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“I fly back to Saudi Arabia almost every Christmas.We pray in little groups,” said 18-year-old Laura, an Orthodox California native who spent much of her youth in Syria and Saudi Arabia and asked to be identified only by her first name.Many Saudis do not see Islam as the main impediment to women's rights.According to one female journalist; “If the Quran does not address the subject, then the clerics will err on the side of caution and make it haram (forbidden).

However, insiders and experts claim that there are an increasing number of secret Christians – converting is illegal and punishable by death, imprisonment or lashes – and a growing number of Saudi residents celebrate Dec. “The number of Christian converts from Islam and other religions is increasing, along with their boldness in sharing their new faith,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, a non-profit focused on assisting oppressed Christians around the world. A lot of persecution can come from family or society, rather than the government.” The Saudi government doesn’t conduct any census about religious faith, and, officially, the percentage of Christians in the country is zero.

“On Christmas night, we usually celebrate at a private compound or an Embassy where only foreigners are allowed.

We drink and party until six in the morning,” said Laura, who is currently studying neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside.

But experts and outside groups believe that, out of around 30 million residents, there are around 1.2 million Christians – mostly expatriate migrant workers who don’t have citizenship.

Recent studies have estimated that up to 4.4 percent of the population identifies as Christian, a boost from 0.1 percent at the beginning of the 20th century.

An Israeli Arab wears a Santa Claus costume as he rides a camel in Jerusalem's Old City on Dec. Such an act would be illegal in Saudi Arabia, where any non-Muslim worship or celebration is puniishable by death, imprisonment or lashes.

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