Saudi Arabia is a proud country that protects the shrines of Islam.

Most people are aware of the rules of covering Muslim women, but when the educated Saudi women are ambivalent about the safety granted to them by the clothing and religious values of modestry, few in the west wish to make it an issue.

But there is a quiet group of people lacking freedom in the Saudi kingdom that no one wishes to discuss: The large number of overseas foreign workers in that kingdom.

The Middle East is the home of two million Philippinos, who work as nurses, doctors, technicians, drivers, maids and other blue collar or unskilled jobs.

As this NYTimes article points out, most are driven to such jobs by poverty and, for the middle class (e.g. doctors and nurses) the lack of opportunity in the Philippines.

So today’s Manila Bulletin has a headline: 500 nurses needed in Saudi Arabia.
But in the middle of the NYTimes article you see a single paragraph that suggests a problem:

We were breezing through the family photo album when she pointed at a picture from Saudi Arabia that showed her husband at an evangelical church. Church? That is a ticket to deportation or worse. Alarmed that her slip might place him in greater dangers, she started to sob. “I can’t stop him — that’s where he found his happiness,” she said. When I reached him, he encouraged me to mention his preaching, saying it was his way of thanking God for the chance to work abroad. “I promised the Lord I’ll share the Gospel under any circumstance,” he said.

But it goes furthur than that. In most of the Middle East, a preacher might get into trouble, but if you enter Saudi you might have your rosary and bible confiscated.

There are a 900 000 Philippinos in Saudi, 90 percent Christian, and an estimated 600 000 Keralan Christians from India, not to mention Hindus, not to mention Christians from Africa, Lebanon, or Palestine. Yet there is no Christian church in Saudi Arabia.
More prosperous Catholics can fly to the small Gulf states for Christmas and other feast days. Yet there is something misearable for a Catholic Christian not to be able to receive the sacraments, and the idea that small groups of Christians meeting for rosary or bible study face arrest.

And this freedom goes furthur than religion: In the USA, churches are a way to meet people and ethnic churches allow immigrants to find fellowship that may be missing in their new country. Yet our migrants are forbidden this benign way to find fellowship.

Yet the failure of Saudi Arabia to allow freedom of religion for their workers is one of the biggest secrets in the US press.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and fishmarket 

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