|Regions with significant populations|
excluding 1 million Maronites
excluding Copts and Maronites
excluding disputed territories
excluding 9-15 million Copts
including Antiochian Greeks
|Arabic, Hebrew (within Israel), French (within Lebanon and diaspora), English, Spanish and Portuguese (diaspora)|
(Eastern, various rites and jurisdictions; Latin)
(Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria)
[a].^ prior to Syrian civil war
Arab Christians (Arabic: ﺍﻟﻤﺴﻴﺤﻴﻮﻥ ﺍﻟﻌﺮﺏ al-Masīḥiyyūn al-ʿArab) are Arabs of the Christian faith. Arab Christians are estimated to number between 520,000–703,000 in Syria, 350,000 in Lebanon, 221,000 in Jordan, 10,000–350,000 in Egypt, 133,130 in Israel and 50,000 in the State of Palestine. There are also Arab Christian communities in Iraq and Turkey.
Arab Christians have significantly influenced and contributed to the Arabic culture in many fields both historically and in modern times, including literature, politics, business, philosophy, music, theatre and cinema, medicine, and science. Emigrants from Arab Christian communities make up a significant proportion of the Middle Eastern diaspora, with sizable population concentrations across the Americas, most notably in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and the US, however those emigrants in the Americas, especially from the first wave of emigration, have often not passed the Arabic language to their descendants.
Arab Christians are not the only Christian group in the Middle East, with significant Arabic-speaking Christian communities of Assyrians, Armenians, and others, who do not identify as Arab. Although sometimes classified as "Arab Christians", the large Middle Eastern Christian groups of Maronites and Copts often claim non-Arab ethnicity: a significant proportion of Maronites claim descent from the ancient Phoenicians while a significant proportion of Copts also eschew an Arab identity, preferring an Ancient Egyptian one.
The history of Arab Christians spans from the earliest adoption of Christianity by Arab tribes and consequent Arabized communities during the time of the Late Roman Empire to the modern history in Arab societies today.
Arab Christians are the indigenous Christian communities of Western Asia who became majority Arabic-speaking after the consequent seventh-century Muslim conquests in the Fertile Crescent. The Christian Arab presence predates Muslim conquests and there were many Arab tribes which adhered to Christianity beginning in the 1st century. The New Testament has a biblical account of Arab conversion to Christianity recorded in the book of Acts. When Saint Peter preaches to the people of Jerusalem, they ask,
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
[...] Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:8, 11 KJV)
The first mention of Christianity in Arabia occurs in the New Testament as the Apostle Paul references his journey to Arabia following his conversion (Galatians 1: 15–17). Later, Eusebius discusses a bishop named Beryllus in the see of Bostra, the site of a synod c. 240 and two Councils of Arabia. Scholars suggest that Philip the Arab was the first Christian emperor of Rome (244 to 249).
The first Arab tribes to adopt Christianity were likely Nabataeans and Ghassanids. The Nabataeans were among the first Arab tribes to arrive in the southern Levant in the late first millennium BC. The Nabataeans initially adopted pagan beliefs, but they became Christians by the time of the Byzantine period around the 4th century. Their lands were divided between the new Qahtanite Arab tribal kingdoms of the Byzantine vassals, the Ghassanids, the Himyarite Kingdom and the Kindah in North Arabia. During the fifth and sixth centuries, the Ghassanids, who at first adopted monophysitism, formed one of the most powerful confederations allied to Christian Byzantium, being a buffer against the pagan tribes of Arabia. The last king of the Lakhmids, al-Nu'man III ibn al-Mundhir, a client of the Sasanian Empire in the late sixth century, converted to Christianity (in this case, to the Nestorian sect favoured by the native Christians of al-Hira). Petra in Jordan is an ancient Nabataean city and it is considered to be a sacred site for many Arab Christians in the Levant. The tribes of Tayy, Banu Abdul Qays, Banu Hamdan and Taghlib amongst others are also known to have included many Christians in the pre-Islamic period.
By the fourth century, a significant number of Christians occupied the Sinai Peninsula, Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula. History also records Christian influence coming from Ethiopia to Arab lands in pre-Islamic times. Some Hejazis, including a cousin of Muhammad's wife Khadija bint Khuwaylid, may have adopted the religion, whilst some Ethiopian Christians may have lived in Mecca. The southern Arabian city of Najran (in modern day Saudi Arabia), was the center of Arabian Christianity, made famous by the religious persecution by one of the kings of Yemen, Dhu Nuwas, who himself was an enthusiastic convert to Judaism. The leader of the Arabs of Najran during the period of persecution, al-Ḥārith, was canonized by the Catholic Church as Arethas. Aretas was the leader of the Christian community of Najran in the early 6th century and was executed during the persecution and massacre of Christians by the Jewish king in 523.
Following the fall of large portions of former Byzantine and Sasanian provinces to the Arab armies, a large indigenous Christian population of varying ethnicities came under Arab Muslim dominance. Historically, a number of minority Christian sects were persecuted as heretic under Byzantine rule (such as non-Chalcedonians). As Muslim army commanders expanded their empire and attacked countries in Asia, North Africa and southern Europe, they would offer three conditions to their enemies: convert to Islam, or pay jizya (tax) every year, or face war to death. Those who refused war and refused to convert were deemed to have agreed to pay jizya.
