Saudi Arabia is an intriguing land of desert sands, lively camel festivals and ancient heritage. It’s a destination less travelled to and many people are unaware of its natural beauties and fascinating culture. Saudi is sandwiched between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, where scuba diving spots are amongst the best in the world and clusters of coral reef islands are left unspoiled. On dry land the rural areas offer olive groves, rolling dunes and spectacular canyons. The cities are known for their busy commercial hubs, where traditional markets contrast with shiny modern shopping centres.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, making it the ultimate travel destination for Muslims. From across the world approximately two million people a year make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, performing one of the five pillars of Islam. Many also visit the burial place of the prophet Muhammad in Medina. It is a country seeped in religious significance and conservatism. Along with difficulties in obtaining visas this has somewhat discouraged the tourist industry in the past. Much is set to change though, as the newly appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has resolved to make Saudi Arabia a more moderate society. Since his appointment in 2017 several new policies have been introduced, including lifting a 35 year ban on cinemas, allowing women to drive and beginning to issue tourist visas.
On a spiritual level Saudi Arabia is also going through some radical transitions. For the past few years - and until very recently - it was believed that there were only around 300 Saudi believers worldwide. No locally led groups were known to be meeting anywhere in the Arab Gulf. Recent research however has revealed that numbers of Saudi believers are in fact in their thousands, and there are several small groups believed to be meeting underground in Saudi itself.
This is a remarkable turn of events and will be the result of decades of prayer for the people of Saudi Arabia. It is vital that efforts continue. This is a country which bears unparalleled influence on the rest of the Muslim world. It has a population of 33.5 million, of which a significant portion are expatriates, meaning that around 8% of the population are now non-Muslim. In the six countries of the Arab Gulf there are 50 cities with populations of over 100,000 and Saudi Arabia is home to more than half of these. Little or no Gospel witness is taking place in most of these large cities.
People who live there have found Saudis to be warm, generous and friendly. Although much of their lives can appear hidden - protected by closed doors, religious symbolism or clothing - they are described as being open and eager to engage in the deeper things of life. With a growing openness to the Good News there is a growing need for people to go and meet their spiritual longing. May this be an opportunity which doesn’t pass by unnoticed but which leads to a new generation of Saudis entering the Kingdom!
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