I’m not Muslim. Can I practice my faith in Saudi Arabia?

All Saudis are born Muslim.  For a Saudi to change his or her faith is an offense punishable by death in the Kingdom.  Proselytizing is also against the law and can be an offense punishable by death.  So what if a resident of the Kingdom is not Saudi and not Muslim and wishes to practice his or her faith?  What can they do?

Saudi Arabia has a high percentage of expat (guest) workers in the Kingdom from all parts of the world.  As a result there are Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and individuals of other faiths here in the Kingdom.  They also believe in their chosen faith and take it seriously.  But they cannot openly practice their faith.  Instead, they must practice in the privacy of their home.  There are no churches or other public centers where they are allowed and welcomed to go as a group and practice their faith.  In some cases there may be small gatherings for various worship services but only inside the protected Diplomatic Quarter.  Attempts to do so outside of the Diplomatic Quarter could result in an outcry with arrests.  It should further be noted that Bibles and other Holy books (other than the Quran) are prohibited in the Kingdom and if found say during an airport inspection, would be confiscated.

Now with July’s World Conference on Dialogue which took place on Madrid and placed an emphasis on bringing together individuals of all faiths, it makes one wonder whether the Kingdom will in turn become more tolerant towards religions other than Islam in the Kingdom?  When I asked this question myself among scholars, what I was told is that one should consider the entire state of Saudi Arabia as a holy state like the Vatican where only Catholicism is practiced.  I responded that I could understand such laws applying to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina but not the whole country, particularly with all the expat workers present.  Nevertheless, among scholars this is the prevailing view, which further supports why no other faiths will be allowed to practice openly in the Kingdom.


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