Saudi Arabia has made unprecedented strides toward religious tolerance just a year after its young new ruler pledged to bring more moderate Islam to the Sunni kingdom.
After a visit to the capital city of Riyadh last week, US officials reported the country has reformed its religious police—once tasked with enforcing shari’ah law on the streets and in homes—and has instituted new government programs to quash extremism.
“I was surprised by the pace of change in the country. It reminded me of the verse at the end of Book of Job which says, ‘My ears had heard … but now my eyes have seen,’” said US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioner Johnnie Moore, who has also served as an unofficial liaison between evangelical leaders and the Trump White House.
“It was the first time I have ever thought to myself, Wow, we could actually see religious freedom in Saudi. This is possible.”
Moore represents the highest-profile evangelical leader to meet with the Saudi government since 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans last October to return the restrictive Muslim country to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” The USCIRF official formerly worked with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s campaign to aid persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Fewer than 5 percent of the 32 million people living in Saudi Arabia are Christians, according to Pew Research, and the kingdom ranks No. 12 among countries where it is hardest to follow Jesus, according to Open Doors. Likewise the State Department, at USCIRF’s recommendation, has designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” since 2004 due to its egregious religious freedom violations.
The government still does not sanction churches or any form public worship by non-Muslims, but progress is being made toward allowing private worship and protecting the rights of minority faiths.
Read more at Christianity Today.