The Saudi daily Al-Watan reported this week that Saudi authorities are now allowing people of all faiths, including Jews, to work in the kingdom, and added that this was proof of the country’s openness to other religions and cultures.
It should be mentioned that the Saudi religious establishment is divided over the issue of foreign workers in the country, due to differing interpretations of a hadith of the Prophet that states, “Remove the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula.”
In this context it is also worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf state that still bans the establishment of houses of worship for religions other than Islam, despite pressure from the Vatican on the matter.
Following is a summary of the report in Al-Watan:
Al-Watan stated that the Saudi Labor Ministry website, which deals with “importing [workers] for institutions and companies,” lists a number of options for foreign workers’ religions: Zoroastrianism, Communism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and no religion. The paper said that “the labor authorities in the kingdom have permitted the import of people who practice Judaism for working on its soil” and called this “a move that emphasizes openness to all monotheistic religions and to people from other cultures.”
The paper cited a knowledgeable unnamed Labor Ministry source as saying that there is no prohibition against people of any religion, including Judaism, entering Saudi Arabia, and that the Labor Ministry’s visa application process focuses on a worker’s nationality, not his religion. The source also said: “We bar entry [into Saudi Arabia] only to those with Israeli citizenship. Other than that, we are open to most nationalities and religions” and added that Saudi law does not prohibit its citizens from forming ties with anyone of any religion, pointing at the King Abdallah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue as proof. The source added: “For example, if a worker is a citizen of Yemen but practices Judaism, the [Saudi] Embassy [in Yemen] would not object to issuing him a work visa for the kingdom.”
Saudi Shura Council Foreign Affairs Committee member Sadaqa bin Yahya Fadhel expressed his support for the Labor Ministry’s decision, saying, “We Muslims have no problem with the Jews.” He added, “Our biggest problem, as an Arab and Islamic nation, is with the Zionist movement, and not with the Jews or Christians.” The Zionist movement, he explained, exploits Judaism in order to attain its goals.
He continued: “We are permitted to have a connection with Jews, and importing a Jewish worker is exactly the same as importing [a worker] of another faith. I think the Labor Ministry’s decision is correct. So long as we have no relationship whatsoever with Israelis, then there is no problem with this.”
He concluded: “It is difficult for us, as a Saudi Arab kingdom, to ban ties with a particular religion. The ban must apply only to Israeli citizens, because Israel is linked to the Zionist movement, which is an imperialist colonialist movement that exploits the Jewish faith and is therefore unrelated to Judaism and is totally different from it.”