Why ‘Persecuted’ Is Not the Best Way to Describe Christians in the Gulf

In November, officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made a surprise announcement. Discovered among the white-hot sand dunes of Siniyah Island were the ruins of a 1,400-year-old Christian monastery, likely predating the rise of Islam.

Historians say that as Islam grew in influence in the seventh century, conversions to the new religion created what became the Arabian Peninsula of today. Tracing their lineage back centuries, Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris, Bahrainis, Omanis, and Yemenis today uniformly follow the creed of Muhammad.

The ancient monastery, however novel, is a relic of the past.

But what may be more surprising to many is that the modern Gulf is a mosaic of the present. Thriving Christian communities exist among the millions of migrant workers in the region. Church buildings are bursting at the seams, overflowing into rented hotels and movie theaters. Pope Francis has even visited—twice, including last month.

What explains this under-appreciated dynamic, in a region commonly understood to be a bastion of persecution? And in contrast, as Gulf nations tout their “tolerance,” what does it mean in reality?

The Arabian—or Persian—Gulf, located in western Asia between Iran and Saudi Arabia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean. Most of its neighboring peoples are Arabs, with Arabic as their official language, though dialects distinguish one region from another.

The nomenclature is controversial. Iran, the most-populous country adjacent to these waters with over 85 million citizens, has throughout its history designated the region as the Persian Gulf. Modern scholarship and historical records agree, going back at least 2,500 years to the time of the powerful Pars Empire.

But the nationalism of most of the Arab countries challenges the Iranian position and insists on designating it the Arabian Gulf. The 1958 coup of Abdulkarim Ghasem in Iraq, followed by anti-Iranian feelings in the region after Iran and Egypt ceased all diplomatic relations in 1960, led to a general Arab acceptance of Arabian Gulf over the alternate usage.


Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations Reflections on Some Qur’anic Texts


Humanity lives today in a “global village,” where no people or nation can live in isolation from and indifferent to what goes on elsewhere. Our world is so interdependent and so interrelated that peaceful dialogue has become an imperative. In spite of the general erosion of commitment to “religion,” however interpreted or misinterpreted, religion still plays a pivotal role in shaping people’s attitudes and influencing their behavior. In spite of serious instances of abuse of various religions by some of their claimed followers so as to justify or instigate acts of brutality and bloodshed, there are positive and helpful common themes in these religions. Therefore, peaceful and candid intra-faith and inter-faith dialogues are important tools in working for such goals. This paper is a humble contribution to that dialogue from one perspective within a major world religion that is the professed faith of nearly one fifth of the human race; one that is more misunderstood than any other faith, sometimes, even, by some of its followers. This paper examines the nature and parameters of the normative relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is based mainly on an attempt to understand the Qur’an in its own textual and historical context. To do this, it is necessary to begin with the methodology and assumptions that underpin the paper.


The basic methodology and assumptions of this paper are summed up as follows: As a religious faith, normative Islam is not identical with the actions of its “followers.” Like other religions, followers or claimed followers are imperfect, fallible human beings. There are times when their actions conform, in various degrees, to the normative teachings of their faith. But there are also times when their actions are either independent of or even in violation of such normative teachings.


Al-Aqsa storming doesn’t bode well for religious rights in Israel

Ben-Gvir’s actions are a direct threat not just to Muslims, but also Christians and liberal Jews.

On January 3, Israel’s newly sworn-in National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stormed Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site. The outrage and condemnations from Palestine and abroad followed swiftly.

The Palestinian government in Ramallah called on Palestinians to “confront the raids into Al Aqsa mosque”, while Hamas in Gaza labelled the move an “aggression against our sanctities”.

Arab states – including Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, which have normalised relations with Israel – condemned Ben-Gvir’s provocative actions. A planned visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Abu Dhabi was postponed.

The Biden administration slammed the move, saying it stands “firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem”.

The “status quo”, which Ben-Gvir is clearly intent on challenging, is a 19th-century arrangement regulating who administers the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It has been recognised by countries across the world, as well as the United Nations, and has the status of binding international law.

Al-Haram al-Sharif, where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, is part of the Islamic waqf (endowment) administered by the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. Thus, by the power of the status quo arrangement, it is King Abdullah II and the Jordanian-appointed Jerusalem Waqf Council who should decide what happens within its boundaries.


Academic Freedom vs. Rights of Muslim Students

An instructor at Hamline U showed an image of Muhammad in an art history class. The president criticized the instructor for doing so. Another professor, who tried to explain the situation with an essay in the student paper, had his piece removed.

Scott Jaschik

January 3, 2023

This fall, an instructor at Hamline University, in Minnesota, was teaching global art history. For one class, the instructor (who has not been named) was discussing Islamic art and included for a brief period (under 10 minutes) a screen image of Muhammad, the founder and prophet of the Muslim faith. The instructor had warned students of her plan.

The image (above) shows Muhammad receiving instruction from the angel Gabriel. The original painting is in a collection at Edinburgh University Library in Scotland.