As "People of the Book", Christians in the region were accorded certain rights under Islamic law to practice their religion (including having Christian law used for rulings, settlements or sentences in court). In contrast to Muslims, who paid the zakat tax, they paid the jizya, an obligatory tax. The jizya was not levied on slaves, women, children, monks, the old, the sick, hermits, or the poor. In return, non-Muslim citizens were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to Muslim state's protection from outside aggression, to be exempted from military service and the zakat. Like Arab Muslims, Arab Christians refer to God as Allah, as an Arabic word for "God". The use of the term Allah in Arab Christian churches predates Islam by several centuries.
The Christian al-Chemor family ruled two sheikhdoms in Northern Lebanon, Koura from 1211 to 1633 AD and the Zawyia region of Zgharta from 1641 to 1747 AD. Its lineage traces from King Abu Chemor, a Christian Ghassanid who gave his name to the family.
The designation "Greek" in the Greek Orthodox Church and Melkite Greek Catholic Church refers to the use of Koine Greek in liturgy, used today alongside Arabic. As a result, the Greek dominated clergy was commonplace serving the Arabic speaking Christians, the majority who couldn't speak Greek. Some viewed Greek rule as cultural imperialism and demanded their emancipation from Greek control, as well as the abolishment of the centralized structure of the institution via Arab inclusion in decision-making processes.
Christians of varying ethnicities formed a majority in most areas of the Middle East prior to the conquest of the Levant and remained a significant plularity until nearly a millennium after the conquest. The Islamic conquests set forth two processes affecting these Christian communities: the process of Arabization, causing them gradually to adopt Arabic as a spoken, literary, and liturgical language (often alongside their ancestral tongues) and the much slower, yet persistent process of Islamization. Prior to the Arabization they spoke and wrote a variety of languages, including Koine Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Middle Persian, and Sogdian. Arabic was spoken but not written by Arab tribes and sedentary populations in Arabia, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq who had converted to Christianity in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. Over time there was a need for works in Arabic to serve the Arabized Christians that now spoke and wrote primarily in Arabic. The first to write in Arabic were Theodore Abu-Qurrah, Severus Ibn al-Muqaffa, Ammar al-Basri and Abdulmasih al-Kindi, nearly three centuries after the conquest.
The struggle for the Arabization of the Orthodox Church against the Greek clerical hegemony in Palestine however led Orthodox Christian intellectuals like Issa El-Issa to rebel against the Church’s Greek dominated hierarchy. The rebellion was divided between those who sought a common Ottoman cause with their Muslim compatriots against European intrusions and those who identified with Arab nationalism against pan-Turkic nationalism. Its main advocates were well known community leaders and writers such as Ya‘qub Farraj, Khalil al-Sakakini, Yusuf al-Bandak (publisher of Sawtal-Sha‘b) and Yousef El-Issa and Issa El-Issa. The cousins belonged to the Palestinian Christian El-Issa family and were among the first to establish Palestinian Nationalism through their family's numerous newspapers, most notably Filastin newspaper which was established in 1909. Both Sakakini and Issa argued the Palestinian and Syrian Orthodox community constituted an oppressed majority controlled and manipulated by a minority Greek and Cypriot clergy.
Some of the most influential Arab nationalists were Christians, like the Syrian intellectual Constantin Zureiq, Ba'athism proponent Michel Aflaq and Jurji Zaydan, who was reputed to be the first Arab nationalist. Khalil al-Sakakini, a prominent Jerusalemite, was also an Arab Orthodox, as was George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening. Najib Nassar's newspaper Al-Karmil was the first pro-Palestinian anti-Zionist weekly newspaper. It appeared in Haifa in December 1908 and was shut down by the British government in the 1940s.
Antiochian Greek Identity
The homeland of the Antiochian Greek Christians, known as the Diocese of the East, was one of the major commercial, agricultural, religious, and intellectual areas of the Roman Empire, and its strategic location facing the Persian Sassanid Empire gave it exceptional military importance. Antiochian Greek Christians constitute a multi-national group of people and construct their identity in relation to specific historical moments. Analyzing cultural identity as a conscious construction is more helpful than a simple labelling of ethnicity, thus the identity of the 'Anthiochian Greek' tends to be used by members of the diaspora, noting the unique and separate origins and history distant from the mainstream Islamic connotations the modern 'Arab' identity has in modern times. Ethnicity tends to be used as the “naturalization of group identity,” in that, the context of the creation of cultural identity is obscured, and ethnicity becomes a “possession of certain attributes”.
Many Antiochian Greek members today still call themselves Rûm which literally means "Roman", or "Asian Greek". Some members of the community also call themselves "Melkites", which means "monarchists" or "supporters of the emperor" in Semitic languages (a reference to their past allegiance to Macedonian and Roman imperial rule), but, in the modern era, that term tends to be more commonly used by followers of the Catholic Church.
Role in al-Nahda
The Nahda was a cultural renaissance that began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it began in the wake of the exit of Muhammad Ali of Egypt from the Levant in 1840. Beirut, Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo were the main centers of the renaissance and this led to the establishment of schools, universities, theater and printing presses. It also led to the renewal of literary, linguistic and poetic distinctiveness. The emergence of a politically active movement known as the "association" was accompanied by the birth of the idea of Arab nationalism and the demand for the reformation of the Ottoman Empire. The emergence of the idea of Arab independence and reformation led to the calling of the establishment of modern states based on the European-style.
