39. THE CHURCH IN QATAR: VISIBLE AMONG EXPATS, INVISIBLE AMONG LOCALS

History

Qatar is a small finger of land jutting out from the north-east coast of Arabia. Human occupation of Qatar dates back to the immediate post-flood era. Mesopotamia, where the tower of Babylon was located, was the first civilization to have a presence in the area during this Neolithic Period. The peninsula fell under the domain of several different empires during its early years of settlement, including the Seleucid, the Parthians and the Persian.

Many of the inhabitants of Qatar were introduced to Christianity after the faith was dispersed eastward by Mesopotamian traders and monks from in the 3rd Century. Many monasteries were constructed in Qatar during this era as the faith became the major religion of the peninsula. During the latter part of the Christian era, Qatar was known by the Syriac name ‘Beth Qatraye’. The region, however, was not limited to Qatar; it also included Bahrain, Tarout Island, Al-Khatt, and Al-Hasa. Islamic tradition says that in 628AD, most of the Arab tribes converted to Islam, however this is a fiction as in all areas where the Arab Empire spread, it took decades for Islam to emerge and centuries for Christianity to wane. History records famous saints such as Isaac of Nineveh, Gabriel of Qatar and Dadicho Qatraya active in the region after the alleged arrival of Islam.

After Islam eventually took root Qatar became a pearl trading centre and for many centuries was a backwater.  The Ottomans expanded their empire into Eastern Arabia and Qatar in 1871 but withdrew from the area in 1915 after the beginning of World War I. In 1916, Qatar became a British protectorate and in 1940 high-quality oil was discovered.

Today

Along with Bahrain, Qatar declined an offer to join the United Arab Emirates during independence talks in the lead up to full autonomy in 1971. In 1995, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani seized control of the country from his father. Since then Qatar has experienced a moderate degree of liberalisation, including the launch of the Al Jazeera television station, the endorsement of women’s suffrage or right to vote in municipal elections, drafting its first written constitution, and inauguration of many churches at a site called Church City. In 2010, Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, making it the first country in the Middle East to be selected to host the tournament.

Qatar is by far the richest country in the world with an average income 100% higher than for America! This is due to the fact that there are only a few hundred thousand citizens from among the 2.6 million inhabitants that get to share the colossal oil and gas wealth. Some 92% of the total population live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers amount to around 80% of the population, with Indians and Philippinos being the largest communities and subject to large scale discrimination. Qatar is totally dependent on oil for its wealth, so if it fails, so does the country.

The True Church

Qatar is a strict Wahhabi-Sunni Muslim nation. This is the strictest kind of Islam, the ideology behind Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. No Qatari Muslim citizen is allowed to leave Islam but expatriate workers are allowed to practice their faith. In fact several denominations have been offered land to build the first churches in the nation in 1,400 years. Operation World says there were some 15,000 evangelical believers in 2010 among the nearly 2 million expatriates. That number has skyrocketed in the last 10 years.

My research suggests there is a strong underground church network among non-Western expatriates. Reports suggest around 100,000 people  roll through the new Catholic church building on any Friday, most are from the Philippines. The mass of immigrant workers finalising the many new soccer stadiums are also coming to Christ in significant numbers. Church City houses many new church buildings, but they are still crowded many times a day on days of worship. Many thousands of Christians choose to live nearby. These developments are showing the local authorities that Christianity is a global religion, not a Western one.

For Qatari citizens it is a very different story. It is one of the hardest places on earth to be a Muslim background believer. Persecution levels are very high. The best chance for evangelism is from the thousands of servants working inside Qatari homes and from media ministries of various kinds. I could not find any information on the Qatari MBB underground church apart from this one prayer website.

Prayer Points

For incidental opportunities to witness to the Qatari’s

For continued growth of the expatriate global church among guest workers

For internet and other anonymous means of sharing the gospel

For the Holy Spirit to set up divine encounters

For Qatari’s meet Jesus through miracles, dreams and visions

For this once Christian country to once again lift up the name of Jesus as Lord

Officially, Qatari people are a completely unreached people group. Pray for change!

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