Muslim Gulf makes room for churches as Qatar catches up
As the number of expatriate Christians in Middle East increases, some of those countries are allowing for more Churches to be constructed.
March 14, 2008 DUBAI (AFP) Just in time for Easter, Christians in Qatar will get their first church on Friday, joining fellow believers in many other Gulf countries who have long been able to worship in their own churches rather than homes or other venues.
An exception is Saudi Arabia , which adheres to a rigorous doctrine of Islam known as Wahhabism. The ultra-conservative kingdom, which is home to Islam's holiest sites, bans all non-Muslim religious rituals and materials.
In contrast, Bahrain , Kuwait , Oman and the United Arab Emirates host churches that cater to hundreds of thousands of expats and, in some cases, tiny local communities.
Ironically, Qatar also adheres to Wahhabism but it has opened up to other faiths in the past decade.
On Friday, a Vatican envoy is due to inaugurate St Mary's Roman Catholic church in Doha , the first of five that will be built in Qatar . That will give Catholics a special gift for Easter, which is celebrated on March 23.
" Bahrain hosts the first church of the Gulf region, founded in 1906 by American Anglican missionaries," boasted Yussef Haidar, secretary of the Anglican church there.
Bahrain has about 1,000 Christian citizens, including a woman member of an appointed consultative council.
Kuwait has about 10 churches, including a recently renovated complex in the heart of its capital.
There are only some 200 Christians -- mainly of Iraqi or Palestinian origin -- among the one-million native population of Kuwait . But the emirate is home to 350,000-400,000 foreign Christians, mostly from India , the Philippines , Egypt , Lebanon and Western countries.
-- 'There is a need for more churches'--
Complaints by some Christians that they were forced to rent private residences and turn them into places of worship, prompted the Kuwaiti government three years ago to allot two large plots of land for new churches.
But construction has been stymied by some Islamist MPs and members of the country's sole municipal council.
But in the UAE, "there is a need for more churches to cope with the growing number of Christians," said Koussaifi, a Lebanese who conducts Arabic and French services.
A recent unofficial study showed that an influx of foreigners bolstered the UAE population to 5.6 million by the end of 2006, of whom nationals made up just 15.4 percent.