It was during this stage that the first compound of the Arabic language was introduced along with the printing of it in Arabic letters. This led into the fields of music, sculpture, history and the humanities, as well as economics and human rights. This cultural renaissance during the late Ottoman rule was a quantum leap for them in the post-industrial revolution, and is not limited to the individual fields of cultural renaissance in the nineteenth century, as the Nahda movement only extended to include the spectrum of society and the fields as a whole. It is agreed amongst historians the importance of the roles played by the Arab Christians in this renaissance, in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and their role in the prosperity through participation in the diaspora also.
Because Arab Christians formed the educated class, they had a significant impact on politics, business and culture of the Arab World. Some of the most influential Arab nationalists were Arab Christians, for example, Saleem Takla and his brother Bishara Takla founded the Al-Ahram newspaper in 1875 in Egypt and it is now the most widely circulated Egyptian daily newspaper and second oldest. Christian colleges like Saint Joseph University and the American University of Beirut thrived in Lebanon, Al-Hikma University in Baghdad and others played leading role in the development of civilization and Arab culture. Given this growing Christian role in politics and culture, Ottoman ministers began to have Arab Christians in their governments. In the economic sphere, a number of Christian families such as the Sursock became prominent. Thus, the Nahda led the Muslims and Christians to a cultural renaissance and national general despotism. This established the renaissance and solidified Arab Christians as one of the pillars of the region and not as a minority on the fringes.
Role in al-Mahjar
The Mahjar (one of its more literal meanings being "the Arab diaspora") was a literary movement that succeeded the Nahda movement. It was started by Christian Arabic-speaking writers who had emigrated to America from Ottoman-ruled Lebanon, Syria and Palestine at the turn of the 20th century. These writers, in South America as well as the United States, contributed to the further development of the Nahda in the early 20th century. Kahlil Gibran is considered to have been the most influential of the "Mahjar poets" or "Mahjari poets". The writers of the Mahjar movement were stimulated by their personal encounter with the Western world and participated in the renewal of Arabic literature, hence their proponents being sometimes referred to as writers of the "late Nahda".
The Pen League was the first Arabic-language literary society in North America, formed initially by Nasib Arida and Abd al-Masih Haddad. Members of the Pen League included: Nasib Arida, Rashid Ayyub, Wadi Bahout, William Catzeflis, Kahlil Gibran, Abd al-Masih Haddad, Nadra Haddad, Elia Abu Madi, Mikhail Naimy, and Ameen Rihani. Eight out of the ten members were Greek Orthodox and two were Maronite Christians. The league dissolved following Gibran's death in 1931 and Mikhail Naimy's return to Lebanon in 1932.
Abraham Mitrie Rihbany was a Lebanese-American Intellectual of the Mahjar movement. His best-known book, The Syrian Christ (1916), was highly influential in its time in explaining the cultural background to some situations and modes of expression found in the Gospels.
It is a common agreement that after the rapid expansion of Islam from the 7th century onward, many Christians chose not to convert to Islam. Many scholars and intellectuals like Edward Said believe Christians in the Arab world have made significant contributions to the Arab civilization since the introduction of Islam. The top poets at times were Arab Christians, and many Arab Christians are physicians, philosophers, writers, government officials, and people of literature. Arab Christians traditonally formed the educated upper class, and they have had a significant impact in the culture of the Mashriq. Due to the geopolitical situations of the host countries, Arab Christians today remain politically moderate, highly educated and relatively wealthy.
Arab Christians have always been the go-between the Islamic world and the Christian West, mainly down to shared religious affinity. The Greek Orthodox share Orthodox ties with Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece; whilst Melkites and Maronites share Catholic bonds with Italy, Vatican, France and wider Syriac Christendom. In Lebanon, Maronite Christians and Greek Catholics looked to France and the Mediterranean world, whereas most Muslims and Orthodox Christians looked to the Arab hinterland as their political lodestar. In recent times (especially since the mid-19th century), some Arab Christian families have been converted from native, traditional churches to more recent Protestant ones, most notably Baptist and Methodist churches. This is mostly due to an influx of Western missionaries.
Since antiquity, there has always been a Levantine presence in Egypt, however they started becoming a distinctive minority in Egypt around the early 18th century. The Syro-Lebanese Christians of Egypt were highly influenced by European culture and established churches, printing houses and businesses across Egypt. Their aggregate wealth was reckoned at one and a half billion francs, 10% of the Egyptian GDP at the end of the 20th century. They took advantage of the Egyptian constitution that established the juridical equality of all citizens and granted the Christians the fullness of civil rights, prior to the Nasser reforms.
The Massacre of Aleppo of 1850 often referred to simply as The Events was a riot perpetrated by Muslim residents of Aleppo, largely from the eastern quarters of the city, against Christian residents, largely located in the northern suburbs of Judayde (Jdeideh) and Salibeh. The Events are considered by historians to be particularly important in Aleppian history, for they represent the first time disturbances pitted Muslims against Christians in the region. The patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church Peter VII Jarweh was fatally wounded in the attacks and died a year later. 20-70 people died from rioting and 5,000 died as a result of bombardment.
1860 Mount Lebanon civil war / 1860 Damascus massacre was a civil conflict in Mount Lebanon during Ottoman rule in 1860-1861 fought mainly between the local Druze and Maronite Christians. Following decisive Druze victories and massacres against the Christians, the conflict spilled over into other parts of Ottoman Syria, particularly Damascus, where thousands of Christian residents were killed by Muslim and Druze militiamen. With the connivance of the military authorities and Turkish soldiers, Druze and Sunni Muslim paramilitary groups organised pogroms in Damascus which lasted three days (9-11 July). By the war's end, around 20,000 people, mainly Catholic Christians, had been killed in Mount Lebanon and Damascus, and 380 Christian villages and 560 churches were destroyed. Missionary schools were set on fire.
