Christian History in the Arabian Gulf
Inhabitants of Qatar were introduced to Christianity after the faith was dispersed eastward by Mesopotamian Christians from 224 AD onward. Monasteries were constructed in Qatar during this era. During the latter part of this “Christian era,” Qatar was known by the Syriac name “Beth Qatraye.” The name translates to “region of the Qataris.” This region was not limited to Qatar; it also included Bahrain, Tarout Island, Al-Khatt, and Al-Hasa. In 628 AD, most of the Arab tribes converted to Islam.
It is likely that some settled populations in Qatar did not immediately convert to Islam. Isaac of Qatar, an early 7th century Syriac Christian mystic (and briefly Bishop of Nineveh) who is regarded as a saint in some churches, was born in Qatar. In 674, the bishops of Beth Qatraye stopped attending synods; although the practice of Christianity persisted in the region until the late 9th century.
St. Isaac of Qatar, 7th century
In the 7th century, Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula diminished significantly after the expansion of Islam. Christian tribes migrated north and east. For centuries Christians who were traders visited the areas to the west of the Arabian Gulf until the late 19th century when Europeans and Americans established hospitals, schools, businesses and diplomatic missions, and migrant labour from Asia began to find employment in the Gulf states. In places like Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, church buildings served these expatriate Christians, while in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Christians met in homes and schools for their prayers and religious meetings.
After the end of the colonial period, which coincided with the rapid expansion of the economies of most of the Gulf countries, labour migration increased dramatically. In most of the Gulf countries the Anglican Church was entrusted by the rulers to build centres of worship which would provide space for worship for Christians from many countries, languages, and differing Christian traditions. Similarly, the Anglican Church in Qatar established the Anglican Centre which accommodates Protestant Christians of many different nationalities, church traditions and liturgical styles.
Anglican History in Qatar
When expatriates came to Qatar to be employed in the oil industry in the 1930’s, many were Anglican Christians. Until 2003, non-Muslim religious gatherings were not officially permitted, though there is a long history of Christian groups discreetly meeting in homes and other locations. Prominent amongst these groups was a group of Christians of many nationalities and backgrounds who met in Doha under the name “Anglican and Allied Church.” There was a resident Anglican priest sponsored by the oil company from 1951-1962, but after that the congregation was served by clergy visiting from Iraq, then Bahrain, and also from Abu Dhabi.
However, in 1993, an Anglican priest was allowed residency in Qatar as part of the British Embassy staff. Following the gradual recognition of Churches, the Anglican and Allied congregation enjoyed generous hospitality at the Doha English Speaking School for many years.
In May of 2005, the local representatives of the five Churches (including the Anglican Church in Qatar) were officially recognized by the government of Qatar by signing respective 50-year (renewable) leases, on behalf of their parent Churches. At this time, the Anglican congregation in Doha became known as the Church of the Epiphany. The Church of the Epiphany now has two priests resident in Qatar who provide leadership to the church congregations. Today the Church of the Epiphany’s congregation is a diverse and multicultural community of many nationalities, with worship services in different languages, including English.
The Anglican Centre, Doha
The Anglican Centre was built with the kind permission of His Highness The Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, who authorized the leasing of land for the country’s first Christian communities since the seventh century.
The building was designed and constructed with a view to maximising space and accommodating as many Christian congregations as possible. It began serving the many Protestant Christian communities in 2013. The funds to build it came from individuals and corporations raised locally in Qatar and beyond, including the Epiphany congregations, many congregations worshipping in the Anglican Centre today, supporters in the UK and throughout the diocese, and other congregations in Qatar.
Today the Anglican Centre, a ministry of the Anglican Church in Qatar, has 26 different worship spaces and is the spiritual home for more than 85 Christian congregations and groups who worship in Qatar. On any given weekend, there are between 16,000-25,000 worshippers from 65 countries in over 150 worship services.
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