During the Muslim prayer month of Ramadan, the pressure on secret believers in Saudi Arabia is more intense than usual. Ahmed* tells how expectations, especially from family members, can lead to uncomfortable situations and a greater risk to his safety.
In the strict Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia prayer and fasting is expected from all Saudis during in Ramadan. Even foreigners with other religious backgrounds are not allowed to eat or drink in public during Ramadan. Doing so is seen as provocative and disrespectful.
For Ahmed, who recently became a Christian, Ramadan is just a ‘cultural event now’. If possible, he tries to avoid visiting mosques to pray altogether. This isn’t a great risk, since there are millions of Saudis who don’t worship in them regularly. However, sometimes it is inevitable, so Ahmed secretly prays to Jesus while performing the rituals.
Before he became a Christian he was a student of Islam. Because of this religious knowledge his family, who do not know about his new faith, often asks him to lead their daily prayers when he is at home. He says the situation makes him ‘uncomfortable and awkward’ but the risk of declining is too great.
The handful of Saudis who have converted to Christianity usually keep their faith hidden. Converting from Islam brings great shame on a family and if discovered Christians risk excommunication, imprisonment and even honour killings. Believers like Ahmed typically keep a low profile and are very careful when they witness to others. But eventually most of them leave Saudi Arabia to live somewhere which is more tolerant of their new faith.
Nevertheless, their numbers are growing and they are sharing their faith publicly, despite the serious consequences.
Saudi Arabia is number 12 on the Open Doors World Watch List. The government maintains a strict Islamic system that treats Christians as second-class citizens. Places of worship are denied to non-Islamic religions. Migrant Christians (from India, Philippines and Africa) who meet for worship or share their faith with Muslims risk detention and deportation.
*Name changed for security reasons