Melkite Greek Catholic and Maronite Christians suffered a religiously-motivated Genocide at the hands of the Ottomans and their allies during the Great Famine of Mount Lebanon during World War I, which ran in conjunction with the Assyrian genocide, the Armenian Genocide and the Greek genocide. The Mount Lebanon famine caused the highest fatality rate by population during World War I. Around 200,000 people starved to death when the population of Mount Lebanon was estimated to be 400,000 people. The Lebanese diaspora in Egypt funded the shipping of food supplies to Mount Lebanon during the Great Famine, sent via the Syrian Island town of Arwad. On 26 May 1916, Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran wrote a letter to Mary Haskell that read:
The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, a number of Palestinian Arab Greek Orthodox communities were ethnically cleansed and driven out of their towns, including al-Bassa, Ramla, Lod, Safed, Kafr Bir'im, Iqrit, Tarbikha, Eilabun and 20,000 Christians fled Haifa. In addition, around 20,000 fled West Jerusalem, 700 fled Acre and 10,000 fled Jaffa. Many Christian towns or neighborhoods were totally or partially ethnically cleansed and destroyed during the period between 1948 and 1953. All the Christian residents of Safed, Beisan, Tiberias were removed, and a big percentage displaced in Haifa, Jaffa, Lydda and Ramleh. Prominent Christians remained such as Tawfik Toubi, Emile Touma and Emile Habibi and they went on to be leaders of the Palestinian Communist party in Israel. George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was an Arab Christian. Wadie Haddad was the leader of the PFLP's armed wing. Many Palestinian Christians were also active in the formation and governing of the Palestinian National Authority since 1994. Arab Christian Constantin Zureiq was the first to coin the term "Nakba" in reference to the 1948 Palestinian exodus.
In 1975, the Lebanese Civil War occurred between two broad camps, the mainly Christian 'rightist' Lebanese Front consisting of Maronite and Melkites, and the mainly Muslim and Arab nationalist 'leftist' National Movement, supported by the Druze, Greek Orthodox and the Palestinian community. The war was characterized by the kidnap, rape and massacre of those caught in the wrong place as each side eliminated 'enemy' enclaves - mainly Christian or Muslim low-income areas. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon with the aim of destroying the PLO, which it besieged in West Beirut. Israel was later obliged to withdraw as a result of multiple guerrilla attacks by the Lebanese National Resistance Front and increasing hostility across Lebanon to their presence. Greek Orthodox-born SSNP member Sana'a Mehaidli is believed to be the first female suicide bomber. She is known in Lebanon as the "Bride of the South" and martyred herself in Jezzine during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.
With the events of the Arab Spring, the Syrian Arab Christian community was heavily hit in line with other Christian communities of Syria, being victimized by the war and specifically targeted as a minority by Jihadist forces. Many Christians, including Arab Christians, were displaced or fled Syria over the course of the Syrian Civil War, however some stayed and continue to fight with the Syrian Armed Forces and the allied Eagles of the Whirlwind (armed wing of the SSNP) against insurgents today. When the conflict in Syria began, it was reported that Christians were cautious and avoided taking sides, but that due to the increased violence in Syria and ISIL's growth, Arab Christians have shown support for Assad, fearing that if Assad is overthrown, they will be targeted. Christians support the Assad regime based on fear that the end of the current government could lead to instability. The Carnegie Middle East Center stated that the majority of Christians are more in support of the regime because they fear a chaotic situation or to be under the control of the Islamic Western and Turkish backed armed groups. Significant persecution of Iraqi Christians in Mosul and other areas held by ISIS occurred from 2014 onwards, with Christian houses identified as "N" for "Nasrani" (Christian).
The founder and subsequent editors of the Lebanese An-Nahar newspaper belong to the Tueni family. The Tueni family is one of the original Greek Orthodox aristocratic "Seven Families" of Beirut, along with the Bustros, Fayad, Araman, Sursock, Fernaine, and Trad families, who constituted the traditional high society of Beirut from Achrafieh. The first Syrian nationalists were, like the Arab nationalists, also Christian. Antoun Saadeh was the founder behind the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and Butrus al-Bustani is considered to be the first Syrian nationalist. Sa'adeh rejected Arab Nationalism and argued instead for the creation of a United Syrian Nation or Natural Syria. Other academics include the essayist and scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb, surgeon Michael DeBakey, intellectual Edward Said and Nobel Prize winners Elias James Corey and Peter Medawar.
In accordance with the National Pact, the President of Lebanon must be a Maronite Christian, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament a Greek Orthodox Christian and Melkites and Protestants have nine reserved seats in the Parliament of Lebanon. Charles Debbas was the first President of Lebanon (before independence) and served from 1926 till 1934, under the French Mandate of Lebanon (known as Greater Lebanon). Fares al-Khoury was the twice prime minister of Syria and "godfather of modern Syrian politics". Faris Koury's position as prime minister is, as of 2021, the highest political position a Christian has ever reached in Syria. Other prominent politicians in Arab societies include, Rajai Muasher, Dawoud Abdallah Rajiha, Afif Safieh, Mounir Abou Fadel, Nayef Hawatmeh, Gebran Tueni, Hanan Ashrawi, Ayoub Tabet and Charbel Nahas.
