December 2009

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Saudi Arabia: Islam’s Foundation

by Dr. Patricia Depew

Mohammed (A.D. 570-632), the founder of Islam, united large areas of what is now Saudi Arabia. This became the location of Islam’s holiest shrines, the Ka’bah, an important shrine that Muslims believe was originally built by Adam in Mecca. All Muslims also revere Mohammed’s mosque in Medina, Islam’s second holy city. Mecca and Medina are both essential places Muslims go on their Haj, a required pilgrimage. By the end of the 7th Century, tribal conflicts tore Islamic “unity” apart in Arabia. In 1902, Abd al-‘Aziz Al Saud fought to recapture his Saud family’s home of Riyadh, and by 1932 he united most of Arabia giving it the name “Saudi Arabia.” The Islamic Shariah Law became and remains the governing rule and constitution of the country. Abd Saud died in 1953, and his sons have continued to rule with Abdullah being the current King. His son, Faisal, implemented a program of industrialization and social welfare; Khalid allowed foreign labor into the country, and under Fahd (1975-82) Saudi kings were officially given the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.”

Economics

Saudi’s population of 28,700,000 people includes about six million foreigners. In the past, the Kingdom was financially dependent on the massive number of Muslims who went to Mecca for the Haj pilgrimage. Recently the government hired English architects to renovate and expand Mecca to meet the high demands of pilgrims.Since the 1930s, the country has been a major oil producer. It is estimated that a quarter of the world’s oil and gas resources are located in the Kingdom. Oil exports now account for up to 90 per cent of its total earnings. Saudi Arabia’s banking, stock exchange and international investment are growing. Despite their harsh climate, they have developed their resources to meet their food demands and expanded the export of fish. Increased population growth and the global recession has caused the Kingdom to face serious problems with declining job availability and increased poverty.

Oppression of the Weak

Muslims believe Shariah Law is sanctioned by Allah Himself, and it is intended to affect every aspect of life. Nowhere on earth is it taken more seriously or more legalistically than in Saudi Arabia. For example, Shariah Law requires women to dress modestly. In Saudi Arabia they require women to completely cover themselves with black robes and veils with one long open slot to see through. Guardians, which can be fathers, husbands or other family males, almost always make the decisions for the woman in regard to marriage, employment and education. They must accompany the woman when they are in public. Women are forbidden from driving because it might require them to partially uncover their faces and it would take them away from household duties. Women are rarely allowed to give testimony in court because they are believed by Saudi men to be “emotional and forgetful.” Women are especially vulnerable if assaulted or raped. Their testimony is considered to be “presumption.” But the testimony of a man, even the attackers, is considered in Saudi Arabia to be a “fact.” Sometimes victims of rape are punished because they violated laws regarding being with unrelated males. Physical and verbal domestic violence is a major problem, because according to Shariah Law, beating a woman is not “socially shameful.” Segregation for women is required in all public places. This restrictive life is one that most Saudi women accept as normal. There are some rural areas that have less restriction.

Children can be jailed for minor offenses, including vague “morals” charges, and can face beatings and solitary confinement. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Social Affairs can detain children indefinitely if they feel the child needs more “guidance.” Child marriages are allowed on the grounds that Mohammed married a nine-year-old girl. Children who are victims of human trafficking face terrible hardships and are often arrested, detained or deported for begging or lack of legal residency. Saudi youth are restless because of tight social restrictions.

There are many foreigners who find their work in Saudi Arabia to be satisfactory. Unfortunately, there are also those who have been subjected to abusive working conditions, long hours, sexual violence, and unpaid wages. In an effort to stop the abuse, the government has run several television ads to persuade the employers to treat their workers as human beings, not slaves. Some government ads have showed workers in chains eating from dog dishes.

