02/18/2008, 00.00
QATAR
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Islamic criticism and support for the first Catholic church in Qatar

The building dedicated to St Mary will soon be ready for Easter, but it is generating a great deal of public discussion, divided between the moderate Muslims who are favourable, and the orthodox Muslims who find its opening "repugnant".

Doha (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Catholic church of St. Mary, constructed as planned without a bell tower or cross, is close to inauguration.  In spite of the great modesty of the Catholic community, there is no lack of disagreement on the part of a Muslim intellectuals who are firmly opposing the new church, maintaining that a popular referendum is necessary.

The pages of the newspaper Al-Arab read, "the cross should not be raised in the sky of Qatar, nor should bells toll in Doha".  In a letter to Al-Watan, the engineer Rashed al-Subaie maintains that the Christians have the right to practice their faith, but should not have permission to build places of worship.  The lawyer and former justice minister Najib al-Nuaimi expresses himself as along the same lines. Nuaimi stresses that Qatar is a Muslim country, not a secular one, and maintains that a referendum is the only way to ensure that the church is socially acceptable.

Moderate comments of support come from Abdul Hamid al-Ansari, a former head of the faculty of Islamic law (sharia) at the University of Qatar, who has published articles in various newspapers welcoming the Catholic church in Doha: "places of worship for various religions is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Islam".

St Mary's will ultimately become a gathering place for the community of Catholics, who number about 100,000 faithful from Southeast Asia and from the West. "It will be merely a place for collective prayer", says St. Mary's parish priest, Father Tomasito Veneracion. "It will not have crosses outside the building or serve as a platform for proselytising". A simple inauguration ceremony will be provided over by Cardinal Ivan Dias and Bishop Paul Hinder on March 14.  Five other churches are planned for the same property where St Mary stands, including Anglican, Coptic, and Greek Orthodox churches.

Once St Mary's open its doors to the faithful, Saudi Arabia will be the only Gulf country that still prohibits the building of churches within its borders.

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