The prominent Lebanese Christian diaspora include prominent politicians. Notables include Michel Temer (37th president of Brazil), Julio Teodoro Salem, Abdalá Bucaram and Jamil Mahuad (all Presidents of Ecuador), Alberto Dahik (Vice-President of Ecuador), Luis Abinader (current President of the Dominican Republic) Jacobo Majluta Azar (Vice-President of the Dominican Republic), Julio Cesar Turbay (25th President of Colombia), Alberto Abdala (Vice-President of Uruguay), Mario Abdo (current President of Paraguay) and Edward Seaga (5th Prime Minister of Jamaica). Famous politicians in America of Lebanese Christian descent include Ralph Nader, 2000, 2004 and 2008 US presidential candidate, Alex Azar current United States Secretary of Health, Spencer Abraham former United States Secretary of Energy, Mark Esper former United States Secretary of Defense, John Sununu former White House Chief of Staff, Darrell Issa US politician, George J. Mitchell US Politician and Peace Envoy, Charlie Crist Governor of Florida, Philip Habib US Politician and Peace Envoy, politician and author Jeanine Pirro and US Representative Donna Shalala. Nayib Bukele is the current President of El Salvador and is of Palestinian Christian descent.
Notable Lebanese singers include Lydia Canaan, Fares Karam, Nancy Ajram, Fairuz, Julia Boutros and Maronites Sabah, Elissa and Wael Kfoury. Syrian singers include Nassif Zeytoun and George Wassouf. Other figures in entertainment include Egyptian actors Omar Sharif (born to a Melkite Catholic family of Lebanese descent) and Youssef Chahine, filmmaker and director of Lebanese descent. Actors in Hollywood include Danny Thomas, Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek, director and screenwriter Terrence Malick, Oscar award winner F. Murray Abraham and Golden Globe winner Tony Shalhoub. Notable Christian diaspora in business include billionaires such as Carlos Slim. Slim was ranked as the richest person in the world by the Forbes business magazine.
The Arab Christians largely belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem or Antiochian Eastern-Orthodox and Antiochian Oriental-Orthodox Churches, though there are also adherents to other churches: Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Latin Catholic Church and Protestant Churches.
|Denomination||Communion||Members||Headquarters||Liturgical language||Area||Membership primarily subscribes to Arab identity?|
|Melkite Greek Catholic Church||Catholic||1.6 million||Cathedral of Our Lady of the Dormition, Damascus, Syria||Arabic, Greek||Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, Iraq||Yes|
|Chaldean Catholic Church||Catholic||0.6 million||Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows, Baghdad, Iraq||Syriac||Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria||Mixed|
|Maronite Church||Catholic||3.5 million||Bkerké, Lebanon||Arabic||Lebanon (approximately one third), Syria, Israel, Cyprus, Jordan||Mixed|
|Syriac Catholic Church||Catholic||0.2 million||Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Saint Paul,Damascus, Syria||Syriac||Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey||Mixed|
|Coptic Catholic Church||Catholic||0.2 million||Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt, Cairo, Egypt||Coptic||Egypt||Mixed|
|Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch||Eastern Orthodox||4.3 million||Mariamite Cathedral, Damascus, Syria||Greek, Arabic||Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Iraq||Yes|
|Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria||Eastern Orthodox||0.5 million||Alexandria||Greek, Arabic||Egypt||Mixed|
|Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem||Eastern Orthodox||0.4 million||Jerusalem||Greek, Arabic||Palestine, Israel, Jordan||Yes|
|Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria||Oriental Orthodox||10 million||Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt||Coptic, Arabic||Egypt||Mixed|
|Syriac Orthodox Church||Oriental Orthodox||1.7 million||Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus, Syria||Syriac||Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey||Mixed|
|Assyrian Church of the East||Church of the East||0.5 million||Ankawa, Erbil, Iraq||Syriac||Iraq, Iran, Syria||Mixed|
|Ancient Church of the East||Church of the East||0.1 million||Baghdad, Iraq||Syriac||Iraq||Mixed|
Melkite Greek Catholic
Arabized Melkite societies in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, trace their roots to Greek and Aramaic-speaking Byzantine Christians. They are also generally included under the definition of Arab Christians, although this label is not universally accepted by all.
Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox, also known as Rûm, Orthodox Christian communities, part of the Rūm Millet, which have existed in Southern Anatolia (Turkey) and Syrian region since the early years of Christianity: they are generally affiliated along geographic lines either to the Antiochian ("Northern") or Jerusalemite ("Southern") patriarchal jurisdictions.
There have been numerous disputes between the Arab and the Greek leadership of the church in Jerusalem from the Mandate onwards. Jordan encouraged the Greeks to open the Brotherhood to Arab members of the community between 1948 and 1967 when the West Bank was under Jordanian rule. Land and political disputes have also been common since 1967, with the Greek priests portrayed as collaborators with Israel. Land disputes include the sale of St. John's property in the Christian quarter on 11 April 1990, the transfer of fifty dunams near Mar Elias monastery, and the sale of two hotels and twenty-seven stores on Omar Bin Al-Khattab square near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the Greek Patriarch Irenaios led to the Patriarch being pushed aside because of accusations of a real estate deal with Israel. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is an autocephalous Orthodox Church within the wider communion of Orthodox Christianity. The Arab Orthodox Society exists in Jerusalem and is one of the oldest and the largest is the Arab Orthodox Benevolent Society in Beit Jala, Palestine.
Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria is an autocephalous Byzantine Rite jurisdiction of the Eastern Orthodox Church, having the African continent as its canonical territory. It is commonly called the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria to distinguish it from the Oriental Orthodox Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate were once known as Melkites because they remained in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople after the schism that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Orthodox Christian community of Egypt is thus unaffiliated with Copts and does mostly adhere to an Arab identity.
