Christianity’s roots in the Arabian Peninsula are ancient. Persian missionaries spread the Gospel to communities along the coasts of the Persian Gulf, establishing footholds first in Kuwait and then further south. In the third century, an eparchy was established in the Bahrain Islands, and by the fifth century, the area emerged as a major center of the Church of the East, whose reach stretched to the gulf’s most southern shores and throughout its many islands.
The Arabian Peninsula, however, is better known as the birthplace of Islam. Today, the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants are Muslim. Nevertheless, tiny communities of Christians survived the rise and dominance of Islam and continued to practice their faith, notably in Bahrain and Kuwait.
When in the late 20th century the peninsula’s oil-rich countries began diversifying their economies and opening up to international trade and finance, they opened their borders to experienced professionals from India, elsewhere in the Middle East and the West — many of whom were Christian. In the most affluent countries, such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, a need for unskilled labor has compelled governments to offer work permits to migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, again, many of whom are Christian. Thus, small yet diverse Christian communities have sprouted up in urban areas.
Bahrain. An archipelago of 33 small islands, Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy with a total population of about 738,000, including some 235,100 foreign nationals. The majority is ethnic Arab, though there are sizable expatriate communities of South Asians and other groups. Roughly 81.2 percent of the population is Muslim and about 9 percent is Christian. The remaining 9.8 percent is Hindu and other religions. Most non-Muslims are foreign nationals. However, Bahrain is home to small indigenous Jewish and Christian communities, which together make up some 1 percent of the population.
Bahrain’s constitution establishes Islam as its state religion and Sharia as the principal source of legislation. Yet, it also guarantees the freedom of religion. The government has earned a good reputation internationally for its respect of human rights, including the freedom of religion.
Kuwait. Kuwait has a total population of about 2.8 million people, including 1.3 million foreign nationals. The majority is ethnic Arab, though there is a large South Asian minority and a notable ethnic Persian minority. The majority (as much as 85 percent) is Muslim. Regionally, Kuwait has a comparatively large Christian minority, about as much as 12 percent of the population. Though most are foreign nationals, a small indigenous Christian community exists. Hindus and a small Jewish community make up most of the remainder.
According to the Annuario Pontificio, the Holy See’s yearbook, some 250,000 Catholics live in Kuwait, including Latin, Maronite, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics. Other denominations active in the country include Anglicans, Armenians, Coptic and Greek Orthodox and Evangelical Protestants.
A constitutional monarchy, Kuwait relies on Sharia as the principal source of legislation. The government generally upholds the right to practice religion other than Islam.
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