Tuesday, 2 October 2001 18:27 (ET)
Christian Churches to be built in Qatar
By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI religion correspondent
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Qatar is to allow Christian churches to be
built in a special area in a suburb of capital, a senior official of
that Muslim and Arab emirate on the Persian Gulf told United Press
Qatar's ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, will arrive in
Washington on a state visit Wednesday after stopping off in New York
where he toured the devastated World Trade Center and donated $3
million to various disaster relief charities.
Roman Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox sanctuaries will be
built in a fenced-in compound near the Marriott hotel in Ras Abu
Abboud, a suburb west of Doha, Qatar's capital city, the official
"Our government has offered the Christian denominations a large piece
of real estate for this purpose. It's now up to each of them to
design their buildings," he added.
"This is part of a well thought-out strategy of the current emir to
liberalize his country," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., told
UPI. "It deserves recognition and applause from the rest of the
On Wednesday, Rohrabacher, a member of the House International
Relations Committee, will co-host a lunch for Qatar's ruler, whose
human rights policies he praised.
The congressman noted specifically the recent municipal elections --
the first in the petroleum-rich nation -- and the voting rights
granted to women.
"I don't know why Muslims should be restricted from hearing about
other faiths," Rohrabacher said, commending Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al
Thani all the more as "a powerful voice of moderation" in the Middle
Construction work on the church compound will probably begin next
year,"the Qatari official informed UPI. He said negotiations were
currently underway between the denominations on how to divide up the
land allotted to them by the government.
"It seems that differences of opinion between Eastern Orthodox
churches are holding up the work. The Orthodox -- Arabs, Greeks,
Indians, Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese and Egyptian Copts --
evidently find it difficult to agree on how to build and use their
sanctuary," the official continued.
"They have quite different traditions."
Three-fourths of Qatar's estimated 700,000 inhabitants are
foreigners, and of those many are Christians. So far, Qatar has
prohibited the public practice of any religion other than the strict
Wahhabi variety of Sunni Islam, which is also the predominant faith
in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
But in Saudi Arabia, even private practice of other religions is
forbidden and a major crackdown against foreign Christians is
underway, according to The Rev. Steven L. Snyder of International
Christian Concern, a Washington-based religious rights organization.
At least 16 worshipers in clandestine house church services have been
arrested in recent months.
In Qatar, on the other hand, even large congregations of up to 1,000
members have been permitted to worship informally in private homes,
the government official said, adding, "We have some very substantial
residences capable of accommodating that many people."
According to Christianity Today magazine, Qatari authorities do
insist on being notified in advance of such meetings.
Commented the Qatari official, "We want our guests to feel comfortable
practicing their faiths. It's also preferable for us to know where
they are going than have them sneak into somebody's house, as is
"In addition to the three sanctuaries there will be other facilities
in the proposed compound, for example, parsonages and restaurants."
But will these churches have spires with crosses and bells calling
Christians to worship? "I think not," the official said.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.