No religious freedom for minorities in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has Sunni Islam as the official religion of the country. The legal system is based on the Hanabali School of Islamic Jurisprudence. Things like ‘Black Magic’ and calling for ‘Atheist Thought’ or calling into question the ‘Islamic Religion’ has been criminalized.

As per the Religious Freedom Report, 2014, “The government sentenced to death at least one prominent Shia cleric and arrested several individuals who publicly criticized discrimination against Shia citizens. The government have detained individuals on charges of violating Sharia, committing blasphemy, sowing discord in society, and insulting Islam”.

The report also states that since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

The country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad). There is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom. Conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy, which legally can be punishable by death, though Saudi courts have not issued a death sentence for apostasy in recent years.

As per July 2014 data collected by US state department, total population of the country is around 27.3 million out of which 85 to 90 percent of citizens are Sunni Muslims while Shia constitute 10 to 15 percent of the citizen population.

All citizens are required to be Muslim. Non-Muslims and many foreign and Saudi Muslims whose religious practices differ from the government preference, practice their religion in private and are vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, detention while noncitizens are deported from the country

The discrimination against Shia’s in employment opportunities is done commonly so much so that Shia’s don’t want to reveal their identity as it can negatively affect their careers. A very small number of Shia, occupy high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.

The government did not legally permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services. Entry restrictions in the country make it difficult for non-Muslims to maintain regular contact with resident lay clergy.

Religious literature of any kind other Islamic literature as recognized by Saudi Arabian state is not permitted but since a substantial Christian population lives there, ‘Bible’ is allowed to be carried only if it is not in Arabic language because Bible in Arabic language is looked suspiciously as a tool to secretly convert the Muslim population into Christianity.

During the time of Ramadan, even Non-Muslims have to do fast and if they are caught eating in public it is considered a punishable offense. The foreign population is around one-third of the total population. Non-Muslims are required to convert to Islam to be eligible to get naturalized as citizens while Non-Muslim children studying in private schools are required to study ‘Islamic Civilization’.

As per government policy, non-Muslims are prohibited from being buried in the country. In totality, the discrimination against non-Sunni population who does not follow Wahabi form of Islam is justified theologically and is done institutionally.

On a whole, Saudi Arabia is not a nice place for minorities to live because they are expected to live their life as per the Islamic traditions and customs guided by Sharia law.

When there is no freedom to follow your own beliefs, customs and traditions then the situation becomes problematic. India has a large expatriate population living in Saudi Arabia which accounts to around 3 million. This population is a big contributor to India’s GDP as they send a lot of money back to their families in India.

The kind of brutal discrimination and repression faced by them show a larger picture of the treatment of minority groups as a whole in the country. The time has come for the international organizations to look into the matter and ensure the safety of minorities in Saudi Arabia.

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