Today, Saudi Arabia has flung its doors wide open to visitors and tourists. It has also backed off on limiting what travelers can and can’t bring into the kingdom. With that in mind, I wondered if today Christians would be allowed to freely enter the kingdom with their bibles without having them confiscated as was the case in the past.
So, I made some inquiries here at the local Saudi immigration office. Here is what I discovered.
So, Can Christians Bring Their Bibles Into Saudi Arabia?
Today, Christians are permitted to bring bibles into Saudi Arabia without fearing confiscation as long as they are for personal use and not for distribution. However, public worship, preaching Christianity, and evangelistic activities promoting any other religion other than Islam are strictly prohibited.
Despite the change in attitude, residents and visitors to Saudi Arabia still live in fear that if they are caught possessing bibles they will be severely punished.
This is simply no longer the case.
I know from my own personal experience and the experiences of other Christians that they are free to carry personal copies of the Holy Bible.
However, serious problems will arise if you are caught carrying a number of bibles, and it is clear that your intention is to distribute copies of those bibles to other people with a view to converting them to Christianity.
Christians Are Allowed To Carry A Bible And Will Not Be Searched
I have lived in the kingdom for many years and have never encountered a Christian expat resident, a visitor, or tourist who had been searched and had their bible confiscated.
The simple fact is that in 99.99% of cases, it will not happen today especially with the recent opening of the country to mass tourism and the introduction of the Saudi tourist eVisa.
Read more about the Saudi tourist eVisa, what it is, who can get it, and how to apply in the following link The One-Stop Guide to the Saudi eVisa for Tourists.
The Rules And Expectation For Visitors To Saudi Arabia
The expectation and conditions for expat residents, visitors, and tourists in Saudi Arabia are that they
……abide by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic laws and regulations, respecting social values and traditions at all times. (Quote)Saudi Embassy Notice
This means that before arriving in KSA, visitors undertake to learn about the Islamic laws regulating public and social life in the kingdom and agree to respect local customs and traditions.
What Would Happen If I Bring Copies Of The Holy Bibles To KSA For The Purposes Of Distribution?
The Saudi government takes a dim view of foreigners using their time in Saudi Arabia to preach Christianity and involvement in any evangelistic activities either openly or in private social circles.
First, any quantities of bibles in your possession would be confiscated. Next, you would be detained, imprisoned, tried, fined, and then deported.
Your personal choice to practice as a Christian is fully respected in Saudi Arabia. However, the religious law in the country does not allow for the freedom to promote Christianity to others.
This means that openly sharing or inviting others to Christianity is not recognized nor is it a right protected by the law in the public realm.
In fact, preaching and evangelizing are severely restricted.
Today, this also includes spreading and inviting others to the various other schools of Islam other than the officially recognized one. Only government-sanctioned groups are allowed to do so.
The Punishment For Proselytizing About Christianity In Saudi Arabia
As a visitor to the kingdom, it is likely that you would be detained by the police, (not religious police) imprisoned for a few weeks, tried, fined, and deported back to your country of origin.
Why Is Preaching Christianity To Others Prohibited In Saudi Arabia?
According to the Islamic Sharia and state law, preaching Christianity to Muslims might lead them to apostatize, (give up their religion) an act which is punishable by death if he/she were not to recant.
Islam is the official state religion in the kingdom which is based on the Islamic Sharia law. Saudi citizens and by default their children are Muslim.
Those Muslims who intentionally leave Islam are considered apostates and under the Sharia law, leaving Islam is both socially unacceptable, and punishable by death.
Today, however, the Saudi state does not execute apostates, rather they imprison them for long periods. Saudi citizens and other non-Saudi Muslims are not free to change their religion.
However, expats and foreign Christian visitors are completely at liberty to practice their own religion in a personal way as long as they do NOT engage in activities that seek to persuade Muslims to change theirs.
What Happens To Muslims Who Convert To Christianity in Saudi Arabia?
There have been a few instances of Saudi Muslims who converted to Christianity. According to the Islamic Sharia, such individuals should receive capital punishment.
However, the state today does not execute individuals for the crime of apostasy. The punishment for leaving Islam is long-term imprisonment and a compulsory program of behavioral therapy.
In 2013, the Saudi government prosecuted, tried, and sentenced to lashings the men who assisted a Saudi woman in her conversion to Christianity.
