Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has met the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and promised to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reforms, the office of the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion says.
Prince Mohammed made an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernizing economy and build a wider trade and investment relationship with Britain, a long-term defense ally, Reuters news agency reported.
Prince Mohammed, who is pledging to modernize his country with reforms, made a symbolic visit to Welby, the head of the Church of England at Lambeth Palace in central London.
"The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond," a statement from Lambeth Palace said.
"The archbishop shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK."
RESTRICTIONS ON CHRISTIANS
Saudi Arabia does not tolerate non-Muslims practicing their faith publicly, and Christians can risk arrest by praying in private homes.
Open Doors, a group that monitors persecution of Christian throughout the world says that Christians make up 1.4 million of Saudi Arabia's 33 million people who are mainly Sunni Muslims, who practice Wahhabism, a purist and strict interpretation of Islam.
"Saudi Arabia is built on Wahhabism, a purist and strict interpretation of Islam. Public sentiment towards Christians in the country is generally quite negative, and the government maintains a tightly knit Islamic system that treats Christians as second-class citizens.
"Islamic leaders attempt to impose strict Islamic law on all people in the country, and often pose problems for converts to Christianity," says Open Doors.
Welby, who had a managerial corporate career before being ordained priest, "emphasized the crucial role that Saudi Arabia could play in protecting minorities across the world", including Anglicans "who often as a minority faith community have few advocates for freedom of religion or belief where they live."
The Archbishop also "voiced his distress at the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and asked that all that is possible be done to alleviate the suffering of civilian populations and to seek an end to the conflict", Lambeth Palace said.
The prince, who became heir to the throne in an internal palace coup last June, has challenged the conservative religious establishment in Saudi Arabai, The Times (London) reported.
Saudi Arabia's religious police have had their powers of arrest removed, while longstanding restrictions on cinemas, pop concerts and women driving have been lifted.
The Crown Prince has also attacked the aggressive role that the clerics have played over the past 30 years and said that he wanted to return the country to "moderate Islam," while abroad, he and supporters inside the government have cracked down on funding of radical mosques.
Saudi commerce minister, Majid al-Qasabi, said in an interview with The Times that the country is the home of the "Two Holy Mosques", in Mecca and Medina and that, "We are preaching a peaceful Islam, a humanitarian Islam," he said. "We are human before we are Muslim or Christian."
VISIT TO EGYPT
The visit to Lambeth Palace was part of an official visit to the UK by the Crown Prince, and followed a visit to Egypt earlier the Sam week, The Anglican Communion News Service reported.
On Monday, the Crown Prince met with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria of the Coptic Orthodox Church and discussed "the brotherly relations between the kingdom and Egypt," the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The Saudi ministry said, "They stressed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism and achieving security and peace for the peoples of the region and world.
"The Crown Prince paid tribute to the role of the Copts in stabilizing Egypt and standing with the issues of the Arab and Islamic nation."
Speaking to reporters after that meeting, Pope Tawadros said that "The Prince spoke a lot about his love for Christians". He revealed that the Crown Prince had invited Tawadros and all Copts to visit Saudi Arabia, said the Anglican news service.