Saudi Arabia has no freedom of religion. The state religion is Islam and all citizens are required to be Muslims. The small number of Saudi believers usually communicate in Internet chat rooms and at secret meetings. If caught, they can be executed. Under the influence of the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam, the Saudi government does not allow the expression, proselytizing, and unrestricted meetings of any other religion. Bibles and other Christian materials are prohibited. The country is known for having the world’s worst record on human rights. Foreign Christians are allowed to meet at registered church meetings held at embassies. To even enter, they are required to show their passport.

Saudi Arabia and Terrorism

Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 by Saudi Arabia’s Osama bin Laden with the purpose of advancing an Islamic revolution and repelling foreign intervention in the Middle East. Those he views as “enemies of Islam” include Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, insufficiently devout Sunnis and all Shi’ite Muslims. He vociferously opposed the stationing of U.S. and other foreign troops in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War in 1990-91. This was a major reason he began to campaign against the Saudi royal family. He accuses them of corruption and lack of adherence to the Islamic faith because they allowed non-Muslim soldiers to enter that “holy” country. The family (House of Saud) consists of 7,000 princes, many of whom are internationally known to drink and gamble outside their country and in their private domains.

The Saudi government deported Bin Laden in 1992 and revoked his citizenship in 1994. Yet there are many Saudis that support Bin Laden’s cause. This allowed him to develop Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization that has been responsible for attacks in Washington DC, New York, London, Madrid, Bali Island, Algeria and the Saudi city of Riyadh. Al Qaeda has inspired numerous new terrorists groups that have adopted their philosophies.

The Saudi monarchy has implemented steps to suppress Al Qaeda. They have arrested and tried to rehabilitate 600 suspected Al Qaeda members. They have attempted to curb terrorist financing and tried to monitor Islamic “charities” which are actually fronts for violent organizations. They have made efforts to quiet advocates of extremism in mosques and in the media. The Saudi government has given orders to delete passages in school textbooks that criticize non-Muslims.

To protect its borders from terrorists and weapon smuggling, the country has installed a complete system of fences and electronic monitoring along its 560-mile northern border with Iraq. Recently they contracted to do the same along its southern border with Yemen. King Abdullah indicates that he supports slight democratic reform, reducing the power of the clerics, peaceful coexistence with nonbelievers, and more freedom for the Shi’ite minority. Abdullah clearly has opposition from some of Saudi Arabia’s clerics and also from his half-brother, Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Nayef is a strong supporter of the secret Islamic police, and believes there should be a crackdown on Saudi liberals. He may succeed the ailing King Abdullah, which would probably diminish Abdullah’s reforms.

Let’s Pray!
Stand firm and diligent in praying for the many needs of the Saudi peoples, remembering God loves them. Remember that nothing is impossible for Him!


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Saudi Arabia is the land where Islam began. Today it is the key flashpoint for Sunni Islam. All Muslims are required to go to the Saudi Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina once during their life times. Nowhere on the planet will one find people who are as fervent about Islam as are found in Saudi Arabia.

This fervency spells out in some very unpleasant ways. Any Saudi who turns from Islam is branded an “apostate” and can be jailed or even killed. The gospel has made very little impact there. Using the Koran as an excuse, some Saudis have demonstrated unspeakable cruelty to the women, children and immigrants in their midst. Again, using the Koran as an excuse, some Saudi nationals like Osama Bin Laden have resorted to acts of terrorism. To make matters worse, the Saudi government is using oil money, earned by selling petroleum to na├»ve Western nations, to build mosques and Islamic schools throughout the world. These establishments are strongholds of Wahhabism, an extreme Islamic reform movement being exported by the Saudis. Yet in Saudi Arabia, non-Islamic religious establishments are sequestered to embassies. I must admit, it’s hard for me to have a positive attitude about people who offer so much injustice and oppression.

It would be very easy to think that the Saudis are unreachable and to write them off. But then we must remember that the gospel penetrated even more difficult people. My Irish Celtic ancestors were once pagan head-hunters and cannibals before they were reached by St. Patrick. After turning to Christ en masse, they later became Europe’s key missionary force. Should we not pray that today’s difficult peoples like the Saudis will some day embrace the Savior and spread His Name throughout the world?