Christianity has a presence in Iraq dating to the first century, and Syriac Christianity, the Syriac language and Syriac alphabet evolved in Assyria in northern Iraq. The Arab Christian community in Iraq is relatively small, and further dwindled due to the Iraq War to just several thousand. Most Arab Christians in Iraq belong traditionally to Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churches and are concentrated in major cities such as Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. The vast majority of the remaining 450,000 to 900,000 Christians in Iraq are Assyrian people, who follow Syriac Christianity, most notably the Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrian Evangelical Church and Assyrian Pentecostal Church. More than two-thirds of Iraqi Christians have fled or immigrated to other countries. In the 1987 Iraq census there were 1.4 million Christians in a population of 22 million but the numbers had fallen to 800–900,000 by the outbreak of the 2003 war due to emigration.
In December 2009, 122,000 Arab Christians lived in Israel, as Arab citizens of Israel, out of a total of 151,700 Christian citizens. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, on the eve of Christmas 2013, there were approximately 161,000 Christians in Israel, about 2 percent of the general population in Israel. 80% of the Christians are Arab with smaller Christian communities of ethnic Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, Ukrainians and Assyrians.
As of 2014 the Melkite Greek Catholic Church was the largest Christian community in Israel, where about 60% of Israeli Christians belonged to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, while around 30% of Israeli Christians belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.
Arab Christians are one of the most educated groups in Israel. Maariv has described the Christian Arabs sectors as "the most successful in education system". Statistically, Christian Arabs in Israel have the highest rates of educational attainment among all religious communities, according to a data by Israel Central Bureau of Statistics in 2010, 63% of Israeli Christian Arabs have had college or postgraduate education, the highest of any religious and ethno-religious group. Christian Arabs also have one of the highest rates of success in the matriculation examinations per capita, (73.9%) in 2016 both in comparison to the Muslims and the Druze and in comparison to all students in the Jewish education system as a group, Arab Christians were also the vanguard in terms of eligibility for higher education. and they have attained a bachelor's degree and academic degree more than Jewish, Muslims and Druze per capita. The rate of students studying in the field of medicine was also higher among the Christian Arab students, compared with all the students from other sectors. despite the fact that Arab Christians only represent 2.1% of the total Israeli population, in 2014 they accounted for 17.0% of the country's university students, and for 14.4% of its college students.
Socio-economically, Arab Christians are closer to the Jewish population than to the Muslim population. They have the lowest incidence of poverty and the lowest percentage of unemployment which is 4.9% compared to 6.5% among Jewish men and women. They have also the highest median household income among Arab citizens of Israel and second highest median household income among the Israeli ethno-religious groups. Among Arab Christians in Israel, some emphasize pan-Arabism, whilst a small minority enlists in the Israel Defense Forces.
Jordan contains some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, their presence dating back to the first century AD. Today, Christians today make up about 4% of the population, down from 20% in 1930. This is due to high immigration rates of Muslims into Jordan, higher emigration rates of Christians to the west and higher birth rates for Muslims. Christians in Jordan are exceptionally well integrated in the Jordanian society and enjoy a high level of freedom. Christians are allotted nine out of a total of 130 seats in the Parliament of Jordan, and also hold important ministerial portfolios, ambassadorial appointments, and positions of high military rank. All Christian religious ceremonies are publicly celebrated in Jordan.
Jordanian Arab Christians (some have Palestinian roots since 1948) number around 221,000, according to a 2014 estimate by the Orthodox Church. The study excluded minority Christian groups and the thousands of western, Iraqi and Syrian Christians residing in Jordan. Another estimate suggests the Orthodox number 125–300,000, Catholics at 114,000 and Protestants at 30,000 for a total 270–450,000. Most native Christians in Jordan identify themselves as Arab, though there are also significant Assyrian and Armenian populations in the country. There has also been an influx of Christian refugees escaping Daesh, mainly from Mosul, Iraq, numbering about 7000 and 20,000 from Syria.
King Abdullah II of Jordan has made firm statements about Arab Christians:
Let me say once again: Arab Christians are an integral part of my region’s past, present, and future.
Lebanon holds the largest number of Christians in the Arab world proportionally and falls just behind Egypt in absolute numbers. About 350,000 of Christians in Lebanon are Orthodox and Melkites, while the most dominant group are Maronites with about 1 million population, whose Arab identity is somewhat disputed.
Christians formed about 60% of Lebanese citizens after 1920. The exact number of Christians in modern Lebanon is uncertain because no official census has been made in Lebanon since 1932. Lebanese Christians belong mostly to the Maronite and Greek Orthodox Churches, with sizable minorities belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and Armenian Apostolic Church. The community of Armenians in Lebanon is the most politically and demographically significant in the Middle East. Lebanese Christians are the only Christians in the Middle East with a sizable political role in the country. The Lebanese constitution requires that the Lebanese president, half of the cabinet, and half of the parliament follow one of the various Lebanese Christian rites.
State of Palestine
Most of the Palestinian Christians claim descent from the first Christian converts, Arameans, Ghassanid Arabs and Greeks who settled in the region. Between 36,000 and 50,000 Christians live in Palestine, most of whom belong to the Orthodox (Including Greek, Syriac and Armenian Orthodox), Catholic (Roman and Melchite) churches and Evangelical communities. The majority of Palestinian Christians live in the Bethlehem and Ramallah areas with a less number in other places. Many Palestinian Christians hold high-ranking positions in Palestinian society, particularly at the political and social levels. They manage the high ranking schools, universities, cultural centers and hospitals.
