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Q: saudi arabia ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: saudi arabia
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: dprk007-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 29 Jun 2005 21:02 PDT
Expires: 29 Jul 2005 21:02 PDT
Question ID: 538603
In Saudi Arabia , What percentage of it citizens are non-muslim?
If a Saudi Muslim stopped practising his religion, or declared himself
herself a lapsed muslim, or converted to another religion or declared
themselves atheists would there be repercussions and what would they
Saudi Arabia has a large expat population. What facilities exist to allow 
any non-muslim members of the expat community to practise their religion?

Subject: Re: saudi arabia
Answered By: hagan-ga on 30 Jun 2005 11:45 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello dprk007.  

Saudi Arabia is officially an Islamic state.  You ask, "What
percentage of its citizens are non-muslim?"  And the official answer
to that is simple:  None.  Saudi law requires ALL its citizens to be
International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

But you appear to be interested in the residents of Saudi Arabia as a
whole, not just its citizens.  The population of Saudi Arabia is
approximately 24 million, of which 6 to 7 million are foreigners.  Of
that 6 to 7 million, approximately 1.4 million are Indian; 1 million
are Bangladeshi; .9 million are Pakistani; .8 million are Filipino; 1
million are Egyption and Palestinian; 150,000 are Lebanese; 130,000
are Sri Lankan; 40,000 are Eritrean; and 30,000 are American.
International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

According to the International Religious Freedom Report, statistics on
the religious breakdown of the foreign population are not available. 
This is probably the result of it being against the law in Saudi
Arabia for non-Muslims to worship in public, and there is substantial
harassment and official discouragement of non-Muslim worship even in
private.  More on that later.  We can, however, make educated
estimates.  Note that a good proportion of the foreigners in Saudi
Arabia are from other states that also impose Islam as the state
religion.  Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Egypt all declare Islam to be the
state religion and are Muslim by a vast, vast majority.
Bangladesh is 88 percent Muslim (
Pakistan is 97 percent Muslim (
Egypt is 90 percent Muslim (

India, the largest contributor of foreign workers to Saudi Arabia, is
majority Hindu but has a substantial (12%) Muslim minority.

The Report indicates that 90 percent of the Filipino population of
Saudi Arabia is Christian.  It also indicates that the US Conference
of Catholic Bishops believes that there are between .5M and 1M
Catholics in Saudi Arabia.  Since most Filipinos (85%) are, indeed,
Catholic, this would make sense -- 90% of the Filipino population of
.8M would give you 720,000 Catholics, in line with both the Report and
the Catholic Bishops.  (See

Lebanon's religious makeup is controversial, and depends in part on
whether you consider Druze to be "true Muslim" or not.  If you count
Druze as Muslim, Lebanon is about 70% Muslim.
If you don't, it's about 40%.  

Sri Lanka is about 7% Muslim.

Eritrea is about 50% Muslim.

If we make the assumption that the expat population of Saudi Arabia is
roughly of similar makeup to their home countries' population as a
whole, that gives us:
Bangladesh: 880,000 Muslims
Pakistan: 873,000 Muslims
Egyptian/Palestinian: 900,000 Muslims
India: 168,000 Muslims
Lebanon: 60,000 non-Druze Muslims
Eritrea: 20,000 Muslims
U.S. negligible -- most estimates place the Muslim population of the
U.S. below 1%.

Accordingly, of the 6-7M expats in Saudi Arabia, nearly half -- some
2.9M -- are themselves Muslim.  Doing the math (24M total population,
4.1M non-Muslim), about 83% of the Saudi Arabian population (including
foreigners) is Muslim.

Your second question -- would there be repercussions if a Saudi Muslim
renounced Islam -- is easier to answer.  Emphatically, yes.  It is
called "apostasy," and is punishable by death.
Amesty International reports that people have been executed in Saudi
Arabia for apostasy as recently as 1992, and for "magic and
witchcraft" as recently as 1996.

However, the death sentence has not been imposed for apostasy in
several years.  Instead, convicted apostates have been sentenced to as
many as 300 lashes.

