Grant Walliser
Grant Walliser

The great Saudi Arabian mosque hypocrisy

On the 25 July 2008, the Rosebank and Killarney Gazette published an article about the proposed building of a large mosque in the heart of residential Houghton. The building will house between 1 500 and 2 000 people in prayer and provide for the increasing need for places of worship for Houghton’s Muslim community.

Phase 2 of the project will apparently include an Islamic research centre, a resource library and a cultural and conference centre.

Phase 1, the mosque itself, will cost somewhere in the region of a whopping R52-million to complete and no figures are given for the costs of phase 2.

The fact that Houghton needs such a large mosque is perhaps an interesting indication of cultural integration in post-apartheid South Africa. The fact that mosques have been built in Melrose, Forest Town, Greenside and even Norwood, a predominantly Jewish area, is perhaps an even greater indication of this integration and a sign of the high level of South Africa’s religious tolerance and freedom.

The Houghton mosque will, of course, be located on some of Africa’s most expensive suburban real estate and some of Johannesburg’s most historical land. Since religious groups normally battle with funding, one wonders if it would not have been more cost effective and less intrusive to the residential nature of leafy Houghton to build the mosque on Louis Botha Avenue. It’s a hop and a skip away from Houghton where land costs a fraction of the price. The reason is that the price of the land, it turns out, is not really an issue.

That’s because, according to the article, the King Fahd Islamic Trust Centre, Saudi Arabia, is funding the entire project. That’s right, local South African Muslims do not have to foot the bill on this one; it’s a gift from the Saudi Kingdom. And the Saudis have not just extended their benevolence to us here in South Africa it would seem, but are doing the same around the globe.

A cursory search on the internet revealed this somewhat outdated but relevant posting on the website of the Saudi embassy in Washington DC:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, has played a significant role in establishing a large number of Islamic Centers and Mosques all over the world. The latest statistics show that the Kingdom has set up, or contributed to the building of, a total of 210 Islamic Centers and 1 359 mosques worldwide, in addition to donating generously to another 1 569 such projects.

Among the most prominent European projects are the center in Geneva, which cost SR16 million (US$ 4.3 million); the grand mosque in Madrid, the largest Islamic complex in Europe with buildings housing cultural, educational and sports facilities; the mosque in London which was set up at a total cost of about SR43 million (US$ 11.5 million); the grand mosque in Brussels which was designed to accommodate 4 000 worshipers at a cost of about SR20 million (US$ 5.3 million); and the Islamic Center in Rome, also with a capacity for 4 000 worshipers, which was opened last year. There are also mosques in Zagreb and in Lisbon.

The Kingdom has sponsored mosques in many parts of the United States, including Maryland, Virginia and Ohio, as well as in Washington DC; also in Canada, Australia, and countries along the Pacific Rim, in addition to a total of twelve in Latin America. Saudi Arabia has also established four schools, including the Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia which opened in 1984, and the King Fahd Academy in London, set up in 1985. The other two are the recently-established King Fahd Academy in Moscow and the King Fahd Academy in Bonn which opened in 1995.

In addition, you can visit King Fahd’s own website and catch up with the mosque projects he is supporting through various trusts all over the world. There are numerous sites listed but overwhelmingly these are in Western democratic, predominantly Christian-majority countries including Latin America and a few in Africa. Presumably a major reason must be that the Muslim communities are smaller there and need the additional funding to build their places of worship from areas where Islam is stronger and better funded like the Saudi Kingdom.

Now possibly the Saudi’s are just a giving nation, concerned about the spiritual well being of our local Muslim community here in Houghton. They could be funding this mosque with the philanthropic dual purposes of investing money into a developing country that needs it badly while simultaneously supporting the needs of like-minded religious folk in our land. For that they could rightly feel proud. South Africa embraces freedoms of all kinds, including religion, and the Saudis are possibly keen to be a part of that vibrant mix and add a dab of their own flavour. The mosque will create, or at least sustain, existing jobs in the building industry and stimulate the local economy with a nice tidy injection of cash.

All of this is really just local news and largely of little interest at face value until you perform an internet search for reciprocal churches or temples being funded and built in Saudi Arabia.

You will discover that there are no churches in Saudi Arabia at all.

It is forbidden to build them. The closest that anyone has come to convincing the Saudis to relax this rigid intolerance seems to be the other great and powerful religious cartel of soul-savers: the Roman Catholic Church.

