What does persecution look like in Saudi Arabia?
The small number of Saudi Christians has been slowly increasing and they’re becoming bolder, sharing their faith with others online and on satellite TV, but it comes at a cost.
This is because conversion from Islam to Christianity is unacceptable under Islamic law, infact it's considered one of the biggest sins a Muslim can commit. If discovered, men and boys are more likely to be forced out of the home, whereas women and girls are usually isolated and abused within the home. All converts risk being killed to "restore" the family honor. While some Saudi Christians are open about their faith, most choose to keep it hidden, even from their own children, so they don't inadvertently reveal their parents' faith.
Foreign Christians can face similar challenges. All expatriates are severely restricted in sharing their faith with Muslims and gathering for church activities. Doing so can lead to detention and deportation. Asian and African workers are regularly exposed to verbal and physical abuse because of their ethnicity and low status, but their Christian faith can also play a role. Persecution can be exacerbated if they are from Muslim backgrounds.
Encouragingly, there seems to be more openness in society to expressing and exploring new ideas, and some Saudis are exploring Christianity. There are also reports that many young people would not be against allowing the presence of church buildings in Saudi Arabia. Amid pressure and persecution, God is on the move.
Hostility toward Christians in Saudi Arabia is generally the same all over the country, but it can be more acute in rural areas. A possible exception is Western expatriate compounds, where there is less pressure to adhere to strict Islamic norms. Saudi converts from Islam to Christianity face the most persistent and extreme pressure.
The most vulnerable, however, are migrant converts from Islam from low-income countries, followed by Christian migrant workers from low-income countries. In both of these situations, the believers' low social status makes them even more vulnerable.
“Waleed still lives surrounded by a family who are continually involved in evil practices, but he is able to stand strong in the authority of Christ and does not live in fear."Open Doors partner. Waleed (name changed) became a Christian after crying out to God when surrounded by evil spirits one night.
What has changed this year?
Not much has changed in Saudi Arabia this year, outside of a slight uptick in violence against the Christian community. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has expressed his desire to return Saudi to a more "moderate" form of Islam, introducing reforms such as allowing women to drive and permitting certain forms of entertainment. With the curbing of the religious police's powers, there is less public enforcement of Islam than in previous years, which has led to relatively more freedom for both expatriates and Saudi citizens.
These freedoms have given people room to explore other ideas, ideologies and faiths. While atheism and esoteric ideologies are in vogue, this development has not yet led to much greater openness towards the Christian faith. On the other hand, in certain parts of the country some converts from Islam have been able to speak of their new faith to their families without major repercussions. However, the influence of the values and beliefs of tribe and community remains the same.
Open Doors supports the body of Christ on the Arabian Peninsula by organising prayer, distributing Scripture resources, and training believers and pastors.
- Please pray that secret believers will find other Christians to meet with, and that Christian communities will have discernment and courage as they distinguish between true believers and spies.
- Ask that Christians will be led to those who are searching for truth, and that the number of people coming to know Jesus will grow.
- Pray that Saudi society would be opened to allowing people to freely follow Jesus.
Heavenly Father, thank You that the church is growing in Saudi Arabia, despite pressure and persecution. Continue to give Your children boldness as they look for ways to express and even share their faith, and lead them to people who are particularly searching for truth. Heal our brothers and sisters who carry the pain of rejection, and provide for those whose lives have been upended after their faith was discovered. Give Christian communities discernment as they seek to welcome new believers amid concerns about people spying on their activities. And may every believer find fellowship with other Christians so they know they are not alone. Amen.