Finally, you ask what facilities exist to allow non-Muslims to
practice their religion.  Again, easy answer -- none.  It is unlawful
for non-Muslims to practice their religion in public.
Again, from the State Department report:
"The Government prohibits public non-Muslim religious activities.
Non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing,
deportation, and sometimes torture for engaging in religious activity
that attracts official attention."

Officially, non-Muslims are permitted to worship in private.  However,
in practice, that still carries significant risk.  First, it is nearly
impossible for non-Muslims to obtain or import religious items such as
Bibles.  It is unlawful to distribute them within the country.

Second, the definition of "private" is deliberately left vague.  Saudi
Arabia deploys religious police, or "mutawwain," specifically to
enforce religious restrictions.  If those mutawwain discover
non-Muslim religious observance, they punish it -- without regard to
where it is taking place.  For example, Human Rights Watch reports
that eleven foreigners were arrested and detained for practicing their
religion in their homes.  Once arrested and detained, harsh punishment
can be assumed -- torture and beatings are routine in Saudi jails.

The mutawwain are so zealous about enforcing religious dictates that
they prevented schoolgirls from fleeing a burning building -- because
the girls were not wearing the required abayas and head coverings. 
Fifteen girls died as a result, and more than 50 were injured.,,7-383044,00.html

I hope you found this information helpful and interesting.  Let me
know if I can provide any further assistance.
dprk007-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
First apologies for not getting back to you earlier. (I had some
"technical problems" with my credit card)
The answer you gave was succinct and answered my questions precisely.
While others may disagree I believe the information you have provided
me with would make Saudi Arabia the most totalitarian society on this
It would make the Iraq of Saddam Hussein and modern day Iran look like like 
liberal paradises (At least Mr Hussein's Iraq was a secular society
with his foreign minister Tariq Assise a practising Roman Catholic
even though Saddam  himself was a despot)

Subject: Re: saudi arabia
From: politicalguru-ga on 29 Jun 2005 22:04 PDT
Dear Dprk, 

This might answer the second part of your question: 
How many synagogues are there in Saudi Arabia? 
Subject: Re: saudi arabia
From: hagan-ga on 01 Jul 2005 12:12 PDT
Dprk, thank you for the kind comments and the tip!
If you think Saudi Arabia is bad, post a question about North Korea. 
Descriptions of THAT place will make your hair stand on end!

Best regards,
Subject: Re: saudi arabia
From: dprk007-ga on 01 Jul 2005 13:19 PDT
Hello Hagan
As it happens I have actually visited North Korea twice (once in 1988
and again in 2002) Because I have visited the country does not imply
any like or
dislike for the regime.
For all the despicable aspects of the North Korean regime I still believe it
is a better place to live in than Saudi Arabia (and some people will
say it is not a great choice!)

The North Korean constitution actually states that it citizens have
the right to worship. Again like many aspects of North Korean politics
whether this is true in practise is debateable. Most North Koreans
were born at a time when the practise of religion was discouraged and
thus to the vast majority of the population the worship of religion is
simply irrelevent. While in North Korea I did  visit a Buddhist Temple
(even with monks). North Korea also claims to have a small number of
Catholic and Protestant worshippers.
The one aspect of North Korea that we of course hear about is its famine. 
I do believe the western press has to a large degree over simplified
this issue. To say that "Kim Jong-il is a tyrant who lets his people
is possibly not the  best analyses of the famine situation in North Korea .
I think it would be fair say that the centralised nature of the North
Korean economy and its adherence to the Juche principle were
contributing factors to the famine. Other factors include the collapse
of the Soviet Union, a mountainous terrain which makes the cultivation
of rice difficult and which after some disasterous winters in the mid
1990's effectively wiped it staple food. For that reason North Korea
has turned to the potato as an alternate staples food (to rice) and
they have started to build farm communities (just south of the Mt
Paektu area) to grow potatoes.
Yes North Korea is a fascinating place and in some ways strange. But
nothing I saw there make my hair stand on end and I found the people
there to be friendly and polite. Their desires and dreams reflected
those same things
that many of us adhere to in the west.

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