BURKHA, CROSS AND DEATH
FR. ANDRZEJ PAŚ
Nawal lives in Saudi Arabia. Every day she covers her face like every Muslim woman. However, this custom is not motivated with religious reasons. She needs this shawl for her safety, for her own world which is her great mystery – even from her own husband
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The Muslim burkha on her face and body conceals something more – faith in Christian God. Nawal is a mother of two children and a good wife. A few years ago she experienced a meeting or rather conversion which resembled enlightenment experienced by young Szaweł from Tars. Since that moment she has lived in silence of Christian God, in secret from her own husband and children. Her world became very small, but the other outer one thinks that Nawal is a Muslim woman. She does not discuss her personal faith with others, being afraid of what may happen when others find out that the Saudi wife and mother is Christian. If her Muslim husband found out that she renounced had religion, he could deprive her of her own children without any legal consequences and even…. life.
Life in fear
In Saudi Arabia the country creates and maintains strict Islamic system which treats Christians as citizens of the second category. Islam is the only religion acknowledged there and no other religion can have its place of cult. In relation to it, the Christians must gather together in secret if they meet together at all. The Saudi monarch has got the supreme power and can introduce every law in practice, which he will defend as far as it is compatible with the law of sharia and Koran. Despite that a small group of Christians among Saudi Arabians has spread in 2018. Other generations are becoming more and more courageous, sharing their Christian faith with others on internet and Christian channels of satellite TV. Besides that, they are experiencing pressure from their families, converted Christians are also exposed to a high risk of persecutions in communities where they live, and accusations of apostasy undergo the death penalty. However, in the recent years no report has led to death penalty. According to law a Muslim husband can beat his wife and get divorced with her if it turns out that she has rejected Islam. Consequently, converted Saudis, especially women, often maintain their conversion in secret.
Rapes, sexual abuses are still a big problem in Saudi Arabia. Particularly poor Christian women working as maids in Saudi houses are exposed to this danger. Christians are at risk of imprisonment, physical violence and serious problems because of their religion. The situation of 1.5 million Christians in the country is becoming more and more uncertain. A lot of them are the object of religious hatred and intimidation. The situation is getting worse because a lot of them are uneducated workers coming from other countries, including the Philippines and have very little chance for justice in issues concerning crimes committed against them or do not have any chance for that. The growing extremism is proved by reports on wide support for the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). In July 2014 it was stated that Saudi Arabia had provided ISIS with lots of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria. In April 2015 the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia noted that before that 93 people suspected of their belonging to that terroristic organization were arrested and a few conspiracies had been prevented.
Christians do not have a legal status in the country. Saudi Arabia does not have constitution – its function is done by Koran. It is forbidden to bury Christians and non-muslims in the country. Having books of religious issues is strictly forbidden – apart from those which promote sunnism – so the Bible and other religious books cannot be imported. It similar with rosaries and various religious products.
Muslims who change their religion, basically undergo death penalty. Inequality towards law is obvious; punishments for crimes against the Muslims are stricter than for the ones committed towards the non-muslims. A Commission of Virtue Promotion and Prevention of counter-actions has got its own divisions of religious police – Mutaween. It forces everyone to practice Islam, which results in, for example, a situation when everyone, regardless of religion, is obliged to follow radaman. This commission, known as religious police, carried out raids in places suspected of serving non-islamic practice. Christians noticed that within the last years the number of the phone calls, emails, WhatsApp messages, Skype surveillance by police has increased. However, in April 2016 a royal decree forbade the religious police to check identity of private people and question it and arrest people under surveillance.
Killing in the name of religion
There are concerns about religious hatred to Christians and other non-muslims inoculated among students of Saudi schools. In one of textbooks published by the Saudi Education Ministry for students at the age of 14-15 on hadis it was written: ‘The fight of this (muslim) nation with Jews and Christians lasted and will last as long as God will exist’. The amount of intolerant content in official textbooks has probably decreased. An Ideological Wartime Centre and Observatory of Digital Extremism was created which monitors the presence of terroristic groups, particularly in social media. The Saudi government rejected priests and teachers who present intolerant or extremist opinions.
The Saudi are criticized for exporting the fanatic vision of Islam – intolerant towards Christianity and other religions – the rest of the world. The former sub-secretary for economic and anti-terroristic counterintelligence in the Department of the USA Treasury Stuart Levey found a strong relation between education and support for such groups as Al-Kaida. In an article published in ‘The Washington-Post’ he wrote: ‘We must focus on education reforms in key localizations so that intolerance would not be included in the teaching curriculum and textbooks. If next generations of children do not learn to reject brutal extremism, we will be still facing up a fight with plans of groups of coordinators and followers of terroristic activity’.
It is known that Saudi Arabia finances extremists committing acts of genocide of Christians in Near East. The society is more and more aware that sophisticated weapon is imported to ISIS from Saudi Arabia; the government avoids direct canals of financing but it is doing it indirectly. In a note of the Department of the USA state it was stated: ‘We must use our diplomatic and more traditional assets of counterintelligence so as to make pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which provide secret financial and logistic support for ISIS and other radical groups in the region’. However, sale of weapon to Saudi Arabia is going on, although the Department of the USA State defines it as ‘a country of particular care’ from 2004. President of the USA Donald Trump emphasized the economic significance of trade of weapon for the USA, especially transactions in 2017 amounting to nearly 84.6 milliard pounds (110 milliard dollars), and the second pact of safety amounting to 269. 3 milliard pounds (350 milliard dollars). Having rejected criticism, the Department of the USA State emphasized a long-term ‘anti-terroristic cooperation (of Saudi Arabia) with the United States in order to counteract ISIS’. So, where to look for the truth?
On pages of the magazine ‘Christianity Today’ Johnnie Moore, a commissioner of the USA for International Religious Freedom said: ‘I am an optimist about Saudi Arabia, where muslims, Christians and others will be able to live freely and develop their religion openly, living like their neighbours and their children as friends, without fear of one another, will live in great joy about their mutual relationships. I am praying for a day when I will be able to travel to Saudi Arabia to celebrate Christmas or Easter proudly and publicly on the peninsula whose Islamic religion and culture owes heritage to ‘people of one book’. It is the first time in my support for actions for religious freedom I think that it may be possible, even earlier than we expect’. This optimism at the present times is very necessary. Facing up dangers from Islamic fundamentalists about whom we hear on media, peace co-existence of religion is the only antidote for the illness of terrorism and hatred which is overwhelming the world. Between the good and the evil there is a ‘gray zone’, ‘nobody’s land’ – land of peace and dialogue. I believe that on this land, one day, our heroine Nawal will put her foot and take off her burkha without any fear of her husband...
Translated by Aneta Amrozik