Christianity in Saudi Arabia

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Accurate religious demographics are difficult to obtain in Saudi Arabia[1] 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.[citation needed] 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 whom 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.

Christian community today[edit]

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.[1][2] The percentage of Christians of all denominations among the about 1.2 million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia likely exceeds 90%.[3] 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, and as well a number of Christians from sub-Saharan countries who are working in the Saudi Kingdom.[3]

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.[3] Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited.[3] These include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols, and others.[3]

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.[3] Conversion of a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy,[3] a crime punishable by death if the accused does not recant. There have been no confirmed reports of executions for either crime modern times.[3] The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services.[3] In spite of this, a 2015 study estimates that there are some 60,000 Christian with a Muslim background living in the country, though that does not mean that all of those are citizens of the country.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

Christians and other non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities.[3]


Currently there are no official churches in Saudi Arabia of any Christian denomination.[3] The small number of Saudi Arabian Christians meets in internet chat rooms and private meetings.[3] 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.


The percentage of Saudi Arabian citizens who are Christians is officially zero,[7] as Saudi Arabia forbids religious conversion from Islam (Apostasy) and punishes it by death (Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia).[3][8] A 2015 study estimates 60,000 Muslims converted to Christianity in Saudi Arabia.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b International Religious Freedom Report 2009 - Saudi Arabia
  2. ^ Giuseppe Caffulli (September 7, 2004). "A catacomb Church? Perhaps, but one that is alive and well . . . and universal". Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m International Religious Freedom Report 2008 - Saudi Arabia
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Human Rights Watch World Report, 2003. Human Rights Watch. 2003. Retrieved June 10, 2011. 
  6. ^ Saudi Arabia : friend or foe in the war on terror?: Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary. November 8, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2015. 
  7. ^ Central Intelligence Agency (April 28, 2010). "Saudi Arabia". The World Factbook. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  8. ^ Cookson, Catharine (2003). Encyclopedia of religious freedom. Taylor & Francis. p. 207. ISBN 0-415-94181-4. 
  9. ^ Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census