First he let women drive. Then he loosened rules surrounding public interactions between men and women. Now, in his latest act of progressive benevolence (in a country that still chops people’s heads off for committing adultery), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will allow the Vatican to build Christian churches in Saudi Arabia.
The historic deal was signed by the Secretary General of the Muslim World League Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa and the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran following a meeting last month, according to Breitbart.
The decision is part of KSA’s shift to an ever more open stance as it seeks to recruit technology firms and other industries to help diversify its economy away from oil.
During a visit to Riyadh in April, Cardinal Tauran was received at the royal palace by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who in addition to nominally running the country is also the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, as well as his son MbS. Tauran and his delegation also visited the Center for the Fight against Extremist Thought, and met with the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh.
In his address to Saudi officials, Tauran spoke about the difficulties faced by the “hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Saudi Kingdom” despite the fact that the country is the only state in the Arab world without even a single church.
Tauran insisted that Pope Francis follows their plight “with close attention.” The cardinal also reaffirmed the Vatican’s view on the equal treatment of all citizens regardless of their religion, including those who are atheist or agnostic.
Another benefit of the Cardinal’s visit was an agreement to renounce violence, extremism, terrorism and achieve security and stability in the world.
The accord calls for the formation of a committee with two representatives each from Christianity and Islam. The committee will meet every two years, alternating between Rome and a city chosen by the Islamic World League.
Since its founding, Saudi Arabia has embraced a fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism, which bans all forms of non-Muslim religious activities.
But as MbS moves to liberalize the country at a staggering rate to help improve the chances of achieving his Saudi Vision 2030 goals, one can’t help but wonder: What’s next? Letting Christians into Mecca?