NO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN SAUDI ARABIA
Shall Muslims Convert Christians, Or Vice-Versa?
Saudi Religious Laws: Or, Why Building an Arab “Outreach Church” Would Be Impossible
By Kelly O’Connell Sunday, October 10, 2010
In the ongoing debate over the NY/NY Ground Zero mosque, it is claimed by the Muslims involved America stands to gain much from accepting the greatness of Islam. But can’t we ask: Would Islam itself allow the building of an “outreach church” in Saudi Arabia? In order to teach Muslims about the beauty of Christianity? Absolutely not. In fact, such a move would not just be seen as absurd, but absolutely illegal, and treated as a capital crime under Saudi Shari’ah Muslim law. Consider this—according to the US State Department, in Saudi Arabia, “No public non-Muslim houses of worship exist…” In other words, there are no churches in Saudi Arabia.
While Muslims demand the right to erect a religious building on US soil to preach their beliefs, such an activity done by Christians in Arabia would not be even theoretically possible. But even if it were, this would result in almost certain execution for the participants. This is because the laws in Saudi Arabia do not allow any religious freedom except for Islam. This article describes religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, the sacred heartland of Islam, and explains why the religious freedom practiced in America is not accepted in Mohammad’s birthplace today.
I. Foundation of Saudi Arabian Law: Qur’an + Shari’ah = “Basic Law”
Law and government in Saudi Arabia are promulgated under the “Basic Law,” passed in 1993. The introduction, in Chapter 1 “General Principles” and Article 1 and Chapter 2, article 5, give an overview:
Chapter 1, Article 1: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, God’s prayers and peace be upon him, are its constitution, Arabic is its language and Riyadh is its capital…Chapter 2, Article 5 (a): The system of government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is that of a monarchy.
Further articles spell out how deeply wedded the country is to the Qur’an and Islamic law:
Article 6 Citizens are to pay allegiance to the King in accordance with the holy Koran and the tradition of the Prophet, in submission and obedience, in times of ease and difficulty, fortune and adversity.
Article 7 Government in Saudi Arabia derives power from the Holy Koran and the Prophet’s tradition.
Article 8 Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on the premise of justice, consultation, and equality in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah.
It is important, when studying Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to understand how deeply influential Muslim principles are. In this case, the entire state is said to stand on the Qur’an, the Sunnah, Shari’ah, etc.
Religious Laws in Saudi Arabia
A. Saudi Religious Freedom & Law
There is no such thing as “religious freedom” in Saudi Arabia, as Westerners understand the concept. The Saudi penal code has never been published, so information on many laws must be gleaned from indirect or anecdotal sources. So, defending oneself against arbitrary arrest for religious crimes, or finding a lawyer to use the law to defend against specific charges can be impossible.
For example, a man has been charged with using pagan “witchcraft,” who now sits in a Saudi jail, facing no formally defined crime. Instead, he will be placed in front of qadis, or judges, who will subjectively decide whether he perpetrated this crime, according to Human Rights Watch. They write,
First, it is not clear what the actual elements if any of the crime of “witchcraft” are, and the offence is not defined in Saudi law. As you know, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code that spells out the elements of a given crime. The accusation of witchcraft appears to have been based upon a broad, vague concept, which cannot be said to constitute “law”. Under international human rights law, persons suspected of crimes may only be charged with offenses as established by law, and which are sufficiently clear so that everyone has the possibility to understand clearly what behavior it is that will cause them to violate that law.
But let’s examine what laws Christians would have to practice, build churches and share their faith in Saudi Arabia, as the Ground Zero mosque builders are doing in New York today.
B. Rights of Christians in Saudi Arabia
There is no “right” of worship for Christians in Saudi Arabia. As an officially Muslim kingdom, all such activities are done at the subjective will of the King. Since there are no democratic institutions, no citizen can indirectly take part in government. To become a citizen, one must be Muslim. It is illegal for Christians to worship in such a way as to draw attraction to themselves by Muslims. According to the International Religious Freedom Report of 2009, “Under the Government’s official interpretation of Islam, there is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom, which is severely restricted in practice.”
According to the US State Department,
Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the royal family. The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed.
How is Christianity restricted in Arabia? First, the official position of Islam is Christians are infidels against the truth, willfully refusing God’s last revelation, says Daniel Pipes. So Muslims see Christians as religious degenerates. Second, Arabia is not just officially Muslim, but the entire purpose of the state is to uphold the Qur’an and Islamic practice, include safeguarding the holy places. For this reason of his highness it is said,
The King’s official title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” reflecting the importance the royal family attaches to upholding Islam within the country as a central pillar of the royal family’s legitimacy, both domestically and within the global Muslim community.
