|10–15 million (enlarged)|
|Regions with significant populations|
(including Turkey and Israel)
excluding 1 million Maronites
excluding Copts and Maronites
excluding disputed territories
including Antiochian Greeks
excluding 9–15 million Copts
excluding 200,000 Chaldeans
including Kabyle people
excluding 60,000 Copts
|Related ethnic groups|
[a].^ prior to Syrian civil war
Arab Christians (Arabic: ﺍﻟﻤﺴﻴﺤﻴﻮﻥ ﺍﻟﻌﺮﺏ, romanized: al-Masīḥīyūn al-ʿArab) are Arabs who follow Christianity. The majority of Arab Christians are from the Eastern Mediterranean region and are Antiochian Greek Christians (Greek not being a reference to ethnicity), although small native Christian communities can be found throughout the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. Arab Christians; mainly forming Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities, are estimated to number between 520,000–703,000 in Syria, 350,000–450,000 in Lebanon, 221,000 in Jordan, 133,130 in Israel, 50,000 in Palestine, 18,000 in Turkey, and 10,000–350,000 in Egypt (a figure that does not include the larger Coptic Christian community). There are also native Arab Christian communities in Iraq, Bahrain and Kuwait.
The first Arab tribes to adopt Christianity included the Nabataeans, Salihids and Ghassanids. 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, also converted to Christianity. Arab Christians played important roles in al-Nahda movement in modern times, and because Arab Christians formed the educated class, they have significantly influenced and contributed to the fields of literature, politics, business, philosophy, music, theatre and cinema, medicine, and science. Today Arab Christians still play important roles in the Arab world, and Christians are relatively wealthy, well educated, and politically moderate.
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 Brazil, 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 assume a non-Arab (pre-Arab) identity.
The history of Arab Christians coincides with the history of Christianity, from the earliest adoption of Christianity by Arab tribes and consequent Arabized communities during the time of the Late Roman Empire to Arab societies today. From classic antiquity to modern times, Arab Christians have played important roles contributing to the culture of Mashriq.
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 the early 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.
The first Arab tribes to adopt Christianity included the Nabataeans, Tanukhids, Salihids 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 Tanukhids and then 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. One of the queens of the Tanukhid federation, Mavia, led a revolt against Rome to have and Arab bishop named Moses (Musa) represent her people in Alexandria. 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 which was favored by the native Arab Christians of al-Hira).
By the fourth century, a significant number of Christians occupied the Sinai Peninsula, Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula. History also records the coming of Christian influence 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 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, al-Ḥārith, was canonized by the Catholic Church as Arethas. Aretas was the leader of the Christians of Najran in the early 6th century and was executed during the 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). 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, Maronites use Aramaic for example) and the much slower, yet persistent process of Islamization. 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 churches predates Islam.
The Christian al-Chemor family ruled two sheikhdoms in Lebanon during the Ottoman Empire, 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. Its sheikhs were the last Ghassanid princes to rule in the 18th century. Bashir Shihab II (1767–1850) was the Christian Emir of Mount Lebanon and belonged to the Maronite branch of the Shihab dynasty which had converted from Sunni Islam.
Scholars and intellectuals agree Christians in the Arab world have made significant contributions to Arab civilization since the introduction of Islam, and they have had a significant impact contributing the culture of the Mashriq. Many Arab Christians today are physicians, entertainers, philosophers, government officials and people of literature.
Arab Christians have always been the go-between the Islamic world and the Christian West, mainly down to mutual religious affinity. The Greek Orthodox share Orthodox ties with Russia and Greece; whilst Melkites and Maronites share Catholic bonds with Italy, Vatican and France. In Lebanon, Maronites and Melkites looked to France and the Mediterranean world, whereas most Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians looked to the Arab hinterland as their political lodestar.
