Alpine Summit

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Saudi Arabia and Islam

I was reading up a bit on the state of affairs in the Middle East as it pertains to religious freedom, and came across the statement that any religion other than Islam is prohibited in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is almost entirely desert and contains 25 percent of the world's known oil reserves. The capital city is Riyadh. Mecca, the holy city of Islam, is also located here. Saudi Arabia is committed to its role as custodian of Islam and its holiest sites. All religions other than Islam, including expatriate Christian gatherings, are prohibited.

Surely a friend of the United States, a predominantly Christian country, would not be so hostile towards other faiths? Well according to the State Department, it is.

The government does not provide legal protection for freedom of religion, and such protection did not exist. Islam is the official religion, and Islamic law as interpreted by the government requires that all citizens be Muslims. Government leaders called for tolerance and moderation, and King Abdullah and other leaders made public pronouncements condemning religious extremism.

So while it is required that citizens be Muslims, non-Muslims should be tolerated. What is interesting is how the current Christian viewpoint (indeed, the Christian viewpoint in America for the past 200+ years) is that one cannot truly come to God without being free to do so (since love cannot be compelled). The thinking goes that one committed to finding the truth will come to Christ after looking at faith objectively. So it begs the question, why do Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia keep such a tight leash on its citizens concerning their religious beliefs? Could it be the only way to preserve the Islamic majority found in these countries is to suppress all other belief systems? If Islam was the only true religion, then school teachers would not have to drill that statement into its first graders' heads. Not only that, but the government would not take an official endorsement of religion.

A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government's statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the "monotheists") and unbelievers (the "polytheists" and "infidels").

This indoctrination begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in a 12th-grade text instructing students that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to "spread the faith."

In some ways I'm glad that there are people like New Age Humanists in my country. Though I would wish they find Christ, it is the simple fact that they are allowed to practice their beliefs freely--something not found in many countries throughout the world--that makes me proud to be part of this country. While many other places such as Mauritania and other "less influential" Muslim countries are more tolerant of other faiths, they still have some kind of caveat or addendum attached to their form of "religious freedom." This is typically characterized by the "no proselytizing" rule and others that prop up Islam while denouncing or suppressing any other faiths.

Muslims may defend their respective countries by saying that there are no specific laws in Muslim countries prohibiting worship in other faiths, but when looking at the application of the law, the story is much more different. Instances of harassment, deportation, and imprisonment without habeas corpus are found in many Muslim countries--including Mauritania, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and others. If Islam really is the one true religion, then shouldn't it be able to stand against other belief systems by its own merits and not by the suppression of other belief systems?