Imagine a small country somewhere between Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Would such a country be likely to invite
contemporary Christian singer Michael W.
Smith to perform at a concert held under
the patronage of a government minister?
Can you imagine such a country holding an annual multifaith dialogue to compare and discuss religions?
Such actions would be considered an
abomination elsewhere in the Arabian
But such events happen in Bahrain, a
tiny nation of one million people – over
80 per cent of them Muslim. The Smith
concert was held last year, organized by
Bahrain’s churches along with the Bahrain Society for Tolerance and Religious
Such events can challenge our stereotypes of what life is like in the Middle
East, especially for Christians.
The island of Bahrain is wedged between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the stronghold of Sunni Islam. It is fastened to Saudi
Arabia by a 37-km-long causeway, which
carries up to 80,000 vehicles a day.
The 50-km-long island is also home
to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, a
buffer against Iran, across the water just
190 km to the east.
Iran once ruled Bahrain, but was
chased out in 1783 by the Khalifas, a Sunni
Muslim tribe that has now ruled for over
200 years. However most Bahrainis are
Shia Muslims, like the people of Iran.
These Muslim groups in Bahrain generally coexist, but differences can boil up,
as they did February 14, 2011, when thousands of protestors took to the streets in a
“Day of Rage” that at first glance seemed
to mimic the other popular Arab uprisings of the time.
The protest in Bahrain was in response
to an initiative to expand the police force
using recruits from Sunni nations. The
Shia viewed this as an effort to exclude
them economically and religiously.
Previous efforts by the king to include
the Shia in the political process were seen
as insufficient by the protesters. While the
king has remained conciliatory toward the
majority Shia, elements within the royal
family are not willing to make concessions.
After the initial protests in 2011, Bahrain invited other Gulf nations to help,
and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates responded with troops.
More commonly, visitors experience
Bahrain as a place like the Las Vegas
of the Gulf. Its restaurant chains, major
brands and nightclubs welcome visitors
from the neighbouring countries that
deny alcohol to their citizens.
Fresh water springs have supported successive civilizations for millennia. In the early days of air travel, Bahrain was a stopover
for flights between Europe and Asia.
This open atmosphere extends further.
Churches have considerable freedom.
Samuel Zwemer, well-known Christian
missionary to Arabia, arrived in Bahrain
in 1892, where he and his wife buried two
of their six children in 1904. Zwemer and
his colleagues in the Arabian Mission set
up a clinic that matured into the American Mission Hospital. It was the first
GlobalVillage n BY ADELE BLYTH
Bahrain: An Oasis for Christians
hospital in the wider region and this year
is opening two other clinics.
The National Evangelical Church is adjacent to the American Mission Hospital
and shares facilities with its seven congregations, each of which speaks a different
language. Dozens of other churches serve
thousands of expatriate Christians. Bahrain also has three Christian bookstores,
with stock in many languages to supply
residents in Bahrain and visitors from
neighbouring Gulf countries.
Christians comprise 10 per cent of
the total population. Only about 1,000 of
these 90,000 Christians are Bahraini, with
some descending from Christian families
who immigrated from elsewhere in the
Middle East. Bahrain also has a number
of Christians from a Muslim background.
May God preserve this island kingdom
and continue to use it to build His Kingdom. FT
ADeLe BLy TH (a pseudonym) resides
in the Middle east. she has been
living in and around the Arab
world for over 25 years.
On Our Knees
For basic facts about Bahrain and suggestions to incorporate in your prayers,