The reaction to the lesson surprised the instructor and many others. One or more students complained about the image, believing (as many, but not all, Muslims believe) that showing the image was wrong.


“We have learned, over many years, that knowledge can be shared in a multitude of responsible, thoughtful and respectful ways. Our response to the classroom event does not disregard or minimize the importance of academic freedom. It does state that respect, decency, and appreciation of religious and other differences should supersede when we know that what we teach will cause harm,” Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and David Everett, associate vice president for inclusive excellence, wrote in a letter to the campus on Dec. 9, which was confirmed as reflecting the university’s position.

“It is not our intent to place blame; rather, it is our intent to note that in the classroom incident—where an image forbidden for Muslims to look upon was projected on a screen and left for many minutes—respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom. Many disciplines have embedded within them difficult and controversial theories and material, but as with virtually all subjects, they can be discussed without causing harm. Academic freedom is very important, but it does not have to come at the expense of care and decency toward others,” they added.

The university said that because the instructor was an adjunct, her dismissal was not a firing, as has been said in accounts of the incident in New Lines magazine and Reason.


Jesus and Muslim students at prayer

Jesus took a whip and drove the money changers from the temple. This doesn’t suggest he would have interrupted Muslim students at prayer.

A teacher at Franklin Academy Charter School in Pembroke Pines, Fla., however, interrupted Muslim students during prayer because, in her words, she “believes in Jesus” and accused the students of “doing magic.”

In the background, an adult can be heard telling the teacher, “They’re praying.”

In Muslim culture, the five daily Islamic prayers are extremely sacred and once started should not be disrupted by others or those involved in the praying.

During the sacred prayers, Muslims must keep their heads bowed and prostrate themselves a number of times, depending on the prayer and which time of day it falls under.

Such a rude, bad-mannered, thoughtless and cruel act as done by this teacher usually elicits the necessary cries of violations of the First Amendment. I gladly join those who would scream to the highest heaven about this blatant violation. There is, however, something else going on that deserves scrutiny. How Jesus gets dragged into the most insidious conspiracies, false claims, prejudice and mean-spiritedness is worthy of critique.

“How could a teacher accuse praying Muslims students of being magicians?”

How could a teacher accuse praying Muslims students of being magicians? Perhaps we should offer some charity and clarity. Perhaps the teacher really was overcome with righteous indignation. Perhaps she was deeply offended by the student actions. By no means has it been odd for a person of one religion to make wild accusations about persons of other religions. The Pharisees said Jesus was a devil. Christians were accused of being cannibals.

When the Reformation heated up the 16th century, Protestants and Catholics were ablaze with ugly accusations. Martin Luther said the Roman Catholic belief in miracles was superstition. Luther called them “lying wonders,” a “tom foolery” of the devil for “chasing people hither and yon.”


Opinion: I’m a Muslim immigrant, and my Canadian-born children changed my perspective on Christmas

Christmas music makes me cringe, unless it’s “Last Christmas”by George Michael. The sounds of strange old songs blaring through loudspeakers in retail stores doesn’t ring nostalgic for me, it just grates, like those cheesy tunes you would rather forget but aren’t given the opportunity to.

I may sound like a Grinch but nothing about North American Christmas traditions is sentimental to me because I grew up Muslim, in a Muslim country. Dec. 25 was just another day of winter break in my house, when my brother and I would watch endless hours of television as most ’90s kids did on days off from school.

When I first came to Canada, I was charmed by Christmas light displays, and festive markets selling handmade ornaments and hot cider. That charm wore off as expectations to participate fully were thrust upon me by friends and Catholic in-laws.

For those who have known Christmas their entire lives, it is difficult to try to understand the perspective of someone like me, who did not grow up with the same traditions.

Eid-al-Fitr, the feast day that marks the end of Ramadan, was the equivalent of Christmas for me growing up. We ate delicious food every night during Ramadan, and on Eid we gobbled up sweets and wore new clothes. I wanted to recreate these traditions for my own children who were born in Canada and will grow up far from their Muslim relatives. It felt like an impossible challenge because Christmas was too overpowering to compete with.


In Gaza, Christian and Muslim Palestinians celebrate Christmas together

  • About 1,300 Christians, both Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic, live in the Gaza Strip
  • Early Christmas mass this year was presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa

GAZA CITY, PALESTINE: In Gaza City, the small but tight-knit Catholic Christian community gathered at the Holy Family Church for Christmas mass earlier this month, presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
As Israel has prevented many Christians in Gaza from traveling to Bethlehem to attend midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity, they celebrated the holiday early.
“For years, I have been coming to Gaza to celebrate with the Christian community, to get close to them and support them,” Pizzaballa told Arab News.
The Patriarch spent three days in Gaza City, during which he visited the educational and medical institutions of the Latin Patriarchate.
“Not all Christians in Gaza have been granted permits, so it is necessary to share Christmas with them. I feel so warm here in Gaza,” he said.
Israel initially agreed to issue 645 permits to Palestinian Christians, submitted by the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs. The Israeli government decided earlier to grant Christians in Gaza 500 permits, not including children, to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Christmas.
The Israeli Gisha organization, which specializes in freedom of movement for Palestinians, said that as of Dec. 6, a total of 996 requests for permits had been submitted, of which 781 were for individuals above the age of 16. Of those, 514 were approved, in addition to 131 permits for children.


