Tribal Society in Yemen: No Room for Christianity

April 11, 2015 by Open Doors in Middle East

In the fourth century AD, both Christianity and Judaism were introduced into Yemen. The region was occupied by Ethiopians in the early part of the century. In about 630 AD, Islam was introduced into the region and a series of Arab caliphs ruled Yemen. The first mosques were built in San’a al-Janad and near Wadi Zabid, and they still exist. Later in the seventh century, Yemen’s political status in the new Islamic Empire diminished when the caliphs moved their capital first to Damascus and later to Baghdad. Yemen has been dominated by Islam ever since that time.

Throughout Yemen, tribal society remains very strong, and the government is a secondary institution to the traditional ways of tribal governance. As such, there are many areas in Yemen, where tribal elders enforce law and justice according to their Islam-based traditions regardless of what the national Constitution or government says. Moreover, the government is not likely to intervene in intertribal conflicts, even if tribes are physically harming or imprisoning members. Tribal law and customs prohibit members of the tribe from leaving the tribe or, in the case of women, marrying out of the tribe, especially to Christians in Yemen, often punished by death or banishment. Similarly, Islam is an overarching identity of all of the tribes in Yemen, and it is the tribe that often delivers retributive ‘justice’ for those who may seek to leave Islam (source: analyst Jacob Zenn).

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