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Christian Churches to be built in Qatar

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  • Thomas Daniel
    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
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      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
      International Tuesday.

      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
      said.

      "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
      world."

      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
      East.

      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
      happening elsewhere."

      "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.
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