World Watch List Challenge – #41 Bahrain

October 20, 2014 by Open Doors in Middle East

 In the fourth and fifth century, many people in Bahrain became Christians. There are still a few islands whose names refer to Bahrain’s Christian heritage, such as ‘Al Dair’ meaning ‘the parish’ or ‘the monastery’. At that time, the historic region of Bahrain was much larger than the current nation. According to church records, the region became an important center of Nestorian Christianity in the early fifth century. Nestorians were persecuted as heretics in the Byzantine Empire, but enjoyed safety in Bahrain. This changed gradually after the arrival of Islam in 629, and the two bishoprics of Bahrain were dissolved after 835. Bahrain was in foreign hands from the 16th to the 20th century. When it was a British protectorate, American missionaries opened a Bible shop, a school, a missionary hospital – the first in the Arabian Gulf region – and a church in the early 20th century. The face of the church of Bahrain changed thought the influx of expatriates in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The church grew strongly in numbers during the 80s and 90s. The approximately 65,000 Christians in Bahrain are roughly composed of two groups: expatriate Christians and Christian Bahraini’s who hold Bahraini citizenship. The majority of Christians are Catholic expats from south and east Asia. Almost half of all churches and house groups are from south India. Other denominations such as different branches of Protestants and (Syrian) Orthodox are present, as well. There are as many as 80 fellowships that worship in many languages, including Arabic. Bahrain is one of the few Gulf countries, together with Kuwait, to have a native Christian population. This small group of naturalized Bahraini Christians are descended from Christian tribes originating from the ‘Levant’, an area covering Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There are also several extended Christian families who emigrated from Iraq, Iran and India in the early 20th century and obtained citizenship when Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971. *Names, photographs and other information have been changed for security purposes