The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.
In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.
An Imam from the Grand Mosque in Makkah struck another blow for religious freedom recently. He preached in east London, barely 50 kilometers from the Anglican Church's holiest site, the tomb of St Thomas A Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
Sudais Leads Prayers for Inter-Faith Peace and Harmony
12 June 2004 — One of the imams of the Grand Mosque in Makkah led prayers for inter-faith peace and harmony in London yesterday..............Around 10,000 worshippers gathered at the East London Mosque, and surrounding streets in the city’s Whitechapel district to hear Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, organizers said.
Needless to say, the English Religious Police (the "Bobbawa") soon swooped onto him and his infidel followers. He was consigned to Newgate Jail, infamous home to the dregs of London's criminal underclass, to be suspended from chains and have the soles of his feet beaten. His 10,000 infidel followers were rounded up and immediately deported to their country of origin. Said David Blunkett, the UK's dreaded Minister of the Interior, "Foreigners must realize that they are guests in this country, and this country is home to the Anglican Church's most sacred site. Her Majesty is Custodian of the Holy Cathedral. We will therefore not permit any form of religious observance other than that of the Church of England. No Muslim, Hindu or Buddist will be permitted to enter any church, or travel into the City of Canterbury. Catholics and Orthodox will be permitted, as long as they don't do any of that "sign of the cross" or "Hail Mary" stuff. Anyone seen hanging prayer beads from their rear-view mirror will be immediately deported. We respect the right of all religions to carry out their religious practices, as long as they do it in their own home, and in groups of no more than two. No Qurans, or religious books from other religions, may be imported. And to the hostile press that are always attacking our society and cultural values, I say, five hundred years ago we would have burnt all infidels at the stake. We are now much more tolerant".
I offer this little piece of irony in the certain knowledge that our rulers and religious leaders would never "get it". It seems to them perfectly normal to be able to finance a Mosque in London's Regents Park, or Washington, or Rome, yet not see the double standard they operate. To summarize on the state of Religious Freedom in Saudi Arabia:
(for a good summary see
Saudi Arabia International Religious Freedom Report
1. Islam is the official and only religion in the country.
2. All Saudi citizens are by definition Muslims.
3. Anyone renouncing Islam is an Apostate. Apostacy is punishable by the death sentence. (Which is why we discourage our rebellious teenagers from going around saying "Hey, I'm not sure about this religion thing...etc." It could be Hazardous to Health. Better just to keep quiet.)
4. Shia Muslims are just about tolerated, as long as they don't carry out their particular practices such as self-flagellation. In practice they, and indeed the Eastern province where they mostly live, suffer a variety of forms of discrimination.
5. No non-Muslim public worship is permitted. It is permitted in private, as long as it is not "obvious" (in practice, any "gathering" is dangerous.)
6. Religious symbols such as crosses, stars, are forbidden (and obviously these days are bad for the health).
7. No non-Muslim may enter any mosque.
8. No non-Muslim may enter the cities of Makkah and Madinah. (However there is one unpublicized exception. Our national bus company, SAPTCO, runs Mercedes buses. Naturally, being a nation of managers and civil servants, we haven't learnt to maintain them ourselves. So we import German mechanics. What happens when a bus breaks down in one of those cities? We send in an infidel German mechanic to fix it, under cover of darkness. We Saudis are not stupid. If we didn't, then over time, years, perhaps decades, every SAPTCO bus in the country would eventually end up broken down in Makkah or Madinah. We wouldn't be able to get them out. Imagine the congestion. Then all the beggars and overstayers would go and live in them.)
9. The Muttawa protect our religious values by looking for symbols of infidel idolatry and symbolism being sold in shops. They have lots of fun around Christmas and St Valentines Day. (But they missed the "St Paul's Cathedral" jigsaw in Al Shegrey Bookstore, because I bought it!) However for $10 you can always buy a cheap-and-nasty plastic mosque alarm clock, that wakes you up with a muezzin call. Somehow, that's not "symbolism".
10. Any foreigners bringing in Bibles, Prayer Books, Crucifixes, Rosary Beads, Icons or similar will have them confiscated by Customs.
11. Foreign workers must give their passport to their employer for keeping. In return they get a residency permit, the Iqama. The Iqama of a Muslim is green, that for an infidel purple. I kid you not. This color scheme was obviously designed with future events in mind. Now terrorist captives are color-coded for easy selection of murder victims.
When asked about our religious intolerance, our leaders will always defend the indefensible with some fatuous statement like "Well, would you expect the Pope to allow a mosque in the Vatican?". The Vatican is 70% of the size of the Mall in Washington, and full of buildings, but never let the facts get in the way of a stupid debating point.
Saudi Arabia is, you will gather, unique in this respect. Go to any other Muslim country, and you find churches and temples, even synagogues. Just at the "end of the pier", in Bahrain, there are churches. They have guided parties for anyone, around the Grand Mosque, and take the view that it helps people understand Islam, may even bring in some converts. But then, the Bahrainis are more sensible than we are. They have votes and free speech and stuff.
So how do religious expats manage? If they are lucky to be in the right place, they may be able to attend services. It is rumored that these take place within foreign embassies and military bases. In other cases, they find some other outlet. I was once driving thru Riyadh with a western colleague, when he announced that he was going to turn right at "St Joseph's". "St Joseph's?", I asked. After some slight embarrassment, he explained that he amused himself by giving "church" names to Riyadh's mosques. "St Joseph's" was a mosque by a road intersection, just like one in his home town. "Sacre Coeur" was a white mosque on a bit of a hill, just like in Paris. "St Patrick's" was a big downtown mosque. Some of the names were more fanciful. I liked the sound of "Our Lady of the Desert". "Saudi Martyrs" was a bit ambiguous. The "Cathedral Church of Saint Abdullah" was plain silly. However it kept him sane; we all need something like that.
Clearly, I believe that we should have full religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. Let's try and be normal, just like the rest of the world. But we could do it in such a way that we still preserve our cultural heritage. Like Religious Policemen. Obviously we should keep those, otherwise this blog will have no further reason to exist. And Religious Policemen from different religions will introduce some diversity.
Quaker Religious Policemen won't tell you off. They'll just come and stand alongside you, waiting until the spirit moves one of you to say something.
Jewish Religious Policemen will correct you, but they'll start with a joke about their Mother.
Catholic Religious Policemen will be quite tough, especially if it's Sunday Morning and you haven't gone to Mass. They won't let you go until you buy a dozen raffle tickets.
Anglican (Episcopalian) Religious Policemen, on the other hand, will be quite lax. They'll say things like "Hey, if it's cool with you, it's cool with me".
Mormon Religious Policemen will be easily recognized. They will be two young men with dark suits, short haircuts and briefcases. They will tell you off, once they've said what nice children you have.
Asalaamu alaikum, Peace be with you, God Bless you and yours.