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ICC Note:
While expats being allowed to enjoy worshiping in their own religion is encouraging, the real problem is for the hundreds of thousands of hidden Christians in the Middle East who risk, discrimination, torutre, prison, and even assasination for worshipping who they choose.

Most Christian expats (foreigners) in Gulf can celebrate Christmas

Wissam Keyrouz
Mail & Guardian Online

Christian expatriates in the Gulf enjoy increasingly more freedom to worship and celebrate feasts, especially Christmas, except in Saudi Arabia , where non-Islamic practices still lead to jail and deportation.
In the run-up to Christmas, the youths of St Joseph ‘s Roman Catholic church in Abu Dhabi performed a religious play in the city’s cultural centre for the first time.

The law in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to ban any preaching activities outside churches.
“We are very grateful to officials here,” St Joseph ‘s pastor, Father Nidal Abu Rujaili, said, pointing out that an official from the UAE religious authority attended the play.
“He also addressed the parish, stressing the importance of accepting the other and the dialogue between religions. He [also] commended the play and congratulated Christian expatriates” for the festive season, Abu Rujaili added.
But Christian expatriates in Saudi Arabia do not enjoy any of the rights that their brothers and sisters do in neighbouring Gulf countries.
The ultra-conservative kingdom, which is classified by the United States as a country where religious freedoms are violated, bans all non-Islamic practices.
No sign of the Christmas festivities can be seen in Saudi Arabia , which is ruled by the strict teachings of the Wahabist interpretation of Islam. Those who get caught performing their rituals face jail and deportation.
But this ban fails to terrify all expatriates, and some meet in “underground churches” to worship.
“I was a member of a Christian praying group. We used to meet in houses and hold Masses secretly,” said a Christian who lived before in Saudi Arabia .
“Christmas parties used to be held in houses or in embassies, but life behind the closed doors was completely different. Nobody would realise that it is the most important feast for hundreds of thousands of foreigners living in the country,” he added. — AFP