In this Time Magazine article published in March of this year, it is asserted that negotiation are finally underway to discuss the possible building of the first Catholic church for the more than 800 000 migrant Catholic labourers working in the kingdom. No conclusive agreement appears to have been reached as yet and at present Catholics or any other followers of any other religion besides Islam have no religious rights of public worship at all. Remember, the Saudi’s had already built a mosque to house 4 000 worshippers in Rome by 1995.

To be frank, that’s a tad hypocritical.

Had the Saudi’s openly allowed the other religions of the world to operate within their borders, their own reciprocal Islamic expansion could be viewed as both their right and part of a global freedom to practise the religion of your choice in the country of your choice. Nobody could really complain about that and I doubt that anyone would.
It would signal understanding, tolerance and progress.

The Saudi Kingdom is, however, pumping millions of its petro-dollars into a massive and vastly expensive expansion of Islam across the largely Christian, secular and religiously tolerant parts of the globe while steadfastly they are banning the same in their own theocratic country. This seems to point not only to a steady and relentless expansionist strategy for their religion and its associated philosophies and cultures, but also to a need for ultimate global representation of sorts and it seems the focus is largely on areas where they are poorly represented.

The spirit of the Saudi foundation’s programme is, therefore, unclear. In simple terms, the Saudis are putting their dirty shoes up on our coffee table while outlawing such exact behaviour in their own homes. They are abusing the freedoms and religious hospitality extended by others while extending none of their own. That’s a dubious and selfish double standard and indicates a probable deeper agenda that goes beyond simply helping us out with a couple of bucks.

In the business world, this would possibly be called the laudable exploitation of a gap in the market. Religious entrepreneurship and investment for future gain if you like. An Islamic multinational footprint is being created across the globe.

Even in the ruthless world of business, however, there are rules. Global free trade agreements require all parties to relax their internal laws and agree on a common set of principles. They don’t work out if only one side complies while the other exploits the conditions created by the new freedoms and access to new markets. Why should the global trade in the minds (or souls if you insist) of people be any different? First level the playing fields and then let the indoctrination games begin.

Of course this exploitation of a gap in the market could be seen as a good thing, especially if you are a fan of Islam or subscribe to the idea that the world needs more religion to make it a better place. Anyone who has read a smattering of history might be quite well equipped to argue that it needs less; but that is off the point. The most proactive religion is filling that gap and meeting the needs of the people. Islam has adapted and is staking its claim.

The Christians, over the centuries, never made any pretence about their desire for religious world domination, galloping off far and wide to convert people, often by brutal force instead of harmless funding, so why should the Muslims do so?

Well for one, there is that huge Mosque in Rome so it would seem that even the once ruthless Catholics have become tolerant over the centuries and are quite rightly asking for some reciprocal relaxation in Saudi Arabia, a country where getting caught with multiple bibles in one’s possession is a serious crime.

Of course, the fact that systematic and aggressive religious expansionism of all types and across all faiths and time has historically caused predominantly division, war, grief and suffering may be the most relevant observation of all pertaining to this little local story of the mosque in Houghton; but lets leave that for another debate at another time …

  • Leedoos


    Your piece however makes no mention of the behind the scenes shennigans that have been taking place with regard to the mosque.
    A considerable amount of Muslims want nothing to do with it. The Saudis have a shocking human rights record, and accepting a gift from such a brutal dictatorship is tantamount to infidelity.
    It is VERY important that you and your readers understand that. Being guilty by association is a real possibility.
    Despite the many protests, this mosque will be built. Those that have courted the Saudis are highly influential and financially powerful, with rich histories of getting ahead, by any means possible.
    It will be built, but it will not be used by the majority. How can I pray in a place built with the money of brutality. The budget is close to 40 million rand. A monumental waste.

  • MySon

    Spot on

  • Frank Wilking

    I hope common sense will prevail soon and all religions find their deserved place in the bin.

  • Willem

    The Germans are also waking up to intrusive mosque-building. Recently permission for a mammoth mosque in Munich – i think – was refused. The mayor commented that he might change his mind as soon as permission for building a church in Istanbul was granted.

  • Jean Racine

    Your point about Saudi religious freedom, or lack thereof, is well made. That’s why some of us opposed an invasion fo largely secular Iraq whilst cosying up to the Saudis.

    However, a simple fact that may have escaped you is that richer Islamic countries have been funding and building mosques for their poorer brethren for a long time now. SA included. Perhaps you noticed because this one is in Houghton. Indeed, during the early years of Islam in the Cape, most of the Imams either came directly from the East, or were sent there to train and further their studies.