Arab Christians throughout history have been noted for their impact on academia and literature. Notable Lebanese academics in the modern era include poet and language-reformer Said Akl, Lebanese-Iraqi Carmelite linguist Anastas al-Karmali, and Tawfiq Yusuf 'Awwad, whose 1939 novel al-Raghif inspired Arab resistance against the Turks in World War I. Rashmayyā-born historian Mikhail Mishaqa's memoir of the 1860 Damascus Massacre is valuable to historians, as it is the only account written by a survivor of the massacre of Syrian Christians in Damascus, Syria. In Palestine, noted physician and ethnographer Tawfiq Canaan's academic work serves as valuable resources to researchers of Palestinian and Middle-Eastern heritage. Jordanian writer and historian Suleiman Mousa was the only author to write about Lawrence of Arabia and show the Arab perspective. Mousa noted that were many books written to praise Lawrence, and all of them exaggerated his part in the Arab Revolt and failed to do justice to the Arabs themselves. Syrian Hanna Mina was an esteemed novelist, described in Literature from the "Axis of Evil" as the country's most prominent. He was one of the founders of the Syrian Writers' Association and the Arab Writers' Union in Damascus in the 1950s.
Christians flourish in the Arab music industry. One of the most popular artists in the Arab world, Fairuz, has over 150 million records sold worldwide making her the highest selling Middle-Eastern artist of all time. Lebanese folk veteran Wadih El Safi was the forefather of the country's musical culture, and spent seventy-five years in the singing profession. Other singers include Lydia Canaan who is widely regarded as the first “rock star” of the Middle East, dabke singer Fares Karam, 'Queen of Arab pop' Nancy Ajram, and pop singers Elissa, Cyrine Abdelnour, Najwa Karam and Wael Kfoury. Syrian notables include famous singer George Wassouf. Palestinians include Lina Makhul who was the first Arab to win The Voice Israel, Beirut-born singer Fadee Andrawos, and Israeli singer of Palestinian Christian descent, Mira Awad.
Many prominent Arab nationalists were Christians, like the Syrian intellectual Constantin Zureiq, author Naguib Azoury, Ba'athism proponent Michel Aflaq and Jurji Zaydan, who was reputed to be the first Arab nationalist. Khalil al-Sakakini, a prominent Palestinian Jerusalemite, was Arab Orthodox; as was George Antonius, Lebanese author of The Arab Awakening. The first Syrian nationalists were 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 Pan-Arabism and argued instead for the creation of a "United Syrian Nation" or "Natural Syria". Influential Palestinian Christians such as Tawfik Toubi, Daud Turki, Emile Touma and Emile Habibi became leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian communist party. George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a Christian; as was Wadie Haddad, the leader of the PFLP's armed wing. Jordanian Nayif Hawatmeh is the founder and General Secretary of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Kamal Nasser and Hanan Ashrawi were members of the PLO Executive Committee.
Lebanese Melkite Saleem Takla and his brother Beshara founded the Al-Ahram newspaper in 1875 in Egypt and it is now the most widely circulated Egyptian daily newspaper. Similarly, the Lebanese Greek Orthodox Tueni family; one of the seven aristocratic Greek Orthodox families of Beirut, founded the An-Nahar newspaper in 1933; the leading Lebanese daily today. The An-Nahar newspaper is also reputed to be one of the five most popular newspapers in the Middle East. Palestinian Christian Najib Nassar's newspaper Al-Karmil was the first pro-Palestinian anti-Zionist weekly newspaper. It appeared in Haifa in 1908 and was shut down by the British in the 1940s. The Palestinian Arab Orthodox El-Issa family from Jaffa founded the Falastin newspaper in 1909. The paper was the country's fiercest and most consistent critic of the Zionist movement.
Role in al-Nahda
The Nahda (meaning "the Awakening" or "the Renaissance") 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. This awakening led to the emergence of a politically active movement known as the "association" that was accompanied by the birth of the idea of Arab nationalism and the demand for the reformation of the Ottoman Empire. This 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 letters, and later the movement influenced the fields of music, sculpture, history, humanities, economics and human rights.
