Saudi Arabia has banned the August issue of National Geographic’s Arabic edition, whose cover featured Pope Francis standing inside the Sistine Chapel.
In a statement published on National Geographic’s Arabic Language Twitter account, the magazine said the edition was banned for “cultural reasons.”
“Dear readers in Saudi Arabia, we apologize that you did not receive August’s magazine,” the editor-in-chief, Alsaad Omar al-Menhaly wrote, Foreign Policy magazine reported. “According to the distribution company, the magazine was refused entry for cultural reasons.”
Saudi officials may have seen dangerous implications for the members of its Wahhabi state in how the magazine framed the Pope as a man leading a “quiet revolution” to reform the Catholic church.
Wahhabi — members of a strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim sect — advocate a return to early Islam and a literal interpretation of the Koran.
An editor’s note published in the magazine’s August Arabic edition lauded the pope for moving to revitalize his church by making changes that “will dislodge some of the ingrained principles of the followers of the church.”
The editors also argued that all religious institutions must adapt to a rapidly changing modern world and said religious pillars “are only tools aimed at preserving something, and if they are no longer capable of that, they must be altered,” Foreign Policy reported.
For Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi religious authorities, the notion that religion should be fluid and change with the times is precisely the idea that they arrayed against.
Meanwhile, Francis continues to call Islam a religion of peace and has called on European parishes to shelter refugees from the Middle East fleeing conflict in Syria.
Saudi Arabia has taken no refugees from Syria.