Saudi Arabia Overview
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king’s official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 by ABD AL-AZIZ bin Abd al-Rahman Al SAUD (Ibn Saud) after a 30-year campaign to unify most of the Arabian Peninsula.
Centuries ago, there was a large Christian population in Saudi Arabia. During the conquest of Islam, this population was Islamized or expelled. Now, citizens are only allowed to adhere to Islam, and Christian worship is forbidden. There are no provisions for religious freedom in the kingdom’s constitution or basic laws and anti-religious sentiments are strong throughout society. The legal system is based on Sharia and conversion to another religion is punishable by death.
The government generally allows non-Muslims to worship in private yet the religious police (‘Muttawa’) do not always respect this. Men and women from different families are prohibited from intermingling and worshippers risk imprisonment, lashing, deportation and torture. Evangelizing Muslims and distributing non-Muslim materials is illegal. Muslim-background believers risk honor killings and migrant workers have been exposed to verbal, physical and sexual abuse from employers who still have tremendous power over foreign workers.
Despite this, the migrant community of believers is growing and converts are responding to Christian TV programmes and to God given dreams where God is revealed. Christians risk further persecution and oppression in the future due to the rising number of converts and their boldness in sharing their faith. Saudi Arabia ranks second on the WWL, in the category ‘Extreme Persecution’.
Saudi Arabia allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, but does not allow them to practice their faith openly. Because of that Christians generally only worship in secret within private homes Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited.[ These include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols, and others.
The Saudi Arabian Mutaween , or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam. Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy a crime punishable by death if the accused does not recant. The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services.
International Christian Concern (ICC) protested what it reported as the 2001 detention of 11 Christians in Saudi Arabia, for practicing their religion in their homes. In June 2004, ICC reported on what it termed a “pogrom-like” crackdown by Saudi police on Christians after media reports of Koran desecration in Guantanamo Bay.
Christians and other non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities.
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