Saudis arrest 40 Christians for praying
April 25, 2005, 7:52 a.m.
Kingdom’s Religious Wrongs
The religious tyranny in Saudi Arabia is not
just Saudis’ business
Before boarding his flight to Crawford to
meet with President Bush Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah
presided over the arrest of 40 Pakistani Christians on Friday. Their
crime? The Pakistanis were caught praying in a private home in the capital
Riyadh in violation of the state’s strictly enforced religious law that
bans all non-Muslim worship.
As the State Department has
determined, there is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia and everyone
there, Muslim or not, must obey the rules of the extreme sharia of the
kingdom’s established religion, the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The
Saudi state indoctrinates its nationals from an early age in the Wahhabi
ideology of zero tolerance for the “other.” Government textbooks and
publications teach that it is a religious obligation for Muslims to hate
Christians and Jews and warn against imitating, befriending, or helping
them in any way, or taking part in their festivities and celebrations. The
state teaches a Nazi-like hatred for Jews, treats the forged Protocols of
the Elders of Zion as historical fact, and avows that the Muslim’s duty
is to eliminate the state of Israel.
Though the persecution of the Pakistani Christians is a dramatic example,
they and the other non-Muslims among the quarter of the kingdom’s
population who are foreign workers are not the only ones to suffer from
the denial of religious freedom. Saudi Arabia’s nationals, by law
Muslim, find that a broad range of their freedoms are limited because of
the state’s monopoly on religious expression.
For example, Muslims who follow the Sufi and Shiite traditions are
viewed as heretical dissidents and viciously condemned and discriminated
against by the state. Regarding those who convert out of Islam, the Saudi
ministry of Islamic affairs explicitly asserts in publications Freedom
House has acquired, they “should be killed.” Muslims who object to
even particular tenets of Wahhabism, such as advocates of greater
religious tolerance, also are viewed as the “other” and condemned as
“infidels.” Under Saudi law, such “blasphemers” and
“apostates” from Islam can be sentenced to death.
Political reformers, too, are crushed on religious grounds. Three Saudi
professors have now languished for over a year in prison after proposing
that the country adopt a written constitution. Among other charges, their
terminology was denounced as un-Islamic or “Western.” State
publications condemn democracy itself as un-Islamic. They instill contempt
for America because the United States is ruled by “infidel” legislated
law, rather than Wahhabi-style Islamic law.
A direct consequence of there being no religious freedom is that every
Saudi woman is forced by the state to conform to Wahhabi religious edicts
restricting dress, transportation, movement, due-process rights, and the
ability to participate in civic life.
The expansion of civil and political freedoms in the kingdom,
therefore, hinges on religious freedom.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and the discovery that two thirds
of the hijackers were Saudis — Saudi state ideology has become a matter
of U.S. national security. As bad as it is that Wahhabism is Saudi
Arabia’s state religion, even worse is that it is the Saudi
government’s aim to propagate it and have it replace traditional and
moderate interpretations of Islam worldwide, including within the United
States. Earlier this year, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom
report based on a year-long study of the radically intolerant Wahhabi
ideology contained in documents spread, published, or otherwise generated
by the government of Saudi Arabia and found in the United States.
In one example, a publication for the “Immigrant Muslim” bearing
the words “Greetings from the Cultural Department” of the embassy of
Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., gave detailed instructions on how to
“hate” the Christian and Jew: Never greet them first. Never
congratulate the infidel on his holiday. Never imitate the infidel. Do not
become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Do not wear a
graduation gown because this imitates the infidel. The opening fatwa of
another a book distributed by the embassy that was published by the Saudi
air force responds to a question about a Muslim preacher in a European
mosque who taught that it is not right to condemn Jews and Christians as
infidels. The Saudi state cleric’s reply emphatically rebukes the Muslim
cleric: “He who casts doubts about their infidelity leaves no doubt
Within worldwide Sunni Islam, followers of Saudi Arabia’s extremist
Wahhabi ideology remain a distinct minority. This is evident from the
millions of Muslims who have chosen to make America their home and are
upstanding, law-abiding citizens and neighbors. It was just such concerned
Muslims who first brought these publications to the attention of Freedom
House. They did so in the hope of “freeing their communities from
The Saudi state’s propagation of Wahhabi extremism is more than hate
speech; it is a totalitarian ideology of hatred that can incite to
violence. The fact that this ideology is being mainstreamed within our
borders through the efforts of a foreign government demands President
Bush’s urgent attention in today’s conversations with Prince Abdullah.
With his remarkable State of the Union address that challenged Saudi
Arabia to democratize, the president turned a new page in U.S. policy.
Some in American policy circles argue that religious freedom, however, is
too sensitive to raise. It's too important not to; the first topic on the
president’s agenda should be the expansion of religious freedom in the
kingdom — for Muslims, as well as the captive Christians.
— Nina Shea is the director of Freedom House's Center
for Religious Freedom.