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Religious Tolerance logo

Status of women. Lack of Religious freedom.

Behavioral restrictions in Saudi Arabia:

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The official interpretation of Islam is derived from the writings and teachings of the Sunni religious scholar Muhammad ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab. This is generally called the Wahhabi branch of Islam, a term that is not used within Saudi Arabia.

Currently, there are many restrictions on religious behavior throughout the kingdom. Some of them are:

  • It is illegal to distribute Bibles or other non-Islamic religious literature.

  • Only Islamic religious expression is permitted in public throughout the country, with the exception of private meetings within homes or defined compounds. No Christian churches or Jewish synagogues are allowed in the country.

  • Non-Muslims are forbidden to visit the cities of Mecca and Medina.

  • The Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice enforce the behavioral rules. They are called the Mutaween, or CPVPV, and commonly referred to as the "religious police."

All public demonstrations, even those that are peaceful, are illegal in the country.

Only Muslims can be citizens in the country.

A child born to a Muslim father is automatically considered Muslim. If they convert to another religion, or none, later in life, they are considered to have committed apostasy which is punishable by execution.

During the 1990's persons in Saudi Arabia had no access to this web site, This was presumably because it promotes religious tolerance, understanding, and cooperation. The present status of the site's access is unknown.

Sexual minorities are severely discriminated against:

  • Same-gender sexual activity is a criminal act that, upon conviction, results in sentences ranging from fines to execution. On the second offense, immediate execution is automatic.

  • Cross-dressing and having a transgender identity are linked to homosexual behavior and are penalized in the same way.

The UK government publishes a "foreign travel advice" document for the guidance of visitors to Saudi Arabia. We urge visitors to the country to read and follow it carefully. 1

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Treatment of women:

The World Economic Forum's issued a Global Gender Gap Report in 2016. It found that Saudi Arabia's "gender parity rating" was 141st among the 144 countries in the world. The only countries with lower rating were Syria, Pakistan and Yemen. Islam is the predominate religion of all four countries

As of 2017, Women need permission from their male guardian to:

  • Be with male in public who is not their close relative;

  • Obtain a passport; or even

  • Leave their home.

Women are currently not allowed to drive cars and other vehicles.

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Prospects of future change:

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, (a.k.a. "MBS") is the heir apparent to the Saudi throne. He has set as his goal the return of Saudi Arabia to a "moderate, open" form of Islam. This will require major changes to the country's customs, traditions, and behavioral restrictions, particularly with respect to women.

On 2017-OCT-24, he addressed the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, the capital and main financial hub of Saudi Arabia. Addressing the delegates in the grand hall of the Ritz-Carlton, he said:

"We only want to go back to what we were: Moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all religions. We will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today. ... We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world."


He has outlined his "vision for 2030" for the country, which involves a number of major changes to the extreme restrictions on women and other ultraconservative restrictions on behavior in the country.  He has a vision for Saudi Arabis to become "... a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method."

Some changes implemented recently and planned for the relatively near future are:

  • The reintroduction of musical concerts.

  • Opening of movie theatres.

  • The creation of a Six Flags theme park.

  • Establishing a semi-autonomous Red sea tourist destination which will have relaxed standards for women's clothing.

  • A Royal Decree was issued on 2017-SEP-26 that will make driving licenses available to women starting on 2018-JUN-26.

  • Women will have increased access to sports.

  • Gender segregation will be relaxed.

  • The powers of the religious police will be reduced.

  • The government aims to boost female participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030.

  • Economic diversification in the country will be promoted to lower its dependence on oil revenue. 2, 3, 4
  • Women will be allowed into three sports stadiums. The Ministry of Culture and Information announced that the General Sports Authority has decided to allow families to enter one stadium in each of three cities: the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, the capital city; the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah -- a port city on the Red Sea -- and the and Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam -- a city on the Arabian Gulf. This will take place early in 2018.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bethan McKernan, "Saudi Arabia's crown prince promises country will return to 'moderate, open Islam'," 2017-OCT-24, at:
  2. Cristina Maza, "This is Why Saudi Arabia Suddenly Wants to Fight Extremism," Newsweek, 2017-OCT-25, at:
  3. " 'New era' seen in Saudi Arabia with reforms," Gulf News, 2017-OCT-31, at:
  4. Foreign travel advice: Saudi Arabia," UK Government, undated, at:

How you may have arrived here:

Home pageIslam > here

Home page > World ReligionsIslam > here

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Home > Human rights > Women's rights > here

Copyright 2017 © Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2017-OCT-31
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