Religion in Saudi Arabia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its law requires that all citizens be Muslims.[1] The government does not legally protect the freedom of religion.[1] Any overseas national attempting to acquire Saudi nationality must convert to Islam.[2] There are many news reports which criticize the Saudi government for its harsh implementation of Islamic rule, its double standards and its poor Human Rights record.[citation needed]

Religious groups[edit]


The official form of Islam is Sunni of the Hanbali school, in its Salafi version. Nearly 85-90% of the population are Sunni Muslims. Two holiest cities of Islam, Makkah and Medina, are in Saudi Arabia. For many reasons, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the holy cities, although there are reports of certain Westerners who disguised themselves as devout Muslims and were able to enter.[citation needed]


The large number of foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia (8 million expatriates out of a total population of 27 million[3]) includes non-Muslims.

Policy of exclusion[edit]

According to scholar Bernard Lewis, the Saudi Arabian policy of excluding non-Muslim from permanent residence in the Arabian peninsula is a continuation of an old and widely accepted Muslim policy.

The classical Arabic historians tell us that in the year 20 after the hijra (Muhammad's move from Mecca to Medina), corresponding to 641 of the Christian calendar, the Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from Arabia to fulfill an injunction the Prophet uttered on his deathbed: "Let there not be two religions in Arabia." The people in question were the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar in the north and the Christians of Najran in the south.

[The hadith] was generally accepted as authentic, and Umar put it into effect. ... Compared with European expulsions, Umar's decree was both limited and compassionate. It did not include southern and southeastern Arabia, which were not seen as part of Islam's holy land. ... the Jews and Christians of Arabia were resettled on lands assigned to them -- the Jews in Syria, the Christians in Iraq. The process was also gradual rather than sudden, and there are reports of Jews and Christians remaining in Khaybar and Najran for some time after Umar's edict.

But the decree was final and irreversible, and from then until now the holy land of the Hijaz has been forbidden territory for non-Muslims. According to the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence, accepted by both the Saudis and the declaration's signatories, for a non-Muslim even to set foot on the sacred soil is a major offense. In the rest of the kingdom, non-Muslims, while admitted as temporary visitors, were not permitted to establish residence or practice their religion.[4]

While Saudi Arabia does allow non-Muslims to live in Saudi Arabia to work, they may not practice religion publicly. According to the government of the United Kingdom

The public practice of any form of religion other than Islam is illegal; as is an intention to convert others. However, the Saudi authorities accept the private practice of religions other than Islam, and you can bring a Bible into the country as long as it is for your personal use. Importing larger quantities than this can carry severe penalties.[5]


Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia.[citation needed]. Christians have complained of religious persecution by authorities. In one case in December 2012, 35 Ethiopian Christians working in in Jeddah Saudi Arabia (six men and 29 women who held a weekly evangelical prayer meeting) were arrested and detained by the kingdom’s religious police for holding a private prayer gathering. While the official charge was “mixing with the opposite sex” — a crime for unrelated people in Saudi — the offenders complained they were arrested for praying as Christians.[6]


There is a population of Hindus, primarily[citation needed] citizens from India. Hindus are not permitted to worship in Saudi Arabia.[citation needed]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocracy, without protections on the rights of minorities to practice freedom of religion. Non-Muslim propagation is banned, and conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by death as apostasy.[7]


  1. ^ a b "International Religious Freedom Report 2004". US Department of State. Retrieved 22 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Ministry of the Interior| dead link
  3. ^ "New plan to nab illegals revealed". Arab News. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Lewis, Bernard (November December 1998). "License to Kill: Usama bin Ladin's Declaration of Jihad". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Foreign travel advice. Saudi Arabia.Local laws and customs". Gov.UK. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Shea, Nina (February 8, 2012). "Persecuted for Praying to God in Saudi Arabia". National Review. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Sheen J. Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report. Routledge, 1997. p.452.