Freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia

Emblem of Saudi Arabia.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Saudi Arabia
Basic Law
Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg Saudi Arabia portal

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic absolute monarchy in which Sunni Islam is the official state religion based on firm Sharia law. No law requires all citizens to be Muslim, but non-Muslims must practice their religion in private and are vulnerable to discrimination and deportation.[1] Children born to Muslim fathers are by law deemed Muslim, and conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy and punishable by death.[1] Blasphemy against Sunni Islam is also punishable by death, but the more common penalty is a long prison sentence.[1] According to the U.S. Department of State's 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom, there have been 'no confirmed reports of executions for either apostasy or blasphemy' between 1913 and 2013.[1]

Religious freedom is virtually non-existent.[2] The Government does not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it is severely restricted in practice. As a matter of policy, the Government guarantees and protects the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice; however, this right is not always respected in practice and is not defined in law.

The Saudi Mutaween (Arabic: مطوعين‎), or Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) was enforcing the prohibition on the public practice of non-Muslim religions, though its powers were significantly curtailed in April 2016. Sharia applies to all people inside Saudi Arabia, regardless of religion.

Religious demography

The country’s total land area is about 2,150,000 sq kilometers and the population is about 27 million, of whom approximately 19 million are citizens. The foreign population in the country, including many undocumented migrants, may exceed 12 million. Comprehensive statistics for the religious denominations of foreigners are not available, but they include Muslims from the various branches and schools of Islam, Christians (including Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics), Jews, more than 250,000 Hindus, more than 70,000 Buddhists, approximately 45,000 Sikhs, and others.[1]

Accurate religious demographics of citizens are difficult to obtain. A majority of Saudi citizens are Salafi Muslims, and the strict interpretation of Islam taught by the Salafi or Wahhabi (historically known as Sufyani in early Islam but now named as Salafi) sect is the only officially recognized religion. A minority of citizens are Shia Muslims. In 2006, they formed around 15% of the native population.[3] They live mostly in the eastern districts on the Persian Gulf (Qatif, Al-Hasa, Dammam), where they constitute approximately three-quarters of the native population, and in the western highlands of Arabia (districts of Jazan, Najran, Asir, Medina, Ta'if, and Hijaz). Muslims leaving Islam (apostasy) is punishable by death under the version of Islamic law adopted by the country, but, as of 2011 there had been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years, but the possibility of extrajudicial executions still remains.[1] According to a Gallup poll, 19% of Saudis are not religious and 5% are atheists.[4][5][6]