Christianity in Saudi Arabia
Accurate religious demographics are difficult to obtain in Saudi Arabia but while all citizens are considered Muslims by the state, there are believed to be at least 1.5 million Christians living in the country.
Christians had formed churches in Arabia prior to the time of Muhammad in the 7th century. Ancient Arab traders had traveled to Jerusalem for trade purposes and heard the gospel from St Peter (Acts 2:11) and Paul the apostle spent several years in Arabia (Galatians 1:17), later further strengthened by the ministry of St Thomas who went to Arabia, Persia and later to the Indian subcontinent. Purportedly, one of the earliest church buildings ever discovered by archaeologists is located in Saudi Arabia, known as Jubail Church, built around the 4th century. Some parts of modern Saudi Arabia (such as Najran) were predominantly Christian until the 7th to 10th century, when most Christians were expelled or converted to Islam or left the region via the Sea route to Asia, with which merchant trade already existed, others migrated north to Jordan and Syria and settled into those new places. Some Arab Christians who remained lived as crypto-Christians, or secret Christians. Some Arabian tribes, such as Banu Taghlib and Banu Tamim, followed Christianity. Ancient Arabian Christianity has largely vanished from the region.
The 1858 massacre of Christians in Jeddah
On June 15, 1858, 21 Christian residents of Jeddah, then an Ottoman town of 5,000 inhabitants, predominantly Muslims, were massacred, including the French and British consuls, by "some hundreds of Hadramites, inhabitants of Southern Arabia", maybe as a retaliation after the repression by the British of the Indian Rebellion of 1857-1859. 24 others, mostly Greeks and Levantines, some "under British protection" plus the daughter of the French consul and the French interpreter, both badly wounded, escaped and took refuge, some by swimming to it, in the Cyclops ship.
Christian community today
There are more than a million Roman Catholics in Saudi Arabia. Most of them are expatriate Filipinos who work there, but who do not have the citizenship of Saudi Arabia. The percentage of Christians of all denominations among the about 1.2 million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia likely exceeds 60%. There are also Christians from Canada, the United States of America, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Greece, South Korea, Ireland, the United Kingdom, India, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and as well a number of Christians from sub-Saharan countries who are working in the Saudi Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia 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.
The Saudi Arabian Mutaween (Arabic: مطوعين), or Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam. Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, a crime punishable by death if the accused does not recant. There have been no confirmed reports of executions for either crime in modern times. The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services. In spite of this, a 2015 study estimates that there are some 60,000 Christians with a Muslim background living in the country, though that does not mean that all of those are citizens of the country.
International Christian Concern (ICC) protested what it reported as the 2001 detention of 11 Christians in Saudi Arabia, for practicing their religion in their homes. In June 2004, at least 46 Christians were arrested in what the ICC described as a "pogrom-like" action by Saudi police. The arrests took place shortly after the media reported that a Quran had been desecrated in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Currently there are no official churches in Saudi Arabia of any Christian denomination. The small number of Saudi Arabian Christians meets in internet chat rooms and private meetings. However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt the Christian faith, secretly declaring his/her faith. In effect, they are practising Christians, but legally Muslims.
According to the Society of Architectural Heritage Protection Jeddah and the Municipality of Jeddah, a long abandoned house in Al-Baghdadiyya district has never been an Anglican church, contrarily to the "“myth” that had spread on the Internet". There was however still in 1930 a non-Muslim cemetery in Jeddah.
The percentage of Saudi Arabian citizens who are Christians is officially zero, as Saudi Arabia forbids religious conversion from Islam (Apostasy) and punishes it by death (Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia). A 2015 study estimates 60,000 Muslims converted to Christianity in Saudi Arabia.
- Human rights in Saudi Arabia
- Freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia
- Roman Catholicism in Saudi Arabia
- Orthodox Christianity in Saudi Arabia
- Protestantism in Saudi Arabia
- Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia
- International Religious Freedom Report 2009 - Saudi Arabia
- The Church of England quarterly review, 1858 p.218-219
- John McDowell Leavitt, Nathaniel Smith Richardson, Henry Mason Baum G.B. Bassett, The Church Review, Volume 11, 1859 p.527
- The Protestant Episcopal Quarterly Review, and Church Register, Volume 5, H. Dyer, 1858 p.560-561
- "Details of the Jeddah Massacre", Taranaki Herald, Volume VII, Issue 331, 4 December 1858, Supplement
- Giuseppe Caffulli (September 7, 2004). "A catacomb Church? Perhaps, but one that is alive and well . . . and universal". AsiaNews.it. Retrieved 2008-11-21.
- International Religious Freedom Report 2008 - Saudi Arabia
- Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane Alexander (2015). "Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census". Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. 11: 17. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
- Human Rights Watch World Report, 2003. Human Rights Watch. 2003. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
- Saudi Arabia : friend or foe in the war on terror?: Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary. November 8, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
- Fouzia Khan, "Misconception about old Jeddah edifice cleared", Arab News, 14 October 2012
- Central Intelligence Agency (April 28, 2010). "Saudi Arabia". The World Factbook. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Cookson, Catharine (2003). Encyclopedia of religious freedom. Taylor & Francis. p. 207. ISBN 0-415-94181-4.
- Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census