While officially allowed, private Christian services, if discovered, are often raided by the police. Because Arabia is where Allah established his Prophet, and since it is where the holiest sites lie, there cannot be much wiggle room in allowing other religions to flourish. In fact, non-Muslims cannot even go to the holiest places, such as Mecca or Medina.
Public Religious Displays
No Christian should wear publicly any symbol of their faith, such as a cross or any other trappings of the faith. In fact, Saudis confiscate Bibles and the like of visitors when they enter the country. Bibles in the country are forbidden publicly, despite Muhammad claiming Allah is the God of the Bible. Neither should any building have a cross or other symbols relating to Christianity.
The US State Department writes, “Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. Public display of non-Islamic religious articles such as crosses and Bibles is not permitted.” A group of Christians who rented a hall for a farewell party were arrested for staging a public display of faith. Said one writer,
Saudi Ministry of Interior officials began rounding up the 14 house-church leaders after a citizen complained about foreign Christians renting a public hall for a farewell party on June 2…Saudi Arabian authorities on January 28 lashed three Ethiopian Christians 80 times each with a flexible metal cable in front of more than 1,000 detainees. The three Christians (whom authorities were about to deport because of their faith) smuggled a letter out of the Bremen Deportation Prison in Jeddah to describe their treatment. Officials beat and kicked them before suspending them with chains and flogging them, and Saudi authorities denied them medical care for back wounds.
No churches exist in Saudi Arabia nor could any ever be built in the land of Muhammad. Therefore, the notion of Saudi allowing a church anywhere in their country to encourage interfaith dialogue or to instruct Saudis about Jesus or Christianity, would be a patent absurdity, akin to freeze-dried water. But even house-churches, which Saudi law in theory accepts, are not protected, with the government recently acting to drive out the practice. Says the State Department,
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Call, and Guidance (MOIA) is responsible for 73,000 Sunni mosques and more than 50,000 Sunni clerics around the country. The two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina do not come under MOIA jurisdiction. They are the responsibility the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Shrines, which reports directly to the King; its head holds a rank equivalent to a government minister. Thousands of other mosques exist in private homes, at rest stops along highways, and elsewhere throughout the country. No public non-Muslim houses of worship exist, but private Christian religious gatherings take place throughout the country.
It is estimated 70% of Saudi mosques are built and kept up by state funds. Sunni clerics receive a government stipend, and regularly cast aspersions on other religions, according to the US State Department, who reported “…mosque speakers prayed for the death of Jews and Christians, including at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.” Muslim sermons typically end with condemnation against polytheists and other infidels.
It is illegal for a non Muslim to strike up a conversation regarding religion, or worse—to dispute Islam. In other words, what the Ground Zero imam Rauf would like to do in America would be not just impossible, but illegal and extremely dangerous, in Saudi Arabia. It could easily result in a death sentence. Certainly, any foreigner who attempts to witness to Arabs will be deported. If a non-Muslim foreigner in Arabia has been discovered to have attended or led a Christian service, their visa will not be renewed, according to the State Department. Moreover, the Saudi government blocks over 400,000 websites, including any that have even a scintilla of Christian content, according to Harvard University. Government textbooks teach Muslim children that non-believers are pagans who should be avoided. Therefore, no Christian will ever lead a public Muslim outreach in Arabia.
There can be no preaching to Muslims by Christians, not the least of which because converting means death by execution. Foreign preachers of Christianity will be arrested and jailed, where they might be tortured and asked to convert, or even killed. They will be deported. And while the 9/11 mosque imam wants to highlight the wonders of Islam in America, one author says of the Saudis,
I think that they are trying their best to put a good face on it, by telling us that people can practice their religion at home. But at the same time they have a law that prohibits the presence of any (foreign) clergyman on Saudi Arabian soil.
It is against all Muslim law for a believer to convert to Christianity, or another religion, according to Joseph Schacht in Introduction to Islamic Law. For, this is not considered just a private decision made by an individual, but also interpreted by Islamic law as a public act of treason considered a capital crime deserving of the death penalty, according to David Forte in Studies in Islamic Law. Such an apostate male is given three days to reconsider his actions, and come back to Islam. If he refuses, he must be executed. Women are simply whipped every three days until they repent, according to Schacht. In the last year, at least 69 persons were executed in Saudi Arabia, although it is not clear for what crimes.
