‘Deported,’ the dreaded stamp, any foreign traveler fears the most, was stamped on Clement Isaac’s passport by the Saudi Arabian officials at the Riyadh airport on 20 May 2009 and this made him black out.
It was the culmination of a week long ordeal, which started on the night of 12 May 2009, when his family along with their very close friends were present at his house to celebrate his forty five years in service.
His crime was
• for gathering a group of non Muslims under one roof for engaging in overt religious activity
• for using non-Muslim religious materials (Singing Christian hymns from song sheets)
• for kneeling down in prayer
That was enough for the Mutaween; the Saudi religious police also known as Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforces the prohibition on the practice of non-Muslim religions, to barge into the house and take him into custody.
He was deported and all his private property, forty five years of savings and dues from company where he was working, were confiscated.
Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab country, is an Islamic theocratic monarchy in which Islam is the official religion and Qur’an, the constitution of the country. Freedom of private and public practice of religion is severely limited and non-Muslim worshipers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture for engaging in overt religious activity that attracts official attention. Saudi Arabia is a glaring example of religious apartheid. However, non-Muslim organizations have claimed that there are no explicit guidelines for distinguishing between public and private worship. Proselytizing by non-Muslims, including the distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bible is illegal.
After an hour or so Clement woke up and realized that he was in an Air India flight to Delhi and seated next to him was his wife Deborah who was keeping a close concerned watch on him. Seeing him wake up, she smiled with fresh tears flowing down her cheek. He had aged a lot after that week long solitary confinement and his face was gaunt and pale with sunken cheeks and his eyes had that glazed look of an unknown fear.
Taking a connecting flight to Hyderabad, it took him nearly three months to recover fully, but he still had that strange look on his face that worried Deborah. Even though she is safely ensconced in her house at Hyderabad, she shudders at every knock.
Clement Isaac, a devout Christian, working in the kingdom as a Mechanical Engineer for the last forty five years was married to Deborah and has three sons, all of whom well settled in Australia. As he is nearing mid sixties, his children wanted him to retire and settle with them, which he had promised that he would, by September 2010.
It was the young pastor of his church, Rev. James Robert, who shocked by the treatment meted out to one of his senior members, made it a habit to visit Clement at his house and pray for him. One Friday afternoon Clement called up the pastor and requested him to make it convenient to attend a prayer meeting in his house that evening. Puzzled, because Friday was a working day, he was stunned to see a large gathering of Clement’s friends and colleagues from Saudi Arabia many of whom were on vacation. When the request for a Friday prayer meeting was again repeated, the pastor suggested that they have an all night prayer meeting starting from Friday night to Saturday early morning, which was enthusiastically taken up by his friends. Only when it was repeated and conducted for nearly three months at a stretch did the pastor come to know the importance of those Friday night prayers meetings. Friday’s are holidays in the Saudi Arabia and those are the days when Clement and his family along with his close friends have their prayer meetings in that country.
In the first week of September Clement received a reply from his company that they cannot accede to his request about his request to send his current salary as the government has confiscated all his assets. With that he had lost all hopes about getting any money.
Clement after reading the letter, told his wife, “Great are His ways. The God we serve has a divine plan and I won’t keep quiet till the dues due to me are settled. I will keep on praying that the Mutaween and the concerned officials will have a change of heart.”
“This is something which I have heard but never eaten,” said the pastor after having a dinner at their place, on a Friday just after the regular prayer meeting. Deborah had prepared a true Arabic dinner comprising of Khobz, an unleavened bread, along with shawarma, a spit cooked sliced lamb and hummus a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon. The best was the Arabic tea, black without milk but with herbal flavoring that made the tea, taste unique.
After having tea, the conversation turned to the latest development. “Brother Clement, we believe in one true God and we continue praying till we receive an answer.”
The pastor made a request in the Sunday service about the need to continue praying, which resulted in motivating the church members to turn up in large numbers for the weekly all night prayers.
After exactly one year on the second week of May 2010 Clement received a courier from the company enclosing a cheque for the amount due and a contract to work for one year.
More than the pastor, Clement and his wife Deborah were stunned at the turn of events.
“Watchman Nee said, and I quote,” said the pastor, “Our prayers lay the track down which Gods power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, His power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”