    You seem to be implying this is an attempt at proselytising, which Islam doesn’t allow. I put it to you the Saudi building project is aimed at serving existing Muslims, who otherwise cannot afford grander mosques.

  • Po

    I would be interested to know how many people actually convert to Islam before I get too concerned about religious world dominance.

  • Mandrake

    As long as they’re disturbing anyone, they can do as they please. As for a lack of churches in Saudi Arabia, they could do better. but that doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to fund other mosques elsewhere.

    As christians we have a mistake of blaming other people when they advancing better than us. Look at the state of our churches, how many of us are contributing millions to uplift them. Has Rome pumped millions into Africa building churches and centers of learning? No

    Even the US isn’t splurging millions for the christian cause. i say let Al Saud do what he wants with his oil money as long as he’s not stepping on people’s toes

  • Jonathan

    Excellent article and point well made, except not strong enough. I am amazed that there has been absolute silence on this, I suppose it is an indication of political correctness and the reverence that is shown towards religion in this country.

    However this Mosque is representative of an insidious cancer and sets a dangerous precedent.

    This is part of a campaign of global Islamic imperialism and is inline with stated goals in the Koran for global domination.

    Isn’t it sad that this money wasn’t used for education or the building of a hospital. The last thing the world needs is another Mosque, church or synagogue.

  • Alisdair Budd

    Just to point out, the ban in Saudi on religious buildings throughout the entire country, also extends to any other non-Islamic religion.

    This includes Jewish, traditional African/ American/ Australian/ Indian Animal worship, Mandeans, Druze, Hindu, Parsis (Zorastrians), Buddhists, Shinto, Confucians, Inuit, San, Cargo cults etc and a few Islamic sects that aren’t officially banned but seem to have their paperwork lost every time they apply.

    It’s one of the most well known hypocrises of the Islamic faith, that they expect to be able to build anywhere else, but no one else must ever build in their holy country.

    In other Islamic countries there are lots of less blatant discrimination, along the lines of only having official recognised sects allowed, licensed preachers, banning on other religions converting (but only from Muslims), official rules about who can or cannot change the official religion on their identity card, and licences required for non-islamic centres of worship, education or schools that are never forthcoming, or only allowed once in a blue moon, usualy after a govt changes.

    And these rules are enforced more or less rigourously, including the jailing (and associated abuse) for singing hymns in a non licensed venue, sometimes the person’s home.

    All religions have problems but my most annoying niggle with Islam is the sheer hypocrisy of the fundamentalists, especially when they try to enforce religious laws on other religions (and then claim not to be), such as the “religious police” in Indonesia that were causing trouble recently for mixed race tourist couples.

    (They didn’t believe two different races could marry and so insisted they must be a prostitute and her client going back to a hotel room.)

    Imagine if Southern USA Christian Fundamentalists insisted no Mosques could be built in Texas and that all Jews had to have their Rabbis licensed by the (Christian) Govt? Such is the situation in many Islamic countries.

  • James

    “The Christians, over the centuries, never made any pretence about their desire for religious world domination, galloping off far and wide to convert people, often by brutal force instead of harmless funding, so why should the Muslims do so?”

    Are you implying that the historic spread of Islam was not accomplished by force but by ‘harmless funding’? Perhaps a refresher course in Islamic expansion is in order.


    Any chance of King Fahd allowing South African Jewry to build a synagogue in Saudi Arabia??
    Why is that Israel is dubbed an apartheid state and Jews are not even allowed to set foot in Saudi Arabia?

    Can’t wait for Ferial Haffajee (editor of The M&G) to run an in-depth piece analyzing the appalling double standards. Oh yes!

  • Jon

    Mosques have these massive tannoys which broadcast — for many miles around — some wailing allahuakbar ear-splittingly calling the faithful to their prayers five times a day. They ARE intrusive.

  • amused reader

    Thanks Grant, a really thought provoking article.

  • Brent McKeon

    I am a Christian and my prayers are mostly that all religions (mine also) just act out their own rules ie ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ is a rule preached by all mainline religions but none seem to actually practice it.


  • Lyndall Beddy

    There is just such a massive mosque built near where my daughter lives in London – there is great resentment against it locally.

    I agree with the Germans – let the Sauds build mosques outside their country, when they allow churches and synagogues inside Saudi Arabia.

