Saudi Arabia has deported 27 Lebanese Maronite Christians, including women and children, for celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady in their home. Saudi Arabian authorities justified the deportation by claiming the Christians participated in “un-Islamic prayer” and that they possessed the “Gospel”.
The religious police raided a house in the Aziziyah neighborhood of Al Khafji, in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and arrested 27 people, including children. The Christians claimed that as the Koran esteemed the Blessed Virgin Mary, their prayers caused no insult.
In 2006 the Saudi government gave the undertaking to stop interfering with the private worship of non-Muslims, formally recognizing the rights of Christians and other to worship in private. Open Door International, a charity that monitors the persecution of Christians reports:
“Even when held privately, Christian services are seriously restricted by the strict gender segregation, prohibiting men and women from different families to worship in the same room. “Christians who engage in such activities risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture.”
Christians make up about 3% of Saudi Arabia. Churches are strictly forbidden and Muslims converting to Christianity is punishable by death.
Professor Camille Eid, Professor at the University of Milan and expert on the Churches of the Middle East, gave the following account of life for Christians in Saudi Arabia to Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” the TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network:
“Q. How do Christians live their faith in Saudi Arabia? In secret. It is forbidden to have Bibles, religious images and rosaries; if they are detected at the airport they are immediately confiscated. There was an instance when I was at the Jeddah Airport with a video cassette and they asked to view this cassette. The video was about Spartacus. I was suddenly fearful that they would see the image of the crucifixion. The guard eventually allowed it because it was a soldier being crucified and not Jesus Christ. … It is hard. They say that Christians can pray privately but what does private mean? Does it mean alone or with your family? When more than two, or a group of families, are praying together in the privacy of their home the religious police can come in and intervene and arrest them.
Q: What happens to the Christian that is caught with a rosary in their pocket or wearing a cross?
Eid: If it is in a pocket nobody can see it. If, however you are seen wearing a cross, any Muslim — and not just the police — can take it away. You will be arrested and risk expulsion from the kingdom. They will haul you to prison and after a few days you will be issued an exit visa. It will be over for you.
Q: What other kind of Christian activities are punishable by law?
Eid: All public manifestation of any faith other than Islam is punishable. They do know that the Americans, French and Italians celebrate the Mass for Christmas and Easter inside the embassies but because the embassy is extra-territorial, the law does not apply. The police, however, are around to monitor. There are no churches, synagogues or temples in the kingdom. All manifestations of other faiths are prohibited.
Q: Who enforces the law?
Eid: You have 5,000 religious police divided among 100 districts, but any Muslim can enforce the law by denouncing the individual. I spent two and half years in Jeddah; I was afraid to extend the Easter and Christmas greetings even via phone because I was afraid that someone might be listening. The religious police control everything including the bookshops because it is prohibited to sell any card with non-Muslim themes. Some years ago in the American school, a Santa Claus was almost arrested but he managed to escape through a window. It is prohibited.
Q: We have talked about discrimination. We have talked about persecution. How far can this persecution go?
Eid: To death. We have a case of the martyrdom of a Saudi girl who converted to Christianity. Her brother discovered her. She wrote a poem to Christ and she had her tongue cut, she disappeared and was later found dead. Her name was Fatima Al-Mutairi and this happened in August of 2008. In 2008 two cases of raids by the religious police saw men, women and children less than 3 years old arrested. We have many reports of torture; before they are deported to their country these Filipinos, Indians and Eritreans are tortured by the police in the prisons.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the lay Catholics living in Saudi Arabia?
Eid: It is hard to be a lay Catholic in Saudi Arabia because you have to have a very deep background in your faith. You cannot have copies of the Gospel in your home. You cannot have a rosary. You cannot have contact with your Christian friends as a community; you can have Christian friends, you can frequent the foreign communities but you are prohibited from talking about your faith. So the only possibility is to have a strong awareness and knowledge of your faith that you can bank on in this environment.
In other Islamic countries Friday is a holiday so Mass as a community [is allowed], but not on Sunday because Sunday is considered a working day; but even this is not the case in Saudi Arabia. So you are a community by yourself. Usually you do not even have your own family because Saudi Arabia has restrictions on family reunification. If you have a daughter who is more than 18 years of age, she cannot stay in Saudi Arabia if she is not married. So most have their families somewhere else. So you are alone and with no contact to other Catholics, which is very hard, and so you have to have the strength of faith in your heart; to be able to pray with out the prayer books, to just know and pray the prayers you have learned by heart from your childhood.
The Second Vatican Council declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, states that all governments have the duty to protect the right to religious freedom of the individual, “The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government.(5) Therefore government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means.”
Manifestly, Saudi Arabia does not protect or promote the inviolable rights of the individual to religious freedom. In fact, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of eight countries that abstained from voting for the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights because they objected to Article 18, which states that everyone has the right “to change his religion or belief”. However, what are the world’s governments doing to persuade Saudi Arabia to recognise the inviolable rights of the individual to religious freedom? What is UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Simon Collis, a new convert to Islam, doing to protect the rights to religious freedom of Christians in Saudi Arabia?
Source: EWTN Great Britan