Freedom of Religion in Saudi Arabia

Article Index

The US International Religious Freedom Report 
for 2001 was released on October 26, 2001.

  • Saudi Arabia. Freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia: 
  • "Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including non-Muslim materials, such as Bibles and religious videotapes.In certain areas, both the Mutawwa'in (religious police) and religious vigilantes acting on their own harassed, assaulted, and detained citizens and foreigners.  Some members of the Shi'a minority continued to face institutionalized political and economic discrimination, including restrictions on the practice of their faith. 
  • Under Shari'a conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, a crime punishable by death if the accused does not recant.  The Government also discriminates against Shi'a in higher education through unofficial restrictions on the number of Shi'a admitted to universities."
  • Sudan as a "country of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
  • Iran as a "country of particular concern."
  • Iraq as a "country of particular concern."
  • Afghanistan, as a "particularly severe violator" of religious freedom. 

What the report said on: 

Saudi Arabia

International Religious Freedom Report 
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 
October 2001 

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy without legal protection for freedom of religion, and such protection does not exist in practice.  Islam is the official religion, and all citizens are Muslims.  Based on its interpretation of the hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, the Government prohibits the public practice of non-Muslim religions.  The Government recognizes the right of non-Muslims to worship in private; however, the distinction between public and private worship is not clearly defined, and at times the Government does not respect in practice the right to private worship.

There generally was no change in the status of religious freedom during the period covered by this report; however, the number of arrests for public worship of other religions decreased compared with the previous period.  Freedom of non-Muslims to worship privately has received increasing attention and respect in recent years through published interviews with government officials and press articles that addressed the subject in the context of human rights; however, the right to private worship still is restricted.  The Government has stated publicly that its policy is to protect the right of non-Muslims to worship privately; however, it does not provide explicit guidelines for determining what constitutes private worship, which makes distinctions between public and private worship unclear.  Such lack of clarity, as well as instances of arbitrary enforcement by the authorities, force most non-Muslims to worship in such a manner as to avoid discovery by the Government or others.

Members of the Shi'a minority continued to face institutionalized political and economic discrimination, including restrictions on the practice of their faith.  However, the Government lifted the requirement that Shi'a obtain advance permission to travel to Iran, thus effectively allowing them to visit religious sites in Iran without prior notice.

The overwhelming majority of citizens support an Islamic state and oppose public non-Muslim worship.  There is societal discrimination against adherents of the Shi'a minority.

Senior U.S. government officials and members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom raised the issue of religious freedom with the Government on numerous occasions during the period covered by this report.