Christian communities in the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip have greatly dwindled over the last two decades. The causes of the Palestinian Christian exodus are widely debated and it started since the Ottoman times. Reuters reports that many Palestinian Christians emigrate in pursuit of better living standards, while the BBC also blames the economic decline in the Palestinian Authority as well as pressure from the security situation upon their lifestyle. The Vatican and the Catholic Church saw the Israeli occupation and the general conflict in the Holy Land as the principal reasons for the Christian exodus from the territories.
The decline of the Christian community in Palestine follows the trend of Christian emigration from the Muslim dominated Middle East. Some churches have attempted to ameliorate the rate of emigration of young Christians by building subsidized housing for them and expanding efforts at job training. The West Bank barrier and restrictions on Palestinian movement were cited by the former Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs' chief liaison to Christians as the primary issues facing local Christians.
In 2007, just before the Hamas takeover of Gaza, there were 3,200 Christians living in the Gaza Strip. Half the Christian community in Gaza fled to the West Bank and abroad after the Hamas take-over in 2007.
In Syria, according to the 1960 census which recorded just over 4.5 million inhabitants, Christians formed just under 15% of the population (or 675,000). This represents a decline from 20% in 1937 when the population was 335,000. The combined population of Syrian and Lebanon in 1910 was estimated at 30% in a population of 3.5 million. Since 1960 the population of Syria has increased five-fold, but the Christian population only 3.5 times. Due to political reasons, no newer census has been taken since. Most recent estimates prior to the Syrian civil war suggested that overall Christians comprised about 10% of the overall population of Syrian 23 million citizens, due to having lower birth rates and higher emigration rates than their Muslim compatriots.
Today, a sizeable share of Syrian Christians hold on to their ethnic Antiochian Greek, Assyrians (particularly in the northeast), and Armenian origins, with a major recent influx of Assyrian Iraqi Christian refugees into these communities after massacres in Turkey and Iraq during and after WWI and then post-2003. Due to the Syrian civil war, a large number of Christians fled the country to Lebanon, Jordan, and Europe, though the major share of the population still resides in Syria (some being internally displaced).
The Arab Christians of Syria are Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic (Melkites) as well as some Latin Rite Roman Catholics. Non-Arab Syrian Christians include Assyrians (mainly in the northeast), Syriac-Arameans, Greeks and Armenians. The largest Christian denomination in Syria is the Greek Orthodox church, most of whom are Arab Christians, followed in second place by the Syriac Orthodox, many of whose followers espouse an Aramean or Assyrian identity.
Though religious freedom is allowed in the Syrian Arab Republic, all citizens of Syria including Christians, are subject to the Shari'a-based personal status laws regulating child custody, inheritance, and adoption. For example, in the case of divorce, a woman loses the right to custody of her sons when they reach the age of thirteen and her daughters when they reach the age of fifteen, regardless of religion.
Antiochian Greeks who mostly live in Hatay Province, are one of the Arabic-speaking communities in Turkey, their number approximately 18,000. They are Greek Orthodox. However, they are sometimes known as Arab Christians, primarily because of their language. Antioch (capital of Hatay Province) is also the historical capital of Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. Turkey is also home to a number of non-Arab Armenians (who number around 70,000), Greeks (who number around 5,000 not including Antiochian Greeks) and Assyrian Christians in the southeast. The village of Tokaçlı in Altınözü District has an entirely Arab Christian population and is one of the few Christian villages in Turkey.
Kuwait's native Christian population exists, though is essentially small. There are between 259 and 400 Christian Kuwaiti citizens. Christian Kuwaitis can be divided into two groups. The first group includes the earliest Kuwaiti Christians, who originated from Iraq and Turkey. They have assimilated into Kuwaiti society, like their Muslim counterparts, and tend to speak Arabic with a Kuwaiti dialect; their food and culture are also predominantly Kuwaiti. They makeup roughly a quarter of Kuwait's Christian population. The rest (roughly three-quarters) of Christian Kuwaitis make up the second group. They are more recent arrivals in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly Kuwaitis of Palestinian ancestry who were forced out of Palestine after 1948. There are also smaller numbers who originally hail from Syria and Lebanon. This second group is not as assimilated as the first group, as their food, culture, and Arabic dialect still retain a Levant feel. However, they are just as patriotic as the former group, and tend to be proud of their adopted homeland, with many serving in the army, police, civil, and foreign service. Most of Kuwait's citizen Christians belong to 12 large families, with the Shammas (from Turkey) and the Shuhaibar (from Palestine) families being some of the more prominent ones.
Native Christians who hold Bahraini citizenship number approximately 1,000 persons. The majority of Christians are originally from Iraq, Palestine and Jordan, with a small minority having lived in Bahrain for many centuries; the majority have been living as Bahraini citizens for less than a century. There are also smaller numbers of native Christians who originally hail from Lebanon, Syria, and India. The majority of Christian Bahraini citizens tend to be Orthodox Christians, with the largest church by membership being the Greek Orthodox Church. They enjoy many equal religious and social freedom. Bahrain has Christian members in the Bahraini government.
There are tiny communities of Roman Catholics in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco due to colonial rule - French rule for Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, Spanish rule for Morocco and Western Sahara, and Italian rule for Libya. Most Christians in North Africa are foreign missionaries, immigrant workers, and people of French, Spanish, and Italian colonial descent. The North African Christians of Berber or Arab descent mostly converted during the modern era or under and after French colonialism.
