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 several hundred thousand Christians living in the country, who do not possess Saudi citizenship.


Christians had formed churches in Arabia prior to the time of Muhammad in the 7th century. 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. Some Arabian tribes, such as Banu Taghlib and Banu Tamim, followed Christianity. As a result of their help to Muhammad in his conquest of Arabia the Banu Taghlib were allowed to keep their Christian faith and their status as Arabs if they paid the Jizya and promised not to interfere in their preaching or propagation of Islam. The Jizya is a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state's non-Muslim citizens, who meet certain criteria. The tax is/was to be levied on able bodied adult males of military age and affording power, (but with specific exemptions, from the point of view of the Muslim rulers, jizya was a material proof of the non-Muslims' acceptance of subjection to the state and its laws, "just as for the inhabitants it was a concrete continuation of the taxes paid to earlier regimes." In return, non-Muslim citizens were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to Muslim state's protection from outside aggression, to be exempted from military service and the zakat taxes obligatory upon Muslim citizens.

Christian community today[edit]

There are more than a million Roman Catholics in Saudi Arabia. Most of them are expatriate Filipinos and Indians 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, South Korea, Ireland, the United Kingdom, India, 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 Propagation 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.[3] The Government does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services.[3]

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.[4] In June 2004, ICC reported on what it termed a "pogrom-like" crackdown by Saudi police on Christians after media reports of Quran desecration in Guantanamo Bay.[5]

Christians and other non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities.[3] Proselytizing by non-Muslims, including the distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bibles, is illegal. The country has just recently passed a law recommending the death penalty for anyone caught carrying or smuggling a bible into the country. [6][7]


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] Foreign Christians may meet at church meetings held at one of several embassies after registering and showing their passport to prove foreign nationality. They can also hold services in each other's houses.


The percentage of Saudi Arabian citizens who are Christians is officially zero,[8] as Saudi Arabia forbids religious conversion from Islam (Apostasy) and punishes it by death (Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia).[3][9] Although there is no law stating that applicants for Saudi Citizenship must be Muslim, there is no report of a non-Muslim being granted citizenship.[citation needed]

See also[edit]