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Gulf Times – The Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has donated a plot of land to the Anglican community to build the first church in Qatar , officials said yesterday. Church officials said they had been in talks with the Qatari government for five years and only recently received final approval. Work on the $7mn Church of the Epiphany and community centre was expected to start early next year.

“This is nothing new,” a senior government official said. “Other Gulf states have done the same thing and they, as do we, respect the rights of all residents to practise their faith and religion.”

Qatar has about 70,000 Christians, mostly Roman Catholics. Qatar ’s estimated 7,000-10,000 members of the Anglican Church were using an English school in the capital Doha as a place of worship.

“It shows the generosity and far-sightedness of the ruler of Qatar . It also reflects a concern for the meeting of religions and dialogue, particularly the Muslim-Christian dialogue,” Clive Handford, the Nicosia-based Anglican Bishop for Cyprus and the Gulf, said.

With the decision, Qatar falls into line behind Kuwait , Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates , where churches are allowed, but not Saudi Arabia .

The news drew mixed reaction among Qataris.

Abdul-Rahman, a 38-year-old businessman, welcomed the decision.

“Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that Christians and Jews should be permitted to practise their faith openly,” he said.

Others feared it could affect Qatar ’s identity.

“I hope this doesn’t start taking away from our culture, heritage and traditions,” said Munira, 28, a public relations consultant.

Analysts believe the move would anger conservative Qataris.