A. Saudi Religious Freedom & Law
There is no such thing as “religious freedom” in Saudi Arabia, as Westerners understand the concept. The Saudi penal code has never been published (emphasis mine), so information on many laws must be gleaned from indirect or anecdotal sources. So, defending oneself against arbitrary arrest for religious crimes, or finding a lawyer to use the law to defend against specific charges can be impossible.
For example, a man has been charged with using pagan “witchcraft,” who now sits in a Saudi jail, facing no formally defined crime. Instead, he will be placed in front of qadis, or judges, who will subjectively decide whether he perpetrated this crime, according to Human Rights Watch. They write,
First, it is not clear what the actual elements if any of the crime of “witchcraft” are, and the offence is not defined in Saudi law. As you know, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code that spells out the elements of a given crime. The accusation of witchcraft appears to have been based upon a broad, vague concept, which cannot be said to constitute “law”. Under international human rights law, persons suspected of crimes may only be charged with offenses as established by law, and which are sufficiently clear so that everyone has the possibility to understand clearly what behavior it is that will cause them to violate that law.
But let’s examine what laws Christians would have to practice, build churches and share their faith in Saudi Arabia, as the Ground Zero mosque builders are doing in New York today.
B. Rights of Christians in Saudi Arabia
There is no “right” of worship for Christians in Saudi Arabia. As an officially Muslim kingdom, all such activities are done at the subjective will of the King. Since there are no democratic institutions, no citizen can indirectly take part in government. To become a citizen, one must be Muslim. It is illegal for Christians to worship in such a way as to draw attraction to themselves by Muslims. According to the International Religious Freedom Report of 2009, “Under the Government’s official interpretation of Islam, there is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom, which is severely restricted in practice.”
According to the US State Department,
Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or the royal family. The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed.
How is Christianity restricted in Arabia? First, the official position of Islam is Christians are infidels against the truth, willfully refusing God’s last revelation, says Daniel Pipes. So Muslims see Christians as religious degenerates. Second, Arabia is not just officially Muslim, but the entire purpose of the state is to uphold the Qur’an and Islamic practice, include safeguarding the holy places. For this reason of his highness it is said,
The King’s official title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” reflecting the importance the royal family attaches to upholding Islam within the country as a central pillar of the royal family’s legitimacy, both domestically and within the global Muslim community.
While officially allowed, private Christian services, if discovered, are often raided by the police. Because Arabia is where Allah established his Prophet, and since it is where the holiest sites lie, there cannot be much wiggle room in allowing other religions to flourish. In fact, non-Muslims cannot even go to the holiest places, such as Mecca or Medina
There can be no preaching to Muslims by Christians, not the least of which because converting means death by execution. Foreign preachers of Christianity will be arrested and jailed, where they might be tortured and asked to convert, or even killed.
It is against all Muslim law for a believer to convert to Christianity, or another religion, according to Joseph Schacht in Introduction to Islamic Law.