Religious Freedom in the Gulf

Letter From Kuwait

In Kuwait City, Kuwait, the outdoor souk or market offers a little of everything, from cosmetics to electronics to sandals.  Hanging prominently is a prayer rug picturing the Nativity.  The Christ Child smiles down on Kuwaiti traders as the Muslim call to prayer blares in the background.

Americans sometimes forget that other countries restrict religious worship.  In Saudi Arabia, for instance, evangelism earns a foreigner jail time; apostasy results in death for a Christian convert.  Last year, 14 Ethiopian and Indian Christians were imprisoned and then expelled from that country for privately worshiping in their homes.

A welcome exception to such Muslim intolerance is Kuwait.  Barely a block from my hotel on a major street sit a Catholic church and a Coptic church.  Another long block away is an evangelical church, the meeting point for several independent congregations.

Christian churches have been in the Gulf since the fifth century A.D.  During Ottoman times, the British, Dutch, and Portuguese plied the trade routes and practiced their faiths.  In 1909, American Dr. Arthur Bennett took up residence in Kuwait, beginning a medical practice that led to construction of a hospital and a church.  Although the American Mission in Kuwait no longer exists, the Christian presence is bigger today, swelled by some 1.4 million foreign workers (there are just 800,000...

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