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The New Arab

Saudi clerics want to try to convert foreign visitors to Islam after tourist visa launch

Clerics preached in English for an international reach [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 October, 2019

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As tourists flock to the kingdom for the first time, some clerics have noticed a golden opportunity to spread God's word.
Two enterprising Saudi clerics have gone viral after realising the country's introduction of tourist visas provides them with a whole new audience to which they can preach their message.

The two men released a video, captioned "spread it as far as you can", and spoke in both English and Arabic in a crafty bid to increase the global resonance of their message, preaching the importance of tawhid, or indivisible "oneness" of God. 

The video was tweeted out by other Saudi supporters also aware of opportunities created by the incoming stream of foreign tourists.

Read more: Visiting Saudi Arabia? 19 things that are illegal for tourists

"Tourists are beginning to flock to our country, and preachers will call them to God," tweeted one Saudi.

"God, clear their path, and bless their efforts, their work and their lives, and may Islam and Muslims help them," they added.

Tourism has been put off by the ultra-conservative kingdom as many clerics believe it will bring un-Islamic practices to the country.

However as part of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s "Vision 2030" reforms programme, tourist visas began being issued in September. 

Some 24,000 tourists have since entered the country using the new visas, according to Saudi state television, with most of the visitors coming from China.

Up until 27 September, the ultra-conservative Islamic state only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers and recently to visitors attending sporting or cultural events.

To encourage arrivals, authorities have relaxed stringent social law, including allowing unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together.

But the austere kingdom, which forbids alcohol and has a strict social code, is seen by many as a hard sell for tourists.

Read more: What reform? The perils of the Saudi 'public decency' law

Prince Mohammed is seeking to change that through a sweeping liberalisation drive that has brought new cinemas, mixed-gender concerts and sporting extravaganzas to Saudi Arabia in a bid to diversify the economy away from oil.

International criticism of the kingdom's human rights record, including the gruesome murder last year of critic Jamal Khashoggi and a crackdown on female activists, could further put off foreign visitors, observers say.

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