    One of my family has had to sort out arrangements for 4 sons of s Saud Prince doing a course in South Africa. Their attitude to women is horrifying! They seem to regard all their hostesses as servants to be ordered around. None want to host them. The hostess and lady of the house will be ordered to wake them for their early morning prayers for instance – apparently it is infra dig for a Saudi prince to use an alarm clock!

  • Rod

    I hope that due thought has been given to the potential parking problem. A mosque has recently been set up illegally on the corner of Ballyclare & Coleraine Drives in Riverclub. The snarl-up around Friday prayers is monumental – and it is just a meduim sized suburban home that is being used. I shudder to think what will happen on Fridays in Houghton if there are several thousand cars trying to find parking at midday prayer time.
    The hypocracy and arrogance of Saudi style Islam has to be seen to be believed, but you have to remember that they are absolutely certain that because of the holy sites and the oil they are indeed the chosen on their god.

  • Alisdair Budd

    On the other side of the debate, we have many mosques in Britain, the oldest one in London is 150 yrs, I believe.

    we have two in my town, and a synagogue, and two Jehovah’ witnesses temples, various churches, but the nearest Sikh temple is in London, and the Hindu one is slightly nearer, but in the next town along.

    There is no call to prayer blasted out on speakers, since technically it can be done indoors, quietly and sometimes these days is done by text message (apparently).

    One mosque is redeveloping an old disused church for a bigger place to meet, and whilst occasional stone throwing, which is why the mosques have wire on their windows, there is very little overt discrimination and lots of mixing, in the local community.

    I would point out that the article was about saudi and Islamic hypocrisy in building churches, not about slagging off the Saudi Princes’ attitudes to women. (Which is another article about how women aren’t allowed to drive, about domestic violence being hidden until a female tv presenter appeared on tv to denounce it with bruises, and that rape victims (including men) are fined for adultery and sitting without a male relatives permission, most of which has no basis in the Koran)

    Could we keep the debate relevant, or have another article about what you are sounding off about.

    My personal annoyance with the local mosques is that we invited them to a local folk festival to give us a bit of diversity and culture and they never even bothered to reply to our letter, neither did the hindus, sikhs, jews, chinese association or local black baptist church.

    So that’s your problem for “intergrating with the local community”, wouldn’t even come along and give us a demo of song, music and dance from their culture, despite lots of indviduals in their private capacities attending.


    Alisdair Budd ,
    You criticize Lyndall for going on about the Saudi princes attitude to women and then you have the chutzpah to rave on about your local folk festival.
    A case of double standards?

  • Alisdair Budd

    No, I just thought we were talking about double standards and Mosques.

    And about respecting each other’s cultures instead of refusing to reply to letters suggesting they demonstrate their culture (at a dedicated folk festival) and then claiming, or implying lack of understanding and ignorance in the local community.

  • Crazy88s

    Hi Jon,

    On the point of mosques having these massive tannoys which broadcast for many miles around… are mostly in areas where muslims are the majority within the community.

    There lots of mosques in JHB and DBN (not sure of CT) where muslims are in the minority in the community, so you have to purchase a special radio that the mosques transmit the Athaan (call to prayer), fridays sermons and the daily prayers. Certainly NOT intrusive!

    Also, with modern technollogy you can download application to you celphone, you set your lacation and you get an alarm whenever its prayer time.

    And whilst on this topic…

    Should we not be more tolerant about other people’s religion?

    I am a Muslim, living in a predominantly white area. I have no problem with the church bells ringing oh so often. I have church workers knocking on my door to spread the word of God. I don’t chase them away, I invite them and we have a chat. I can learn from them and they can learn from me.

    If only we could all be more tolerant.

    More to the topic…
    The Saudi’s, to my knowledge, only offer assistance to developing Muslim communities who in most cases can not afford to build a mosque themselves.

    That said, I’m sure the Muslims of Houghton (and the Sandton area) can afford to build their own. This money can be used to build mosques for those who really need one. I know of mosques in rural areas that don’t even have warm water for their worshipers to perform ablution during winter!

  • japes


    but lets compare apples with apples hey. I live in a predominantly white area. I do not hear church bells ringing “oh so often” (exaggeration on your part?) and I do not get church workers “knocking on my door”. Who has doors onto the street nowadays?

    Tell us why Saudi, Sudan, Iran etc etc do not allow Christians to even build a church, let alone ring a bell?? Tolerance is a 2 way street.

