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Fatwa issued by top Saudi scholar says Muslims can pray in churches and synagogues

(Reuters/Marko Djurica)Muslims pray on a street in front of a destroyed illegally built mosque at Zemun Polje district in Belgrade, Serbia.

A top Saudi scholar has issued a fatwa, or a religious advisory opinion, stating Muslims may pray in Shiite or Sufi mosques, as well as churches or synagogues.

Abdullah bin Sulaiman Al-Manea, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said that Muslims should feel comfortable praying in houses of worship of other religious groups, noting that all land belongs to God.

"The earth has been made a place of prostration and a means of purification for me," the scholar said, citing the words of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

He contended that Islam is a religion of coexistence, adding that Muslims cannot have differences in the basic principles of the Islamic creed, but they may differ in branches.

Al-Manea also referenced an account when Muhammad reportedly received a delegation of Christians in his mosques and allowed them to pray facing Jerusalem.

He stressed that Islam was able to spread in many countries because of the good manners of Muslim merchants, which attracted the people to embrace the religion.

Arab News noted that Al-Manea's office had issued a statement a decade ago, saying Muslims are allowed to enter churches to look and gain more knowledge about the places of worship.

He emphasized that Muslims "may enter churches to learn about them, and Christians are allowed to enter mosques — except the Grand Mosque in Makkah — and pray in them."

Meanwhile, Christian clerics in the West have drawn criticism for allowing Muslim prayers in church.

In 2015, Rev. Canon Giles Goddard faced a storm of protests after he allowed a Muslim prayer service to held in his church at Waterloo in central London.

The service, which was attended by dozens of Muslims, was believed to be the first time a full Islamic prayer service held within the Church of England.

Goddard described the service as "very moving," and said that it was simply an expression of the church's desire to offer people a "place to pray."

However, evangelical clerics who opposed the event said that it marked a breach with canon law which forbids any variation from the official liturgy if it contains "any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter."

The critics further argued that the service was also "offensive" to Christians being persecuted for their faith around the world.

Earlier this year, a church in Glasgow, Scotland drew controversy after the vicar allowed a girl to perform a reading of the Quran during the feast of the epiphany, which celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God.

The passage that were read at the service at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral reportedly denied that Jesus was the son of God, and claims that Mary was "ashamed" after she gave birth to Christ.

The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, criticized the event saying: "It is particularly insensitive to have this passage read in Church on the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate not only Christ's manifestation to the gentiles but also his baptism and the divine declaration, 'you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.'"

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