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Saudi Arabia Will Not Allow Churches to be Built

ICC Note:  At the beginning of the month, Egyptian press ran stories that Saudi Arabia had agreed to allow Catholic churches to be built in country. These stories were widely circulated across international media. However, the Vatican has denied that any such deal has been made with Saudi Arabia. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have a strategic relationship, and both have a negative religious freedom reputation. In Saudi Arabia, it is impossible for anyone to openly practice Christianity.       

05/17/2018 Saudi Arabia (Mohabat News) –   Claims that Saudi Arabia had agreed with the Vatican to allow the building of churches for the first time in its history were dismissed as “fake news” this week. News reports in the Egyptian press claimed on 4 May that Saudi Arabia had made a deal with the Vatican to construct churches for “Christian citizens”.

But the Vatican later denied any such deal had been made, and the Egypt Independent, the original source of the story, removed the article from its website.

The paper had originally stated that the Muslim World League, an organisation funded by the Saudi Government and which promotes Islamic teachings, had signed the deal with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

The report did not state whether any churches would potentially be built in Saudi Arabia itself.

The country follows a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and it is impossible for anyone living in the country to openly practise Christianity. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians from other nations, such as the Philippines, other parts of Asia, or African countries, who are living and working in Saudi Arabia. But they must meet in private homes to worship, and risk harassment, arrest and deportation if they are caught doing so.

The number of Saudi citizens who are Christians is known only to God. As converts from Islam they are liable to execution for apostasy, and therefore most are secret believers.

The Kingdom’s administrative laws state that its constitution is the “The Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah (traditions)”, and the judicial system operates on a strict interpretation of sharia law, which officially carries the death penalty for any Muslim citizen who converts to Christianity. Adult males and females are both subject to the death penalty for apostasy from Islam under the Sunni Hanbali form of sharia law practised in Saudi Arabia.

So, if the deal had really been, as reported, that Saudi Arabia would allow church buildings for “Christian citizens”, the question would have arisen as to whether any such Christian Saudi citizens would make themselves known.

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