In this land of the origins of Islam, faith and culture are inseparable. While many still seek to emulate Muhammad in all they say and do through a Salafi expression of Islam, rulers and citizens alike are being forced to grapple with world changes and major cultural shifts, especially concerning technology and social media.
Society is organized by families and tribes, and marriage is usually between people who share a line of descent. Tribal leaders help resolve family problems and intervene on behalf of their members. Traditional Saudi values include hospitality, generosity, and care for the elderly. Extended families often live in the same household and provide a person’s main support system, but with increased urbanization there is a rise in nuclear families that don’t strongly adhere to traditional tribal values.
Najdi Arabic is spoken by 11 million people in central Saudi Arabia. Najdi speakers are devout, attend daily prayers, and fast during Ramadan. Sharing about Islam and wanting others to become Muslim are common.
As in many countries around the globe, there is a growing disparity in Saudi Arabia between the very rich and the average citizen who struggles day-to-day. Men are concerned with finding a job, a wife, and a house. Women long to be loved and to live a stable life. Since women are now allowed to drive, more opportunities are open to them. However, adapting to a quickly-changing society is proving very difficult, especially for young Saudis.
Political tensions are a major worry for Saudis, especially regarding Qatar, Iran, and the Yemen war, as well as Saudi Arabia’s shifting relationship with the US.
Another great struggle for Saudis is fear – starting with a fear of Allah. Even the slightest doubt about any aspect of Islam makes one a subject of Allah’s wrath. It is too dangerous to research the questions on their minds. Better to suppress these thoughts and blame their enemies (including the West) for these doubts.
God is at work in Saudi Arabia through this change and upheaval. The power of the religious police seems to be diminishing. The internet is the portal to the outside world, so people are learning that there are other ways of thinking and living. (Saudis also study abroad, and Christians are reaching out to them.)
While most Saudis have never conversed with a Christian in person, Christian satellite television and internet evangelism are proclaiming the gospel, and Saudis are responding! One worker said there are enough Saudi believers that “their voice contributes to the honor of God.”
Most who follow Jesus follow Him alone; they are too afraid to gather together, as there is very little trust among them. Understandably, fear reigns. Converting to Christ is a crime. It brings deep shame on one’s family and may very well lead to imprisonment and death. However, some believers do meet together in spite of this. Disciple-makers are needed to help believers grow.