Status of Christians and their Churches in the Gulf
Rosary Sisters Church in Qatar
Hamzeh Aleyyan, a journalist of “Al Qabas”, a Kuwaiti newspaper, conducted a survey on the status of Christians and their Churches in the Gulf last April. His findings were published in six reports detailing the freedom of worship enjoyed by Christians in each of these countries.
He said that among 13 million newcomers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (United Arab Emirate, Kingdom of Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sultanate of Oman, Qatar and Kuwait) Christians constitute 20% of these newcomers or approximately 3 million. The majority reside in Saudi Arabia where no Church or temple exists for non-Moslems.
Christians in the Gulf are of Arab, Asian and European descent comprising Greek Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. Generally speaking, the Christian communities enjoy freedom of worship in these countries each in its own Church except for Saudi Arabia which prohibits such an activity while 900,000 Catholics live on its soil.
In the last 10 years a number of the Gulf capitals witnessed the building of new Churches which in fact reflects the embodiment of interreligious dialogue and freedom of worship, and translates on the ground, the language of life in common. Churches are prohibited from launching evangelization campaigns or distributing printed material proselytizing to Christianity in accordance with an understanding and an agreement with the administrators and leaders of these Churches.
The percentage of Christian natives of the Gulf is reckoned only by the hundreds. The larger numbers exist in Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman and Bahrain. This is due to their early existence in these capitals. Kuwait is distinguished in this area by its first pastor who is a Kuwaiti citizen. He is Pastor Emmanuel Ghurayyeb, pastor of the Evangelical Church.
Most Constitutions of the region guarantee freedom of worship and the right to practice religious rites within the applicable laws whereas chimes of bells can never be heard.
The oldest Church exists in this country. It was built about a hundred years ago and today it is known as the National Evangelical Church (Protestant). It dates back to 1906. Yousef Hayder, Secretary of the Church indicated that Bahraini Christians attain the number of one thousand who carry Bahraini citizenship.
The total number of Churches is four. A complex shall be built for them following the donation of a plot of land for this purpose by the King of Bahrain, Shekh Hamad ben Issa Al Khalifah. In Bahrain there are 30 officially registered churches but they do not own structures. Among them is the Coptic Church. These Churches are Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox. According to estimates, the number of Christians attains about 250 thousand among 500 thousand newcomers in a country of a total of 1,200,000 inhabitants. It is noteworthy to mention that the “Shura” Council (the Parliament) has two Bahraini Christian members.
Modern history of Christianity in the Sultanate goes back to 1893 with the arrival in Muscat of a group from the American Reformed Church. They purchased a large building and received the donation of a plot of land from the Sultan. The initial aim of this group was evangelization but turned to provide health services to the inhabitants. The Catholic Church arrived in the country in 1971 to be followed by the Greek Orthodox Church, later the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church. The Sultanate embodies about 500 Protestant Christian citizens. The Christian newcomers number between 200 and 300 thousand. They are Arabs, Asians and Europeans adding up to about 3% of the total population according to statistical sources. Experts who follow up on Christian affairs claim that there are 5 complexes in the Sultanate for Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches.
Rosary Sisters Church in Qatar
Qatar authorized the first Church for the Evangelical community in 2005 after Sheikh Hamad ben Khalifah Al Thani donated the plot of land. In Qatar about 70 thousand Catholics live while the followers of the Evangelical Church are about 7 to 10 thousand persons. The first Catholic Church was inaugurated in 2008 and is devoid of any external Christian symbol and is known as the Rosary Church. At present, in Doha there is a complex for 5 churches of all denominations and they are the Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and Catholic denominations in the service of about 200,000 Christians.
The number of Christians in the United Arab Emirates is estimated at about 500 thousand, mainly in Abu Dhabi, El Ayn, Dubai and El Shariqa. In the midst of the nineties the Government of the Union gave permission for the building of Churches that come up today to seven Churches. In the city of Abu Dhabi four Churches were built and one in the city of
Evangelical Church in Dubai
Al Ayn. Catholics constitute the majority of Christians who come up to 100 thousand. Also Churches for Anglican, Orthodox and Coptic communities were built.
In Dubai, there is St. Francis Church. In Shariqa a Russian Orthodox Church was built in 2007 on a plot of land donated by the Emirate. As also the Emirate of Shariqa has a Church for Catholics who number to about 50,000.
In the wake of the uproar raised by Usama El Monawer advocating the non-approval of building new Churches which prompted Bishop Camillio Ballin, Pontifical vicar for Northern Arabia, to address the public opinion and Moslems in saying to them “do not be afraid of us, we are partners in your pattern of life and we respect your laws and your traditions” and demand the Government to build a new Church for Catholics who number up to about 350 thousand persons.
In April 2010, Pastor Andrew Thompson of the British Embassy, said in a book entitled “The Christian Church in Kuwait – Religious Freedom in the Gulf” that religious freedom in Kuwait is the living epitome of religious freedom in the Gulf and that Christians are part and parcel of Society.
It is noteworthy to mention that the first Church in Kuwait was built in 1931, known as the “National Evangelical Church”. This was followed by the construction of a Church in the city of Ahmadi in 1948. A Coptic Church was later on built in 1958 and an Armenian Church was built for Armenians who number 6000. They enjoy the services of a Church and a school. In 1999, Pastor Emmanuel Ghurayyeb was appointed as the first Kuwaiti national, pastor of the Evangelical Church.
There are eight recognized Churches in Kuwait and have a Church complex in the heart of the capital to serve 450 thousand Christians.