Arguably, many more Maghrebi Christians of Arab or Berber descent live in France than in North Africa, due to the exodus of the pieds-noirs in the 1960s. Charles de Foucauld was renowned for his missions in North Africa among Muslims, including African Arabs. Today conversions to Christianity have been most common in Algeria, especially in the Kabylie, and Morocco and Tunisia. A 2015 study estimates 380,000 Muslims converted to Christianity in Algeria. While it's estimated that between 8,000-40,000 Moroccans converted to Christianity in the last decades; although some estimate the number to be as high as 150,000. In Tunisia, however, the number of Tunisian Christians is estimated to be around 23,500.
Most Egyptian Christians are Copts, who are mainly members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Although Copts in Egypt speak Egyptian Arabic, many of them do not consider themselves to be ethnically Arabs, but rather descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The Copts constitute the largest population of Christians in the Middle East, numbering between 8,000,000 and 15,000,000. The liturgical language of the Copts, the Coptic language, is a direct descendant of the Egyptian language. Coptic remains the liturgical language of all Coptic churches.
Millions of Arab Christians also live in the diaspora, outside of the Middle East. They reside mainly in the Americas. There are also many Arab Christians in Europe, especially in France (due to its historical connections with Lebanon and North Africa), Spain (due to its historical connections with northern Morocco), and to a lesser extent, Ireland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands. Among those and across the Americas, an estimated million Palestinian Christians are living in the Palestinian diaspora.
Question of identity
Arab Christians include descendants of ancient Arab tribes, who were among the first Christian converts, as well as some recent adherents of Christianity. Sometimes, however, the issue of self-identification arises regarding specific Christian communities across the Arab world. Although sometimes classified as "Arab Christians", the large Middle Eastern Christian groups of Maronites and Copts often claim non-Arab ethnicity.
The Assyrians form the majority of Christians in Iraq, northeast Syria, south-east Turkey and north-west Iran. They are specifically defined as non-Arab indigenous ethnic group, including by the governments of Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Israel, and Turkey. Assyrians practice their own native dialects of Syriac-Aramaic language, in addition to also sometimes speaking local Arabic, Turkish or Farsi dialects. They likewise pointed out that Arab nationalist groups have wrongly included Assyrian-Americans in their headcount of Arab Americans, in order to bolster their political clout in Washington. Some Arab American groups have imported this denial of Assyrian identity to the United States. In 2001, a coalition of Assyrian-Chaldean and Maronite church organizations, wrote to the Arab-American Institute, to reprimand them for claiming that Assyrians were Arabs. They asked the Arab-American Institute "to cease and desist from portraying Assyrians and Maronites of past and present as Arabs, and from speaking on behalf of Assyrians and Maronites."
The current Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Mar Emmanuel Delly, made the following comment in a 2006 interview:
“Any Chaldean who calls himself an Assyrian is a traitor and any Assyrian who calls himself Chaldean is a traitor.”
Today, due to both forced and accepted Arabization, many Chaldeans from Iraq also identify themselves situationally as Arabs. The Chaldean Church—which had been part of the Nestorian Church, or Church of the East, until 1552/3—began in earnest to distance itself from the Nestorians who were now seen as the ‘uncouth Assyrians’. During this period, many Chaldeans began identifying themselves solely by their religious community, and later as Iraqis, Iraqi Christians, or Arab Christians, rather than with the Assyrian community as a whole. This is also true of the Syriac Orthodox Church, which, prior to the events, considered itself part and parcel of the Assyrian people. The reverberation of religious animosity between these communities still continues today, a testament to the machinations of power politics in the nation-building of the Middle East.
The Chaldeans in al-Najm positioned themselves deliberately as a religious group within the Arab Iraqi nation. The Arab identity of the state was not only acceptable to them, but was even staunchly endorsed. The Arab nationalism they supported did not discriminate according to religion and was therefore also acceptable to them, even if it recognized the special relationship between the Arabic language and Islam.
In post civil-war Lebanon, since the Taif Agreement, politically Phoenicianism, as an alternate to Arabism, has been restricted to a small group. Phoeniciansm is deeply disputed by some scholars, who have on occasion tried to convince these claims are false and to embrace and accept the Arab identity instead. This conflict of ideas of an identity is believed to be one of the main pivotal disputes between the Muslim and Maronite Christian populations of Lebanon and what mainly divides the country from national unity. It's generalized that Muslims focus more on the Arab identity of Lebanese history and culture whereas Christians focus on the pre-arabized & non-Arab spectrum of the Lebanese identity and rather refrain from the Arab specification.
The Copts are the native Egyptian Christians, a major ethnoreligious group in Egypt. Christianity was the majority religion in Roman Egypt during the 4th to 6th centuries and until the Muslim conquest and remains the faith of a significant minority population. Their Coptic language is the direct descendant of the Demotic Egyptian spoken in the Roman era, but it has been near-extinct and mostly limited to liturgical use since the 18th century. Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10% of Egyptian population. Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The remaining (around 800,000) are divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches. As a religious minority, the Copts are subject to significant discrimination in modern Egypt, and the target of attacks by militant Islamic extremist groups.
- Christianity in the Middle East
- List of Christian terms in Arabic
- Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
- Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
- Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem
- Arab Orthodox Society
- Arab Orthodox Benevolent Society
- Bible translations (Arabic)
- John of Damascus
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