Sadiq ‘Abd al-Karim Mal Allah, a Saudi Arabian Shi’a Muslim, was executed in 1992. Neither he nor his family knew that he was under sentence of death or for what ‘‘crime’’ he had been convicted. He was apparently charged with smuggling a copy of the Bible into Saudi Arabia. He denied the charge, but was reportedly requested to convert to Wahabism, an interpretation of Islam favoured by the state. When he refused, the judge was reported to have told him: ‘‘You abandon your rejectionist belief or I will kill you.’’ On 3 September 1992 he was publicly beheaded in al-Qatif.
III. Saudi Religious Police: Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices
In Saudi Arabia are a type of government agent found only in Muslim lands: religious police, or Mutaween (المطوعين). Other countries boasting such religious vice cops include Iran, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Gaza, etc. The religious police are a sometimes paid, but not uncommonly volunteer force, patrolling in the name of Allah, making sure rule-breakers are caught and punished. It is normal for mutaween to sneak into Saudi malls and beat women with sticks who dare shop without the head-to-toe veil, the abaya. Also, many other types of activities, such as the sin of Christianity, or homosexuality, can also get one beaten, arrested, or even killed by these zealots.
Catholic priests are arrested and deported for giving private Mass. One American business woman and mother was arrested for sitting with a business colleague in a Starbucks in Riyadh. Saudis have even banned red roses and outlawed Valentine’s Day. Sometimes Saudi men are arrested for simply flirting. Recently, a 75-year-old Saudi woman was sentenced to 40 lashes for violating the sex segregation laws by “mingling.”
Says one writer,
There are some 4,000 full time mutaween, and over 10,000 part-time volunteers. It’s the part-timers that are the most troublesome. These young louts (many of the volunteers are unemployed, poorly educated, and have serious attitude problems) are the cause of most problems. Demands to simply disband the mutaween have been refused. The religious establishment is too fond of the mutaween to allow that. So instead, the plan is to apply stricter standards to those selected to be full, or part-time, mutaween, and enforce stricter codes of conduct on the mutaween.
But these men have also been tied to absurd, or even frankly evil application of Muslim law, as when they kept 16 Saudi schoolgirls trapped in a burning building because they were not wearing scarves, until they were incinerated.
Said one report,
The country’s religious police prevented the rescue of girls trapped in a school fire because they were not wearing the long dresses and head coverings required in public. Fourteen girls died in the catastrophe last Monday at the 31st Girls Middle School in Mecca, some 470 miles southeast of Riyadh. Fifty others were injured, while hundreds of others escaped. …the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, had stopped men who tried to help the girls warning “it is a sinful to approach them.” One civil defence officer told al-Eqtisadiah he saw three members of the religious police “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya.”
Other despicable acts have been tied to these men, such as “honor killings.” An honor killing takes place when the men in a family believe one of their female members have stepped over the line of propriety. Typically, such acts are said to occur when a young Muslim woman is dating someone outside of her status, or has been alone with a single man, unrelated to her. In such instances, Muslim law and social norms default into assuming she and the unrelated male have committed zina, or illegal sexual activity. And because the females in a Muslim family carry the honor-burden, according to Raphael Patai, in The Arab Mind, any such dishonorable acts must be paid for by blood sacrifice, or honor killing of the young lady, normally by family members. Therefore, is honor returned to the aggrieved family.
It is not untypical for religious police to be involved in these murders, and the law normally goes very easy on men accused of this crime. On mutaween cut out the tongue of his own daughter, and then burned her alive, for converting to Christianity.
As we have seen, the very idea of an Islamic outreach-church built in Saudi Arabia, home of Islam, is an utter impossibility. Church buildings are not even allowed, for starters. Further, according to Islam, Christians are depraved infidels who don’t have the good sense to accept the last Prophet. But, more to the point, the Saudi government would have nothing to gain by allowing “Christian outreach.” In fact, such interfaith communications could only end up causing enormous headaches for the Saudis. This is because the penalty for leaving Islam for Christianity, or any other religion, is death by beheading.
Therefore, any attempts by Muslims in the US to do outreach in order to teach Americans the wonders of Islam should be met with a spirit of magnanimity as we respond by offering a better way. Christian evangelists, pastors and lay ministers need to gird their loins, and in the intrepid Spirit of Christ and the Apostles, prepare to bring the Good News to all Muslims, even those violently opposed.
For it was the Christian faith that long ago laid the foundation for American civil society, offering a peaceful solution for those who differed on politics and religion. Our forebears came to America to seek safety for their beliefs, so that they might live out their Christian faith without molestation by king, cleric or neighbor. Perhaps by opening their minds to other faiths, this disquieted religion can also be guided out of darkness and into the realm of light in these United States of America.
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