Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and the site of its holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. The kingdom’s constitution is based on the Quran and the words and deeds of Muhammad, the Islamic prophet. The judicial system operates according to strict sharia (Islamic law).
It is a capital offence to leave Islam, although the sentence is not known to have been carried out in recent times. Only the Lord knows the number of Saudi nationals (converts from Islam) who are secret believers.
No non-Muslim public religious buildings are allowed. Christians among the many expatriates working in the kingdom are forbidden to make public display of their faith. They are permitted to gather in private for worship, but in practice these gatherings are subject to raids by the religious police.
Blasphemy also carries a potential death penalty, and blasphemy charges are used to supress free speech, including on social media.
The kingdom promotes its strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam worldwide and has provided massive financial support to Islamist groups abroad. Oil money is funnelled through various networks into dawa (Islamic mission) projects across the world.
Reforms are being introduced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. They include a reduction in powers of the religious police, an expansion in women’s rights, and the removal of some material in school textbooks which had taught intolerance of non-Muslims. In 2020 it was announced that flogging would no longer be used as a punishment for drinking alcohol or adultery, even though it is specified in the Quran.
There has also been an unofficial softening of the ban on marking Christmas and other holidays celebrated in the West. This has resulted in the unusual sight of Christmas trees and decorations openly on sale.
Give thanks for the steadfast faith of secret Saudi believers and expatriate Christians who hold fast to the Lord in spite of the difficulties they face. Ask that small reforms will lead to greater freedom of worship and that Muslims will be able to follow Christ without penalty.