Eboo Patel: A Muslim family celebrates Christmas

By Eboo Patel

The stockings are up. So is the tree. Gifts appear throughout December. Some are unwrapped on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas Day. It’s all pretty typical for an American family, with one little twist.

We’re Muslim. And we celebrate Christmas not in spite of being a Muslim family — but because we are a Muslim family.

One reason we do this is what scholars of Islam call adopting good custom. This is an Islamic principle in which Muslims are encouraged to absorb the healthy and positive elements of the culture in which we live. Bringing people together during the darkest time of the year. Giving gifts to family and friends and people in need. Increasing charitable contributions. Taking a break from work. If that’s not good custom, I don’t know what is.

(Sure, I could do without the commercialization and the incessant holiday music, but nothing’s perfect.)

Christmas is also an opportunity for religious education, both about our own Muslim faith and about a different religion.

“Jesus is the reason for the season” my wife likes to say — and she means it. We spend a lot of time talking about Jesus at this time of year. I also think of this as quite natural for an American Muslim family.


Muslim Rule in Spain Was a Crucial Part of Europe’s History

For half a millennium, modern-day Spain was mostly ruled by Muslim kingdoms that presided over an extraordinary cultural experiment. The key to understanding Al-Andalus lies in its unorthodox social structure and its political location between two worlds.

A century after its birth in the western Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the seventh century, Islam had conquered the Middle East, Africa, and part of Southern Europe. This vibrant, expanding religion had established its western outpost in what is today most of Spain and Portugal.

What followed may be surprising to those familiar with the history of medieval religious polities on both sides of the Mediterranean. Here more than elsewhere in the Muslim world — not to mention the Christian states of Europe — minority faiths enjoyed a degree of toleration. Christians and Jews were able, at least during certain times, to continue to practice their faith, sometimes even alongside Muslims.

The Koran advocated acceptance of what Mohammed called other “religions of the Book,” such as Christianity and Judaism. However, such acceptance was generally accompanied, in practice, by certain forms of discrimination against the followers of these faiths — notably the requirement to pay additional taxes.

Yet in this region called Al-Andalus, this fluctuating tolerance — sometimes quite exceptional in its scope, sometimes reduced to nothing, depending on the period — was combined with extensive mutual cultural borrowings over a long period. Some authors have gone so far as to speak of a genuine Andalusian Enlightenment.

In a Europe where the role of Islam, past and present, is a matter of bitter political controversy, the experience of Al-Andalus continues to fascinate those who have studied its history. But what were the conditions that made this experience possible?


Cairo’s Dominican Institute builds bridges between Islam and Christianity

Father Emmanuel Pisani’s intensity and rapid-fire conversation belie his life’s vocation and the lofty goals he pursues.

The 50-year-old French monk is the director of Cairo’s Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies, a prominent academic centre whose genesis lies in a tiny monastery established by three Dominican brothers from Jerusalem more than a century ago.

It is now a global magnet for scholars of Islam and Arab civilisation and, more importantly to Father Emmanuel, it acts as a bridge between Christianity and Islam.

The holder of a doctorate in medieval Islamic philosophy and a fluent Arabic speaker, Father Emmanuel says his leadership of the institute is more than a job or even a calling — it is everything.

It is not easy, but it’s our hope, my calling and my mission in life. It’s what gives my life a meaning

Father Emmanuel Pisani, director, Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies, Cairo

“It is not easy, but it’s our hope, my calling and my mission in life. It’s what gives my life a meaning,” he told The National during a tour of the institute’s library of more than 180,000 volumes, which has one of the Middle East’s largest collections of Islamic heritage books in Arabic.

“I have no spouse or children. So, if I have no calling or a sense of purpose, then my life will be difficult. What I try to do is what gives sense to my life.”

When founded in the late 19th century, the monastery was located in the desolate desert on the eastern side of the Egyptian capital. The focus of the founding monks and their successors was the in-depth study of Egypt’s history to enable them to better understand the Bible from a historical perspective.

They also immersed themselves in theology and the interpretation of the Quran at a time when Egypt was witnessing a renaissance in Islamic thought led by scholars such as Mohammed Abdou and Rasheed Reda.

Inside the Cairo library built by Christian monks to study Islamic heritage

The monastery has not changed its location — although it became a research institute in 1953 — but the area around it has morphed beyond recognition.

The cemetery on whose edge it once sat has been rolled back to make way for a motorway. The barren desert that once surrounded it has become a busy but drab district of government, police and military buildings that becomes eerily deserted after sundown.

Visitors to the institute, however, only have to take a few steps after passing through its metal street door to be rid of the dreariness of its surroundings and savour the place’s isolation.