For years now, Christians in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to practice Christianity openly, distribute bibles or build formal Churches, however, the Muslim dominated country has made unprecedented strides toward religious tolerance, UG Christian News has learnt.
Unofficially, there are some Christian gatherings in Saudi Arabia, and this is most especially in places under diplomatic protection.
The Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh serves as the home base for foreign embassies and diplomatic groups. The area is secured and serves as a sort of city within a city in the Saudi Arabian capital.
After a visit to Riyadh last week, US officials told Christian Today the country has reformed its religious police—once tasked with enforcing shari’ah law on the streets and in homes—and has instituted new government programs to quash extremism.
“I was surprised by the pace of change in the country. It reminded me of the verse at the end of Book of Job which says, ‘My ears had heard … but now my eyes have seen,’” said US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioner Johnnie Moore, who has also served as an unofficial liaison between evangelical leaders and the Trump White House.
“It was the first time I have ever thought to myself, Wow, we could actually see religious freedom in Saudi. This is possible.”
Moore, according to Christian Today represents the highest-profile evangelical leader to meet with the Saudi government since 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans last October to return the restrictive Muslim country to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” The USCIRF official formerly worked with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s campaign to aid persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
The percentage of Saudi Arabian citizens who are Christians is officially zero, as Saudi Arabia forbids religious conversion from Islam and punishes it by death.
However, according to Pew Research, fewer than 5 percent of the 32 million people living in Saudi Arabia are Christians, and the kingdom ranks No. 12 among countries where it is hardest to follow Jesus, according to Open Doors.
Likewise the State Department, at USCIRF’s recommendation, has designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” since 2004 due to its egregious religious freedom violations.
The government still does not sanction churches or any form public worship by non-Muslims, but progress is being made toward allowing private worship and protecting the rights of minority faiths.
As the conservative Muslim nation instituted new social reforms—including lifting its infamous ban on women driving—bin Salman has recently hosted a string of Christian leaders.
“It should not be lost on us that the Crown Prince has—in the last six months alone—met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Maronite Patriarch, and met with the Coptic Pope in Cairo and that meeting took place in front of wall-sized piece of art honoring Jesus,” Moore told CT.
Saudi Arabia according to reports, 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 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.