  • me

    Lyndall sounds like your mate may be caught in an intricate 401k scam, I doubt those people are Saudi princes, they certainly would have bought their own servants….hahahahaaa

  • Bambata

    the saud family is a familial dynasty placed on the throne of a divided arabia by the british as a reward for their assistance in overthrowing the ottoman empire.
    thus…saudi arabia.

    face it…the arabs are buying up everything they can…from the waterfront in cape town, to the ports of the west…from 100 000 Ha farms in sudan to secure their food supply to Harrods and other landmarks in western capitals

    Should you guys really be worried about a few mosques?

    By the way, in Islam all of the earth is a mosque (place where formal prayers may be made) with the exception of unclean places (such as toilets) and places that have been consecrated for the worship of anything but One God

  • Moosa

    I am a muslim who lives and prays in Houghton.

    Let it be known that the local muslims have unanimously opposed the construction of this huge, extravagant project, for a host of reasons. However, the Saudi’s cant care less. Its their money, their land and they will do what they want to. We, the locals will suffer. Why ? Because everytime Saudi abuses human rights, volunteers airspace for illegal wars (like iraq war), or does any pathetic actions ( as they usually do), it will become a reflection on us, the local muslims who happen to have a Saudi project in their now, i agree that they discriminate against other religions by not allowing churches etc in Saudi, but what can we do about it.

    I hate Saudi Arabia, many of us do. Which other country in the world is named after its ruling party/family ?? Only the Saudis are arrogant enough to name their country after them ( even the Prophet Muhammad left the name as Hijaz- but the royal family’s pride and arrogance was too much ).

    You think the Saudis oppress you Jews, Christians , Hindus etc ?? Wait until your eyes open to how they treat everybody else…their own “muslim brothers”..they systematically oppress indians, pakistanis, bangalis , philipino’s etc.. aparthied like youve never seen..legislation that states how to pay staff based on their skin colour and nationality. They treat us like dirt, and we are muslim. They have ranks for Non-GCC arabs ( egyptians, iraqis, jordanians etc) and use and abuse them. you have no rights in Saudi unless you are GCC Arab ( Bahraini, Kuwaiti, Omani Etc). Look at the debacle here every year with the issuing of Hajj visas.. i could go on for hours…they honestly treat us as sub-standard humans..

    but hey, they made a promise to nelson mandela ( was it before or after they won huge arms deal contracts with us?) that theyd build a mosque here in his honour so we get stuck with the white elephant…

  • Sha

    Look, lets seperate ut two issues.
    Issue 1: Saudis building a huge mosque in Houghton
    Issue 2: There being a mosque in Houghton

    While people are absolutely welcome to criticise Saudis, or note the problem with Saudi’s funding a mosque in South Africa, lets not forget one thing. Houghton and its surrounding suburbs are home to a sizeable muslim community. They need a place to pray. No-one has issues with synagogues or churches in South Africa. A mosque in Houghton is therefore should not a problem- and should be protected by the consitution. In a world of violence and immorality I can’t believe that people object to people wanting a place to pray.

    In addition, the opposition to mosques in London, Switzerland etc, where there are sizeable communities that simply want to pray is just a symbol of the lack of tolerance for “the other” and hearkens back to medieval thinking. If the West expects muslims to reject fanatisicm and integrate the least they can do is respect the fundamental needs of muslims who are non-obtrusively trying to marry life as a minority with their religious obligations.

  • amused reader

    @ Moosa

    Thanks for the context. I found your comment very interesting. It is so easy to misunderstand each other.

  • Chopper4

    Building the Mosques should not be a problem, the fine print on the contract needs to be analysed.

    I doubt the Saudis give without stating what must go on in these Islamic Centres.

    What happens if the curricula is stipulated by the Saudis?

    BTW crazy88s, it is the uneducated and ones that do not have the funding that can be manipulated the most….

  • Aydin

    I don’t think anyone will convert just because of the mosque!

    As for the call to prayer, there are laws preventing that practice. Council requires a noise impact study for this purpose.

    Too many judgments without perspective and knowledge.

  • Rick Spencer

    In January 2011 I visited the West Street building site of the Houghton King Fahad Islamic Centre. It appeared that construction had ceased and the large billboards had been removed. Does anyone know what is happening with the [valuable] site?
    I hope the Wahhabi-inspired project has ben scrapped!

  • Reston

    West Road is not residential. Most of the buildings are office parks. That was the case in 2008 as well, when article was written, so the author’s claims about the mosque ruining a the chracter of a “leafy residential area” are disingenuous.