The World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed great appreciation for recent comments by Mehmet Görmez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate in Turkey, who sharply criticised the Fatwa (religious order) of Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti endorsing the destruction of churches, criticising it as baseless and against Islamic principles.
In his interview appearing in Today's Zaman on 14 April, Görmez said that Muslim leaders in Islamic countries are responsible for the well-being of non-Muslim minorities. He openly condemned the recent statement by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who reportedly called for the destruction of all churches in the Gulf.
“Such a statement has nothing to do with Islam’s fundamental sources, with the agreements the prophet Muhammad signed with non-Muslim groups,” Görmez is quoted as describing the statement as unacceptable, completely lacking any validity in Islam.
“All over the world, Muslims have started to live together with members of other civilizations. That’s why we need to rediscover our long-standing culture of living together,” he added.
The WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit applauded Görmez’ stance of promoting peaceful co-existence among religious communities.
“As our member churches in Turkey have been advocating for the rights of Christian minorities and interreligious cooperation in plural situation like theirs, we appreciate Görmez’ stance of promoting peaceful co-existence,” said Tveit.
He went on to say that “the WCC has long been engaged in interreligious dialogue, especially with Islam, and therefore endorses the condemnation of justifying violence in the name of any religion.”
Tveit also called Görmez’ reference to the issue of the Halki Theological School in Heybeliada, Istanbul a “hopeful sign”. The Halki Theological School was closed in 1971, and has remained a major concern for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, though theological education has been significant for the Armenian Patriarchate as well.
WCC member churches in Turkey, including both the Greek and Armenian churches.
In his interview, Görmez said, “I believe it doesn’t befit the grandiosity of the civilization we built on this territory for Orthodox citizens to have to send their children to Greece or for Armenian citizens to have to go to Armenia to be educated as clergymen.” He stressed the need for a timely resolution of the Halki Theological School issue.
In March 2010, the WCC General Secretary visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and strongly advocated for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki.