Religious Freedom in Saudi Arabia
The government of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Basic Law do not recognize or protect freedom of religion in the country, and all citizens are subject to the government’s strict Hanbali interpretation of sharia law. Since the establishment of the Saudi state, the Al Saud family has promoted Wahhabism, a strict brand of Sunni Islam, as the only official religion. Despite a substantial Shi’a minority in the southern provinces and the presence of non-Muslims throughout the kingdom, the government does not guarantee Shi’as and other religious minorities the right to worship privately. Religious minorities often practice their religion in the privacy of their homes, but the religious police unit has disrupted these ceremonies in the past. Certain Shi’a judges are allowed to operate in the south, but Shi’as face routine discrimination in higher education and the legal system. Both blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death, though there have been no confirmed executions recently for either crime. In the last decade, King Abdullah rhetorically supported religious pluralism in Saudi Arabia as part of broader modernization efforts to restore Saudi Arabia’s international image. In 2003, Saudi Arabia began hosting a series of “National Dialogue” sessions aimed at promoting religious pluralism in the kingdom. Consequently, the religious police lost the power to interrogate suspects, and the official school curriculum has been modified. The conservative religious establishment opposed these changes and, so far, King Abdullah's attitude has not translated into substantive policy changes. Despite these concessions, Saudi Arabia remains stringent in its interpretation and enforced practice of Islam. The religious authorities continue to implement harsh punishments for violations of religious norms, including stoning, cutting off of appendages for theft, and flogging or whipping.