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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #14

SAUDI ARABIA

 

Country rank

14

Persecution score

78.00

Last year’s rank

13

Region

Middle East & North Africa

Persecution Type

Clan oppression (Very strong), Islamic oppression (Very strong), Dictatorial paranoia (Strong)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

34,710,000

Christians

1,200,000 (OD estimate%)  According to OD-estimate

Main Religion

Islam

Government

Absolute Monarchy

Leader

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

 

 

Open Doors supports the persecuted church in the Arabian Peninsula through:
• Prayer support

ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA

 What does persecution look like in Saudi Arabia?

The majority of Christians in Saudi Arabia are expatriates. Most come from low/middle income countries in Asia and Africa, but there are also some from the Western world. 
Besides being exploited and poorly paid, Asian and African workers are regularly exposed to verbal and physical abuse because of their ethnicity and low status, but their Christian faith can also play a role in this. Expatriate Christians are severely restricted in sharing their Christian faith with Muslims and in gathering for worship, which entails the risk of detention and deportation. Consequently, expatriates tend to keep silent about their faith. 

The few Saudi Christians from a Muslim background face even more pressure, especially from their families. Expatriate Muslims converting to the Christian faith also face strong persecution, likely similar to the levels they would have experienced in their home country. Whether Saudi or otherwise, most converts are forced to practice their faith in secrecy. 

Nevertheless, the small number of Saudi Christians has been slowly increasing, and they are becoming bolder, sharing their faith with others on the Internet and Christian satellite TV channels. Such public action has led to serious repercussions from Saudi families and authorities. 

How women experience persecution

The consequences of converting to Christianity from Islam is mostly keenly felt by women and girls, reflecting their status in Saudi society.

In Saudi Arabia, the official religion and law is Islamic, and all citizens are expected to be Muslims. Due to the strict nature of Islamic Saudi society in which women are subordinate to men, women are under constant and close monitoring. Maintaining the family’s reputation is considered of utmost importance.

Leaving Islam is one of the biggest sins a Muslim can commit. Female Christians with a Muslim background are exposed to considerable pressure sparked by their faith, but compounded by their gender. On discovery of their new faith, they risk physical violence, verbal harassment, house-arrest and forcible marriage to conservative Muslims as a “corrective” measure (sometimes as a second wife). In such marriages, women are likely to suffer from sexual and psychological abuse. 

Outside the context of marriage, sources report that instances of rape and sexual assault are commonplace across Saudi Arabia for the thousands of non-Saudi (especially Asian and African) housemaids across the country who are Christian or non-Muslim, a position in which they are commonly abused and virtually treated as slaves. This strongly reflects the subordinate position of women in Saudi society and their unprotected status when alone and when working outside their home. 

Given that converts bring shame upon their family by converting to Christianity, women are at great risk of honor killings. If married, a female convert risks divorce and losing custody of her children, which in turn means loss of their social safety net. Consequently, it is little surprise that many women choose to become secret believers or flee the country entirely for their safety. 

One Saudi convert who survived an attempt on her life sought to flee the country. She was unable to do so, however, as she required permission from a male family member to travel – permission that was denied. 

Since August 2019, women can now apply for a passport without the approval of men in their family, easing travel restrictions. While this is a welcome development, families continue to exert ongoing control over women’s movements, typically by withholding their money and possessions, or incarcerating them in the home. 

How men experience persecution

Saudi Christian men pay a considerable price if their faith is discovered. Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic society means that any deviation from standard behavior is quickly observed. Male converts face pressure from their family unit, as well as from wider society. They risk experiencing public shaming, physical violence, emotional abuse and threats – including threats on their lives and losing all forms of help and access to community life. Converts are offered material incentives in the hope that they will return to Islam and revoke the shame brought upon the family by their conversion. If it becomes clear that a convert will not change, however, the threat of death is all too tangible.

If converts are detained or imprisoned, their families will be financially affected, since men are by and large the breadwinners in Saudi families. Given these pressures, and the potentially crippling impact on their families, most converts choose to live as secret believers. This extends to not even telling their own children about their faith, for fear that extended family members or school staff could discover that they have left Islam.   

What has changed this year?

Despite dropping a place, the situation for Christians in Saudi Arabia remains relatively unchanged and still extremely challenging. While there is a slight reduction in reports of violence and family life opposition, there have been marginal increases elsewhere (that is, pressure in community, national and church life). 

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

The level of persecution in Saudi Arabia is generally the same all over the country, although social control is likely to be higher in rural areas. A possible exception are Western expatriate compounds where there is less control and pressure to adhere to strict Islamic norms. 

How can I help Christians in Saudi Arabia?

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Saudi Arabia?

Open Doors supports the body of Christ on the Arabian Peninsula through organizing prayer, distributing Scripture resources and training believers and pastors.  

Pray

– Pray that the Lord will continue to use the Internet to strengthen and unite believers, and grow the Saudi church.
– Pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to both Christians and non-Christians in dreams and visions.
– Pray for the protection of all Christians in Saudi Arabia, and for them to be given continued wisdom and discernment as they seek to follow and share Jesus. 

A PRAYER FOR SAUDI ARABIA

Lord Jesus, strengthen, protect and guide all converts who boldly follow you under great risk. Provide for them a small network of Christians, where they can receive encouragement and discipleship. Use the Internet to strengthen and grow the church in Saudi Arabia. May women be given greater equality, prominence and freedom in Saudi society. Amen. 

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.