In Saudi Arabia, the state creates and maintains a strict Islamic system that treats Christians as second-class citizens. Islam is the only recognized religion. In fact, no other religion can have a place of worship. Consequently, Christians must gather in utter secrecy, if they gather at all.
Saudi Arabia opened its doors to tourists for the first time with the launch of a tourist e-visa on 27 September, but Christian visitors should be aware that displaying a Bible in public, or taking more than one Bible into the country, could place them at risk of arrest.
The new regulations for tourists state that a Bible may be brought into the country provided it is for personal use only. Bibles must not be displayed in public and anyone found bringing a large number of Bibles will face “severe penalties,” according to the Barnabus Fund.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and it is impossible for anyone living in the country to openly practise Christianity. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians from other nations, such as the Philippines, other parts of Asia, or African countries, who are living and working in Saudi Arabia. But they must meet in private homes to worship, and risk harassment, arrest and deportation if they are caught doing so. Saudi citizens who convert to Christianity face risk of execution by the state for apostasy if their conversion becomes known.
“The new regulations for tourists state that a Bible may be brought into the country provided it is for personal use only,” the statement said. “Bibles must not be displayed in public and anyone found bringing a large number of Bibles will face ‘severe penalties.’”
Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamist country that forbids anyone from converting to Christianity. Citizens discovered as Christians may face execution by the state for apostasy. Christians from other nations who live in the country worship privately at home at risk of being arrested or deported if caught.
Recently, Saudi Arabia launched a new visa to encourage tourism in the country and avoid heavy dependence on the oil industry, according to the Christian Post. Women who travel to the country do not have to adhere to the country’s strict dress code, but they are expected to dress modestly.
“We have a culture. We believe our friends and our guests will respect the culture, but definitely, it is modest and it will be very clear,” said Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmad al-Khateeb to BBC.
Visas were previously only given to those on business, seeking religious pilgrimage or expatriate workers. Women are also allowed to travel to the country unaccompanied with a man.
Despite its hope to bring in foreigners, Saudi Arabia still ranks as the 15th worst country for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA, a nonprofit persecution watchdog group.
“Legally, Muslim husbands can beat and divorce their wives if it’s discovered she has turned from Islam. Husbands can also take away her children and forbid her from seeing them,” the group said. “Consequently, Saudi converts, especially women, often keep their conversion secret and follow Jesus in isolation—forced to go through the motions of Muslim beliefs while holding tight to Jesus in their hearts.”