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The Middle East: Cradle of Christianity,...

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The Middle East: Cradle of Christianity, Place of Persecution

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The Middle East: Cradle of Christianity, Place of Persecution

Project(s): 20-246, 20-383, 11-819, 65-420, XX-212

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Holy Land, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates

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Holy Land
Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose, is the birthplace of Christianity.
Yet in much of the Middle East the Church is overshadowed
by the power of Islam

The Middle East is seldom out of the headlines. For decades the region has been racked by wars and insurgencies, most recently in Iraq and the Holy Land. Fundamentalist forms of Islam in Saudi Arabia and Iran are growing in strength and influence well beyond the borders of these nations. Autocratic governments severely restrict political freedoms even in more secular countries such as Egypt and Syria. And the economic importance of the area, with its vast oil resources, gives Western governments a major stake in its stability and development.

Caught in the midst of these swirling currents are a number of large but vulnerable Christian communities. The Middle East is the birthplace of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, and it is home to many historic churches that pre-date the dominance of Islam in the region. Now, however, these Christians are facing multiple dangers, to the point that the very survival of Christianity in some countries is currently in serious doubt.

This Regional Profile sketches the conditions endured by Christians in each part of the Middle East. As we shall see, whilst some of their sufferings and persecutions are common to them all, many national churches also face problems specific to their own contexts. The countries are discussed according to the size of their Christian communities, beginning with those where Christians are a tiny minority.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia follows a puritanical version of Islam known as Wahhabism, which it propagates vigorously all over the world with the help of oil money. The government asserts that none of the country’s citizens are Christians. This claim is untrue, but the small number of Saudi Christians are mostly secret believers. In 2009 the authorities detained a blogger, Hamoud Bin Saleh, merely for writing about his conversion to Christianity on his own website. Saudi law is based on Islamic sharia, and it prescribes the death sentence for converts from Islam. Public Christian worship is forbidden, even for the large expatriate community, and Christians may be detained, assaulted or deported for meeting to pray together even in private.

Yemen

Yemen’s Christian population numbers only some 3,000 among a population of more than 20 million. Most of these are expatriates, and the very few Yemeni believers have to practise their faith secretly for fear of severe reprisals. Yemen too has made apostasy from Islam legally punishable by death, although there are no reports of any executions in recent years. Converts to Christianity do however face arrest and torture by the notorious Political Security Office, and the possibility of extra-judicial killing. Expatriate Christians are generally free to worship, but evangelism among Muslims is illegal, and those suspected of it are in grave danger. In June 2009 three Christian students from overseas Bible and mission schools who were visiting Yemen to do humanitarian work were kidnapped and murdered. Six other people (including three small children) abducted at the same time are still missing at the time of writing.

Gulf States

The Gulf States of Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have sizeable expatriate churches, and these are mostly allowed to practise their faith quite freely. But again, sharing the Gospel with Muslims is forbidden, and the indigenous Christian communities are very small and have to operate mainly in secret. In all five countries Islam is the state religion, and in Bahrain all citizens are defined as Muslim. However, Islam takes a more conservative and repressive form in some states, such as Qatar, where apostasy is technically a capital offence punishable by death (although since the country’s independence in 1971 there have been no reports of converts’ being punished), than in others, such as Kuwait. Restrictions are imposed by governments on the number of visas available to pastors visiting from overseas and the size of worship venues.

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Daily prayer

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  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 16 hours ago

  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Lift up to the Lord persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka, where at least 65 anti-Christian incidents took place during 2013, including repeat attacks on several believers and their property in October 2013. However, a Sri Lankan government minister from a Buddhist nationalist party denied the accounts, saying that they might be “made up”. The minister claimed that Sri Lankans are “one family … trying to live together after a long civil war”. Pray that the Sri Lankan government will recognise the danger that our brothers and sisters face from militant Buddhists and that the authorities will provide effective protection for vulnerable Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Condemned Christian mother Aasia Bibi’s final appeal hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow (14 April) having been deferred twice. She was sentenced to death for blasphemy in November 2010 having been falsely accused of insulting Muhammad following an argument with Muslim co-workers. Aasia has been languishing in jail since the accusation was made in June 2009. Pray that her appeal will finally go ahead and that the judges will have the courage to acquit and release Aasia; there are concerns that they may give in to pressure from hardline Islamists who have been calling for her execution. Pray that Aasia, her husband and children will know the Lord’s peace as they await the verdict. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

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