As millions of Christians flee the
Middle East and Christianity’s original homeland becomes lacking of
Christians at increasing rates, an odd anomaly is
occurring: Christianity in the Gulf states is surging. Amid a shocking
exodus in neighbouring countries, this strictly Islamic region has seen a
jump in its Christian population.
Figures show that in both Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab Emirates, Christianity was practically non existent
just over a hundred years ago. There were only 80 Christians in the UAE
in 1910 (0.1 per cent of the population) and 50 in Saudi Arabia, even
less than 0.1 per cent, according to a recent study. However
one hundred years later in 2010, Christianity had exploded to 12.6 per
cent of UAE’s population and 4.4 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s. Between the
two countries alone there are now well over one million Christians.
While by no means a majority, this represents a a significant growth in
such a conservative Islamic region.
Indeed, this surge is not limited to
Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Throughout the Gulf, countries such as
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar have all seen dramatic increases to
their Christian populations.
Converting from Islam to Christianity in
the Gulf is punishable by death in both countries and evangelism is
prohibited. In Saudi Arabia any public observance of non-Muslim faiths
is illegal and Saudi Christians are forced to worship in
private. However despite the dramatic increase, it is likely there will
be little change to religious tolerance in the region. Wahhabism, a
strict interpretation of Islam, still dominates Saudi Arabia in
particular and even in the relatively liberal UAE, Christian converts
face severe persecution and no religious education other than the
teaching of Islam is permitted.
Although the recent increase of
Christians in the Middle East is truly amazing, many are asking why this
is happening. Over the past few years, thousands of Middle Eastern
muslims have claimed to have seen Jesus in dreams and visions; is this
just a strange coincidence or is God actually trying to speak to these
people before it’s too late?
the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your
sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your
old men will dream dreams.” // Acts 2:17
The future is therefore uncertain for
Christians in the Gulf. But as Christianity loses its most ancient
communities in the Middle East, the arrival of Christians in Islam’s
most conservative heartland may be a source of hope to those praying for
a revival in the Middle East.