Since Jesus Christ physically appeared in Israel and outlying areas – including modern-day Saudi Arabia – Christians have lived in the Middle East for some 2,000 years, but by the 7th Century A.D., most either fled the nation or converted to Islam.
A million Christian practicing behind closed doors
With most of Saudi Arabia’s ancient Arab Christianity having disappeared, most of the 1.2 million believers currently living in the country have come from abroad relatively recently.
“The current Christian communities in the Gulf countries are relatively new; the oil industry led to the emigration of millions of foreign workers – among them are many Christians,” Christian Headlines reported.
According to a 2010 Reuters report, approximately 3.5 million Christian immigrants now live in the Persian Gulf states, and more than 1 million of the 1.2 million Christians in Saudi Arabia are Roman Catholics – most being Filipino expatriates allowed to work – and none are Saudi citizens … because the only citizens in the Islamic kingdom are Muslims.
Making it even more difficult for Christians to live in Saudi Arabia, it is the only nation in the world that refuses to build churches, according to Christian Headlines, so Christian churches in the surrounding Gulf states – including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman – are always crowded with believers every Friday and Saturday, as church construction and Christian clergy work are permitted there.
Because of this, worshipping and practicing one’s Christian faith must be done privately in the Saudi kingdom.
“Although Saudi Arabia allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, it does not allow them to practice their religious rituals publicly,” Christian Headlines pointed out. “There are no official churches in Saudi Arabia – although there is an ancient church in the Jubail region. Use of it, however, is prohibited by the government, [so] non-Muslim clerics are also not permitted to enter Saudi Arabia to build churches for the purpose of performing religious ceremonies.”
But even those practicing privately have not been tolerated by the Muslim nation, as RefWorld.org reports that two Ethiopians and two Eritrean church leaders were arrested by police in a private Christian worship location in Jeddah on July 9, 2006.
And similar to the zero tolerance enforced in the “Hermit Kingdom” of North Korea, Saudi officials crack down on non-Muslim faith-based literature, materials or objects, as a U.S. State Department report from 2019 listed Gospels, statues, crosses, sculptures and anything donning a religious symbol as being strictly prohibited.
Reuters reports that the restrictions have made private meetings, home worship and Internet chat rooms the only ways for most Christians to practice their faith.
In addition, Saudi Arabia’s religious police bans the practice of all religions excluding Islam, with those converting to Christianity from Islam being ruled as guilty of “apostasy” and sentenced to death – unless they switch back, according to Reuters.
Some conversions falling between the cracks over the decades …
From 1960 to 2015, approximately 60,000 Muslims have reportedly converted to Christianity in Saudi Arabia, as revealed in a 2015 study.
Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List ranks Saudi Arabia as the 14th most dangerous country to be a Christian on the planet because of its restrictions and crackdowns; however, ForeignPolicy.com reports that since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, took the throne, a minimal number of improvements concerning religious freedom have been made.