(CNSNews.com) – Six months after declaring that all churches in the Arabian peninsula should be destroyed, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric called at the weekend for a global ban on insults targeting all religious “prophets and messengers,” a category that, from a Muslim perspective, includes Jesus Christ.
Saturday’s demand by Saudi grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh came on the same day that another of Sunni Islam’s most prominent figures, Egypt’s Al-Azhar University grand imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb, made a similar appeal.
Both men were reacting to an amateur video satirizing Mohammed, whose emergence on the Internet has been blamed for protests targeting American diplomatic missions across the Islamic world. According to wire services at least 12 deaths have been linked to the protests since Thursday, with deaths reported in Tunisia, Sudan, Pakistan, Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt.
The two clerics’ calls are a new salvo in an unremitting campaign by Islamic political and religious leaders, spearheaded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to pressure non-Muslims to treat Islam with deference.
In a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Asheikh “appealed to all countries and international organizations to criminalize acts ridiculing all prophets and messengers (peace be upon them).”
The kingdom’s Arab News pointed out that he was referring to such figures as “Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.”
Islamic doctrine holds that Mohammed, a 7th century Arabian, was the last in a long line of prophets of Islam stretching back to Adam, and including Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Jonah, John the Baptist – and Jesus.
Nonetheless Asheikh last March told a delegation of visiting Kuwaitis that all churches in the Arabian peninsula should be destroyed. He cited a hadith – a saying or tradition of Mohammed – in which he was quoted as declaring on his deathbed, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.”
The Kuwaitis had sought the mufti’s guidance after an Islamist lawmaker in Kuwait said he planned to submit a draft law banning the building of non-Islamic places of worship, arguing that there were already too many churches in the small Gulf state, given the size of the Christian community.
Saudi Arabia does not permit the existence of churches or public expressions of non-Muslim religious worship.
Although Muslims revere Jesus, Islam teaches that he was not divine and was not crucified. The Qur’an states (9:30): “the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah … may Allah destroy them.”
Saudi media coverage of Asheikh’s new statement mentioned the call to criminalize offending speech, but gave greater prominence to his appeal for Muslims in their response not to “shed the blood of innocent people, or vandalize properties or public institutions.”
“If Muslims surrender to anger, they will achieve the objectives of those who are behind producing this offensive film,” SPA quoted him as saying.
Egypt’s Tayyeb, meanwhile, directed his appeal to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging a U.N. resolution outlawing “insulting symbols and sanctities of Islam” and other religions, Egypt’s state information service reported.
He also demanded that those “fools and misguided” people who commit such acts be punished for committing “these heinous acts of abuse to the prophet.”
Tayyeb said it was the U.N.’s responsibility to “protect world peace from any threat or aggression.” He also urged Egyptians to respond with “wisdom and restraint.”
As grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Tayyeb is traditionally regarded as the top authority in Sunni Islam worldwide.
Al-Azhar was one of two institutions that hosted President Obama in June 2009 when he delivered a major address to the Muslim world. “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning,” the president said in the opening lines of the speech.
For more than a decade, the OIC, a bloc of 56 Muslim states, has promoted a campaign at the U.N. to outlaw what it calls “defamation” of Islam. The initiative periodically picks up steam after incidents viewed by Muslims as insulting to their faith, such as the Mohammed cartoon episode and the desecration of Qur’ans, whether accidental or intentional.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice did a round of television talk shows Sunday, reiterating the administration’s view that the Mohammed video lies behind the violent protests.
While stressing that “there is no excuse for violence,” Rice told Fox News Sunday “there is no question as we’ve seen in the past with things like [Salman Rushdie’s 1988 book] Satanic Verses and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad there have been such things that have sparked outrage and anger, and this has been the proximate cause of what we’ve seen this week.”