Back in May I traveled to the Gulf – Persian or Arabian as per your geopolitical preference – to research the growth of Christianity among the extensive migrant population. What I learned became an article for Christianity Today: Why Christianity is Surging in the Heart of Islam.
The excerpt provided in my earlier post ended with a hook:
In Bahrain and Kuwait, Muslims can enter church compounds. In Qatar, guards allow only foreigners. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti (the nation’s highest official of religious law) has called for all churches in the peninsula to be destroyed.
Surprising to many observers is how many of these churches there are.
Hopefully you clicked to read on. If not, the answer is that the Gulf region hosts more than 40 physical church buildings in 17 cities. Many of these host multiple congregations. All operate publicly with permission of national governments.
Alongside them are house churches, most of which operate in a legal limbo outside of formal permission but generally with the awareness of authorities who watch everything closely.
My article makes clear that religious freedom in these nations is not complete, certainly not along Western conceptions. But the existence of these buildings is remarkable in its own right. They are a concession to foreign workers, certainly. One leading church leader told me that Islam, at best, only ‘tolerates’ non-Muslims.
But let us not dismiss tolerance. Many of these buildings are not tucked away into foreign-only enclaves, eyesores to be hidden from embarrassed Muslims. No, they are downtown, in residential neighborhoods, near commercial centers … and massive. At least they are in the United Arab Emirates.
Please enjoy the pictures.
If the images are striking, far from what you may have imagined about the Muslim lands of the Arabian Peninsula, click here to read the article again with new eyes.
One Christian leader compared the church in the Gulf to a potted plant that is being removed and planted in the ground.
Their consensus voice conveys two wishes: For the Christian, pray – and come – that it might flourish. For all, be thankful for regional leadership that is far more tolerant than you might think.