Often the western world forgets that there are Christians in the Arab world. Often the western church forgets too. Certainly, there are not many believers in comparison to the number of Muslims there today. Christians now represent about ten percent of the population of North Africa and the Middle East, but historically there have been Christians in the whole region since early church times. Indeed, they were the majority before the Arab invasions took place.
The treatment of Christians varies from country to country. In more Islamic countries they have often been marginalised, while secular governments may provide more protection and freedom. Life can be particularly hard for believers from a Muslim background. There is continuous pressure to return to Islam.
For the past 18 months many of us have watched events unfold in the Arab world with a sense of excitement and hope for more freedom, including religious freedom. But, as time has gone on, it has become apparent that the situation is more complex than it may have first appeared.
Living through these momentous events, our Arab brothers and sisters have had both positive and negative experiences. During Egypt’s revolution, many Christians united in protest with Muslims, and one particular church had a big presence in Tahrir Square. Muslims and Christians even sang and prayed together. But now we often hear of violent clashes between Muslims and Christians, and the election results have brought fear and uncertainty. Egyptian believers, including our own team members, do not know what the future holds under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In post-revolution Tunisia, many believers feel they have more freedom to openly express their faith. Some have even gathered publicly to worship together without any obvious objection from onlookers. Several months ago, a programme was broadcast about Tunisian Christians that was presented fairly and not unsympathetically. A moderate Islamic political party won the election but the general public do not seem keen to have an Islamic state and are quite vocally opposed to extremist viewpoints.
In Syria, the church is in a dilemma: If it sides with President Assad, from whose regime it has received protection for many years, life will get more and more difficult. But if it chooses to side with the opposition, there could be serious repercussions too. It seems that it can’t remain neutral, though perhaps that would be its preference. A post-Assad Syria would perhaps be similar to post-Saddam Iraq, which has lost thousands of believers over the past ten or so years. Already, hundreds if not thousands of Syrian Christians have left.
Christians in the Arab world daily face struggles that we Christians in the west may never face. Where no indigenous believers exist, the battle to gain acceptance in society as well as recognition from the state is uphill. It’s hard to imagine how that feels, but it is very encouraging to see that many former Muslims are persevering. Many encounter poverty, joblessness, singleness, homelessness and isolation along their spiritual journey, though they are never alone and will never be abandoned by the one who has called them by name.
Please pray for the church in the Arab world…
- Pray for the presence of Christian believers to be valued and for them to have a voice.
- Pray that believers would choose to remain in their homelands even though leaving might be easier.
- Pray for believers from a Muslim background to find comfort and strength through fellowship with others.