the fātwa issued by one Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Al Shaikh.
The Grand Mufti issued the fātwa after a top Kuwaiti official had sought his opinion regarding the construction of Christian worship centres or churches in Kuwait.
The fatwa declared that temples, chapels, and churches of Christian denominations in Kuwait and the entire Arab Peninsula must be banned and that existing Christian edifices should be destroyed.
Prior to this, there had been an appeal from some Roman Catholic Church leaders to give the religious minorities some freedom in exercising their faith as Muslims in other countries, including the Philippines, have been given.
The Philippines has a population of mostly Christians. The country, just like most of Southeast Asia, boasts tolerant policies when it comes to the exercise of religious freedom.