This AP story chronicles a common sight in Saudi Arabia: “a sweep by the muttawas, or religious police, rounding up Muslim men — Saudis and foreigners alike — and forcing them to go to the mosque at prayer time.”
Meanwhile, the article states the plight of non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia with unusual clarity: “Under Saudi law, all citizens must be Muslim. Non-Muslim foreigners sometimes get caught up in the muttawa sweeps.”
A Christian friend of mine who worked in Saudi Arabia for awhile once told me that he would routinely have to hide when one of the five daily prayer times came around — if the muttawas caught him on the street, he would be jailed.
“The kingdom forbids non-Muslim public worship among the country’s estimated 7 million expatriate workers, around half a million of whom are Christian. The kingdom also prohibits non-Muslim religious literature and public display of the symbols of other religions.
“Larry, 39, a computer programmer from the Philippines who gave only his first name, said he had been jailed for a day on three different occasions, including once for possessing a Bible. . . .
“In January, at least half a dozen Christian Filipinos were deported, after the muttawas found them holding religious gatherings, a diplomat in the kingdom said on condition of anonymity. Several others reportedly were arrested and deported in sweeps in 1998 and 1999 for similar reasons, including distributing Christian literature in Arabic.”
Why does Saudi Arabia forbid Christian worship? This prohibition is founded on the Prophet Muhammad’s famous deathbed statement that “no two religions are allowed in Arabia.” Muhammad also said, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.” How can Saudis offer non-Muslims the freedom to practice their religions on sacred Arabian soil when the Prophet himself forbade it?