Saudi Arabia has rejected claims by Bangladesh that it has agreed to provide $1 billion to build almost 600 mosques in the South Asian nation, saying such a major commitment would require a formal bilateral agreement.
Bangladesh Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal had claimed last month that the Saudis would provide about 81.6 billion taka ($1 billion) to build 560 mosques from April 2017 to December 2019, with Bangladesh chipping in 8.9 billion taka (U.S. $110 million) for the massive project.
The executive committee of the national economic council, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, had approved the project, Kamal announced on April 25.
Kamal’s announcement of the Saudi commitment was widely reported in local and foreign media.
But Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture and information, Awwad Alawwad, said on Thursday that his government has not committed such funding for the mosque-building project.
“Saudi Arabia has never committed to pay Bangladesh one billion dollars for the construction of mosques,” he said in a statement sent to BenarNews on Thursday.
“This is simply not true,” Alawwad said.
“Any commitment by the Saudi government of this nature would only be considered after receiving an official request from the host country’s government. When such an agreement is finalized there would definitely be an official announcement by both countries,” the minister stated.
He underlined “the important role of Saudi Arabia for Muslims worldwide,” noting the kingdom’s hosting of the two holiest mosques of Islam and millions of Muslim pilgrims every year.
But Kamal maintained Friday that Saudi Arabia had made the funding commitment.
“The agreement was with the Saudi king. Maybe the king did not inform the ministry,” he told the Bangla Tribune newspaper when commenting on the Saudi denial.
On Friday, officials at Bangladesh’s Islamic Foundation, an agency under the Religious Affairs Ministry in charge of implementing the mosque construction project, said they were confident the project would go ahead.
“We will supervise the construction of the 560 mosque complexes. These will be constructed jointly by the governments of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia,” foundation Director General Shamim Afzal told BenarNews.
“But I cannot give you any specific timeframe for the construction of the mosques,” he said.
On Feb. 2, Religious Affairs Minister Principal Matior Rahman announced the massive mosque-building project to parliament, and two months later a senior official gave details of what he said was Saudi Arabia’s financial commitment to it.
“The religious affairs ministry has adopted a project on construction of 560 mosques cum Islamic cultural centers at all districts and upazilas (sub-districts) with grants from Saudi Arabia,” Matior said, according to a transcript of his remarks to lawmakers obtained by BenarNews.
Muhammad Nazrul Islam, deputy chief of mission at the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, said Hasina had sought financial support for the construction of the mosques during her last trip to Saudi Arabia.
“His excellency the Saudi King assured our honorable prime minister that he will look into the matter,” Islam told BenarNews.
“The funding the construction of the mosques is handled by the office of the Saudi King. I think implementation of the project will take time. I cannot give you any timeframe in this regard,” he said.