Muslim state to build first Christian church in 1,400 years

By November 24, 2005

Qatar (MNN) — An Anglican church will be the first Christian church of any kind in the Muslim nation of Qatar. The nearly $7-million development will be called the Church of the Epiphany and construction will begin early next year on land donated by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamd bin Khalifa al-Thani.

The church won’t have a cross on the building. Reverend Clive Handford says, “We are there as guests in a Muslim country and we wish to be sensitive to our hosts . . . but once you’re inside the gates it will be quite obvious that you are in a Christian center.”

Handford says, “We hope that the center can be a base for ongoing Muslim-Christian dialogue.”

Qatar’s Anglican community, estimated to number between 7,000 and 10,000 people, has held services in an English-language school in Doha for decades.

Christianity disappeared from most Gulf Arab states within a few centuries of the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. But Christian expatriates have migrated to the region over the past 100 years, particularly since the discovery of oil.

Some Gulf states have allowed churches to be built, including Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, where Western-friendly governments have sought to provide amenities to attract skilled expatriates. But in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, non-Muslim religious practice is banned.

While it is a conservative Muslim region, church officials say they haven’t experienced any problems or difficulties with local people. In fact, most have been welcoming and felt that this was right.

Qatar, home to huge gas reserves and enjoying an economic boom, prides itself on its security. With a population of fewer than one million, centered mainly in Doha, it is confident that it can keep an eye on everybody.

It’s not clear if this church will pave the way for other churches to be planted in Qatar.

Leave a Reply