Can Christians Build Churches in Saudi Arabia?
Until the present day, there are no functioning Christian churches in Saudi Arabia. The state prohibits them.
Christians are still expected to hold prayer meetings in the privacy of their own homes and not in public.
The CPVPV or Saudi religious police no longer carries out raids on Christians engaged in private prayer meetings in their homes as was the case in the past.
However, in 2018, I remember reading a number of press reports indicating that Christian churches were being planned for construction in the very near future.
Also, in 2018 the first Christian mass consisting of Egyptian Copts was held in Riyadh under the auspices of and in the presence of the Crown Prince Mohammed.
Christianity In Saudi Arabia Arrived Before Islam
Before Islam, Christianity existed in the kingdom. It came as a result of the old Arab merchants who had been in Jerusalem and had heard the Christian gospels preached there.
There are still remains of ancient Christian churches that once existed that were built between the 4th and 7th century AD.
One such example is the ancient Assyrian Jubail Church near Al Berri. Today, it is abandoned, fenced off, and mostly ignored except by a handful of Christian residents who continue to venture out to visit it.
|Church Address||GPS Coordinates|
|4th Century Assiriyan Church, Al Berri, Industrial Jubail||Google Maps Location|
Who Are The Christians In Saudi Arabia?
An official US report written in 2009 states that there are 1.8 million Christians living in Saudi Arabia.
Most of them are foreign expats; Filipinos (800,000) with the remainder being Indian, Arab, Asian, and Western.
It suggests that just under 5% of the 40 million people living in the kingdom are Christian.
I believe it is unlikely that these statistics are accurate. I have lived many years here and have met and come to know a lot of born Christians, but very few of them are practicing.
By contrast, in Egypt, it was easy for me to see and meet regular church-going Coptic Christians.
There they constitute about 15% of the total population of 102.3 million.
Are Christians Allowed To Celebrate Easter, Christmas and Saints Days In KSA?
Christians in Saudi Arabia are allowed to celebrate Easter, Christmas, and any other religious festival in the privacy of their homes.
It is no longer permissible for anyone to interfere with these practices as long as it occurs in private.
However, under the Islamic Sharia law and according to Saudi state law, Muslims are only allowed to participate in two annual celebrations.
They are Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. These events are sanctioned by the state and Muslim citizens, expats and visitors alike are allowed to celebrate these religious events in public or in at home.
To read about the two Islamic Eids and to understand the differences between the two, click through to inside Saudi’s How Are The Two Islamic Eids Different? -A Sheikh Weighs In
I am A Christian Living In Saudi Arabia And Want To Meet Up With Other Christians For Prayers And Worship. Can we?
Christians in the kingdom are free to meet up with other Christians for prayer and worship as long as they meet in private.
Until recently, religious Shaikhs actively discouraged Christian prayer meetings in the kingdom.
Also, the CPVPV or Saudi religious police would routinely carry out raids, detain and prosecute Christians known to be participating in prayer meet-ups.
In 2013, 53 Ethiopians were arrested DNA deported for praying together at a private residence.
Today, this is no longer the case. Mosque sermons are moderated and the powers of the CPVPV are almost non-existent.
To know why the CPCPV lost its powers in 2016, read inside Saudi’s What happened To The Mutawa Or The Saudi Religious Police?
Are Christians Harassed, Discriminated Against Or Killed For Being A Christian In KSA?
Religious minorities in the kingdom have never been harassed, persecuted, or killed. In the past, however, Christian religious activities were monitored and prosecuted by the state.
Today, ordinary Saudis and other Muslims treat Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious denominations with equality and the utmost respect.
I have asked many Saudis whether religion affects his/her treatment of non-Muslims.
In every case, they all answer that a person’s religion should not determine how he should be treated rather it is his/her individual behavior and personality that determines their treatment of them.
The Saudis who responded would like it very much if the non-Muslim converted to Islam. However, they were unanimous in the belief that non-Muslims should be treated respectfully and not discriminated against just because they are not Muslim.
References And Useful Links
Visa Types and Conditions Of Use-Saudi Embassy.net
Freedom Of Religion In Saudi Arabia–Wikipedia
Christianity In Saudi Arabia-Wikipedia
The First Christian Mass Held in Saudi Arabia– The Arab Weekly!