By Fathersuperior-When we think of the Arab world, we tend to think of an Islamic world. But there is still a sizable Arab Christian population.
The Middle East and Egypt - and even parts of the Arabian peninsular - were Christian before they were Muslim.
In 2009 there were 41 million Christians in the Arab world, of a total Arab population of 328 million.That makes 12.5% of the Arab population.
Most Christian Arabs are found in Egypt, then Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Christians in Syria are currently being persecuted by elements of the anti-Assad rebels whom the British government is arming, and should President Assad’s secular regime be overthrown, and the Islamic fundamentalists gain power, those Arab Christians living in Syria will almost certainly have to flee the country.
The largest number of Christians in the Arab world are to be found in Egypt; approximately 16 million (out of a population of 82 million).These are Coptic Christians.
Like the pre-Islamic Christians of the Arabian peninsular, they are Miaphysite Christians*.
During the 5th century they adopted the vernacular Egyptian language, Copt, as the Egyptian Church’s language, rather than Greek, the official language of the Byzantine Empire, when their quarrel with the Orthodox imperial church proved to be intractable.
(The Ethiopian Church is also a Miaphysite church. Until as recently as the 1950s, the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church was - by ancient tradition - a bishop from the Egyptian Coptic church).
Lebanon has the highest percentage of Christians, at just over 40% of the population.
In much of the Arab world, Christians are suffering ever-increasing persecution.
Ancient Christian communities are being broken up and dispersed. Many thousands of Christians have had to flee Iraq since the western invasion of that country.
Periodic persecution of Christians in Egypt is becoming more frequent.
Most Christian Arabs of the middle east belong to one of the autonomous particular churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), collectively making up the Eastern Catholic Church.
For example, the Maronites of Lebanon are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Catholic Churches adhere to their own traditional liturgical rites, which would strike a Latin rite Catholic as distinctly foreign, and they are led by their own Patriarchs.
Those Arab Christians who do not belong to the Eastern Catholic Church, may be members of churches in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Roman Catholic Church has a Vicariate Apostolic of Northern Arabia, located in Bahrain, which covers the countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia - though there are no churches in Saudi Arabia.
In what was once, historically, an important centre of Christianity - Saudi Arabia - there are officially no Saudi Christians.
The earliest mention of Christians in the Arabian world comes from the New Testament, when the Apostle Paul refers to his journey in Arabia following his conversion (Galatians 1:15 – 17).
By the 4th century, a great many Christians lived in Egypt, and there were significant numbers in the Sinai peninsular, Mesopotamia and the Arabian peninsular (Modern-day Saudi Arabia, and the Yemen).
One of the earliest church buildings discovered by archaeologists, the Jubail Church, built in the 4th century, is located in modern Saudi Arabia. Modern south-western Saudi Arabia, and parts of the Yemen, were strongly Christian during Islam’s early years.
Many Arab tribes adopted the Christian faith.
These included the Nabateans and the Ghassanids (of Qahtani origin). The Ghassanids, having migrated to present day Jordan and Syria from the Arabian Peninsula, established a (Miaphysite) Christian kingdom reaching from Syria to the Red Sea.
They were for a time a useful buffer against the Sassanian (Persian) threat to the Eastern Roman empire, but they were unable to resist the onslaught of Islam in the 7th century.
In the early 6th century, Miaphysite Christians fleeing state persecution within the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, gathered around the city of Najran (now in south-western Saudi Arabia), where there was already a Christian community. In around 525, a local Christian ruler, Abraha, established a wealthy Miaphysite Christian kingdom in southern Arabia (A kingdom referred to in the Koran as “Sheba”).
In the same decade that Mohamed, the founder of Islam, was born (b. approx 570), the famous and economically vital Marib dam, upon which the region’s agricultural prosperity relied, was breached, and the complex and sophisticated culture of the region collapsed.
No longer backed by a powerful and wealthy state, Christianity in the region gradually withered. Even so, Islam was unable to gain total religious dominance over the regions’ people until as late as the 10th century.
The least number of Christians to be found in the Arab world is in Saudi Arabia (before the onset of Islam, the home to 100s of 1000s of Christians).
Officially, there are no Saudi Christians whatsoever.
The dominance of the hard line Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia means that despite Islamic Sharia law according Christians the right to practice their religion free of interference or persecution, on payment of the Jizyah (religious tax), Christians have no rights whatsoever in Saudi Arabia.
Christian worship is outlawed in Saudi Arabia, except in private homes or at the embassies of Christian countries; Christian clergy are forbidden entry to Saudi Arabia.
Objects of the Christian faith, such as the Bible, crucifixes, Christian iconography etc., are banned from entering the country.
Should a Muslim convert to Christianity in Saudi Arabia, he has committed the crime of apostasy, for which the official punishment today is death - at the hands of the secular authorities.
And it is these people, the Saudis, who fund terrorist training centres in Britain in the guise of Muslim community centres and mosques, and who are buying up more and more of Britain’s assets, and whom our government regards as sound allies and welcome friends to Britain.
A BNP government would not permit the Saudis to buy up Britain, nor to fund the spread of the Wahhabi sect in Britain. Nor would the BNP permit the Saudis to fund Islamic “community centres” and mosques in Britain.
We may require oil from the Saudis, but we require nothing else from them, least of all their particularly medieval, harsh and intolerant version of Islam.
*Miaphysite Christians believe that Christ has but one nature, rather than the dual natures - both wholly Man, and wholly God - that the Orthodox Church of the time believed (and which mainstream churches of today believe also).