Saudi Arabia (MNN) — There are nine days left in Ramadan 2021, and over 1.5 million Muslims have visited holy sites in Saudi Arabia so far. The Kingdom is home to Mecca and Medina, two of the most revered locations in Islam.
“This is the land of religion, and people have seen it for centuries. Mecca is the place where 360 different pagan religions used to take over the city each day of the year, before Islam came and said, ‘we’re all one religion,’” Tom Doyle of Uncharted Ministries says.
The Lord is moving in this Islamic heartland.
“Saudi Arabia has been such a closed country. We used to call it ‘the forbidden nation,’ but now it’s opening up,” Doyle says.
Cracks in the armor
According to The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Saudi Arabia still has much work remaining. Find details here in the 2021 USCIRF report. But small changes are underway. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia removed hate speech about Christians and Jews from its textbooks.
“Literal Islam is practiced there, yet young people are not embracing it like they were over the centuries. Saudi Arabia is modernizing. Young people are tired of religion, and hearing about a loving Jesus that cares for them is very attractive,” Doyle says.
“We have lots of conversations with Saudis that have an interest; and, [we’re] not saying they’re ready to become believers, but they want to evaluate, they want to look at some of the claims of Christ.”
Finance plays a significant role, too. “[World] nations are not as oil-dependent on [Saudi Arabia] as they once were. They (Saudis) need to replace 20-percent of their economy with something else,” Doyle says.
“There’s a lot that goes into play here, but all of this is good because it’s going to expose more people to the Gospel.”
In his comments on page 48 of the 2021 report, USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore praised Saudi’s minute yet significant religious freedom progress:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, continues to reform, outpacing expectations. This is a categorical fact. The work remains substantially incomplete, but the trajectory is undeniable – the reforms are ongoing and often remarkable. … I believe the international community should continue its positive reinforcement of the Crown Prince’s reform agenda. … In fact, Saudi Arabia should be rewarded for its progress and not face threats of coercive action from the United States. Punitive measures will not speed the effect of change in the Kingdom; rather, they would complicate and likely slow it. … It is clear that real change is possible. The change must continue and it can accelerate.
People are following Christ in Saudi Arabia, even though it could cost them everything. Pray for these believers, and pray for Saudis who do not know Christ.
“God has been moving there in the last several decades; just that there would be underground churches meeting in Mecca and Medina is historical, when you think about what that means,” Doyle says.
“Not only would a person be killed [if discovered]; their entire family could be killed or jailed for life. And yet, Jesus followers are there.”
Consider contacting the Uncharted team to learn how you can tour Saudi Arabia and experience the nation you’re praying for. “We take teams there and see the Bible sights,” Doyle says.
“You get to see the Red Sea crossing, Mount Sinai, the split rock where the children of Israel wandered in the desert. [It is] phenomenal biblical theater that Christians can go to now.”
The Kaaba is located inside the Masjidil Haram (aka the Grand Mosque) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is a requirement for Muslims who are performing the pilgrimage (Hajj or Umrah) to visit and perform the ‘tawaf’ around it. The 5 daily prayers are also performed in the area. I took this photo during the hajj season of 2018. (Photo, caption courtesy of Adli Wahid/Unsplash)