Persecuted for Praying to God in Saudi Arabia
“In Saudi Arabia — where religious persecution is a virtue and tolerance, a vice — praying as a Christian, even in the privacy of a home, is treated as a felony offence,” National Review Online reports.
By Nina Shea & Jonathan Racho
2/8/2012 Saudi Arabia (National Review Online) – In Saudi Arabia — where religious persecution is a virtue and tolerance, a vice — praying as a Christian, even in the privacy of a home, is treated as a felony offence. And, notwithstanding the Koranic injunction against compulsion in Islam, Christians held in Saudi prisons for practicing their faith can be pressured to convert to Islam. These religious-freedom violations are playing out right now in the Saudi Kingdom.
On December 15, 35 Ethiopian Christians working in Saudi Arabia were arrested and detained by the kingdom’s religious police for holding just such a private prayer gathering in Jeddah. The official charge is that they were “mixing with the opposite sex” — a crime for unrelated people in that Salafi-influenced country. But the real reason is that they were praying as Christians. The six men and 29 women had held their evangelical weekly prayer meeting on the day of arrest.
A Christian leader from Saudi Arabia explained: “The Saudi officials are accusing the Christians of committing the crime of mixing of sexes because if they charge them with meeting for practicing Christianity, they will come under pressure from the international human-rights organizations as well as Western countries. In fact, when an employer of one of the detainees asked for the reason for their employee’s arrest, the Saudi official told him that it was for practicing Christianity.”
Saudi officials strip-searched all the women and subjected them to an abusive body-cavity search, and assaulted the men. In a remarkable prison interview with the Voice of America’s Amharic-language service, one of the women, who contracted an infection from the search, attested: “We are traumatized by the strip search. They treated us like dogs because of our Christian faith. While talking about me during a recent visit to the prison medical center, I overheard a nurse telling a doctor ‘if she dies, we will put her in a trash bin.’”
More than a month after their arrest, they remain in Jeddah’s Briman prison. One of the prisoners spoke to International Christian Concern (ICC), the nondenominational human-rights group that first broke the story about the arrest: “A high-ranking security official insulted us, saying, ‘You are non-believers and animals.’ He also said, ‘You are pro-Jews and supporters of America.’ We then responded, ‘We love everyone. Our God tells us to love everyone.’”
On February 7, Saudi officials ushered a Muslim preacher into their jail cell. A woman prisoner described what happened in a phone interview with ICC: “The Muslim preacher vilified Christianity, denigrated the Bible, and told us that Islam is the only true religion. The preacher told us to convert to Islam. When the preacher asked us, we didn’t deny our Christian faith. I was so offended with her false teachings that I left the meeting.”
Of Saudi Arabia’s 6 or 7 million foreign workers, 1 million or more are Christians. Some of them have resided there for 30 years, but they are prohibited from having churches. The Saudi government maintains that they are allowed to worship privately in their houses but, as the U.S. State Department delicately put it, “this right was not always respected in practice and is not defined in law.” In other words, not content with the banning of public churches, police hunt out and punish Christians praying together privately. The only exceptions are ones hidden deep within Western walled compounds.