This cultural renaissance during the late Ottoman rule was a quantum leap for Arabs in the post-industrial revolution, and is not limited to the individual fields of cultural renaissance in the nineteenth century, as the Nahda only extended to include the spectrum of society and the fields as a whole. It is agreed amongst historians the importance the roles played by the Arab Christians in this renaissance, and their role in the prosperity through participation in the diaspora also.
was a Lebanese author, poet and key figure of the Nahda
was a Lebanese-Palestinian poet and pioneer of Oriental feminism
was a Palestinian scholar, translator, educator and novelist
was a writer, poet and the first Syrian woman to publish a collection of poetry
As Arab Christians formed the educated class, they have had a significant impact on the politics and culture of the Arab World. Christian colleges (accepting of all faiths) like Saint Joseph University and American University of Beirut (Syrian Protestant College until 1920) thrived in Lebanon, Al-Hikma University in Baghdad amongst others played leading role in the development of civilization and Arab culture. Given this role in politics and culture, Ottoman ministers began to include them in their governments. In the economic sphere, a number of Christian families like the Greek Orthodox Sursock family became prominent. Thus, the Nahda led the Muslims and Christians to a cultural renaissance and national general despotism. This solidified Arab Christians as one of the pillars of the region and not a minority on the fringes.
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 the predominantly Christian neighbourhood 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 many Christian villages and churches were destroyed.
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 (1915–1918) 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, 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 Greek Orthodox and Melkite communities were ethnically cleansed and driven out of their towns, including al-Bassa, Ramla, Lod, Safed, Kafr Bir'im, Iqrit, Tarbikha, Eilabun and Haifa. Many Christian towns or neighborhoods were 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. 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 all forces in Lebanon to their presence.
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 the majority 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 Islamist Western and Turkish backed armed groups.
Millions of people descend from Arab Christians and live in the Arab diaspora, outside the Middle East. They mainly reside in the Americas, but there are many people of Arab Christian descent in Europe, Africa and Oceania. Among those, one million Palestinian Christians live in the Palestinian diaspora and 6–7 million Brazilians are estimated to have Lebanese ancestry. Mass Arab immigration started in the 1890s as Lebanese and Syrian people fled the political and economic instability caused by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. These early immigrants were known as Syro-Lebanese, Lebanese and Palestinian, or Turks. The majority of Arab Americans are Christians.
Historical events that caused large Christian emigration include: 1860 civil conflict in Mount Lebanon and Damascus, 1915–1918 Great Famine of Mount Lebanon, 1948 Palestinian exodus, 1950's Nasser reforms in Egypt, Lebanese civil war, and the Iraq war.
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 Lebanon, Syria and Palestine at the turn of the 20th century. 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 referred to as writers of the "late Nahda".
The Pen League was the first Arabic-language literary society in North America, formed initially by Syrians Nasib Arida and Abd al-Masih Haddad. Members of the Pen League included: Kahlil Gibran, 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. Naimy was made famous internationally for his spiritual writings, most notably The Book of Mirdad.
Notable diaspora figures include Swiss businessman of Lebanese Greek Orthodox descent Nicolas Hayek, and Mexican business magnate of Maronite descent, Carlos Slim. From 2010 to 2013, Slim was ranked as the richest person in the world by the Forbes magazine. Figures in entertainment include actors Omar Sharif (Melkite-born), Salma Hayek, Tony Shalhoub, Vince Vaughn, Danny Thomas, Oscar award winner F. Murray Abraham and film director Youssef Chahine. Figures in academics include plant biologist Joanne Chory, scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb, cardiac and vascular surgeon Michael DeBakey, inventor of the iPod and co-inventor of the iPhone Tony Fadell, mathematician Michael Atiyah, professor Charles Elachi, intellectual Edward Said, and Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Elias James Corey and Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine Peter Medawar. Other notables include legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas, activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader, judge Rosemary Barkett, and US governor and academic administrator Mitch Daniels.
The "Arab Christian" label largely belongs to followers of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches, though there are also adherents to other churches, including Latin Catholic Church and Protestant Churches.
The issue of self-identification arises regarding specific Christian communities across the Arab world. A significant proportion of Maronites claim descent from the Phoenicians, whilst a significant proportion of Copts claim that they descend from the Ancient Egyptians.
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 emancipation from Greek control, as well as the abolishment of the centralized structure of the institution via Arab inclusion in decision-making processes.
The struggle for the Arabization of the Orthodox Church against the Greek clerical hegemony in Palestine led Orthodox Christian intellectuals to rebel against the Church's Greek dominated hierarchy. The rebellion was divided between those who sought a common Ottoman cause against European intrusions and those who identified with Arab nationalism against pan-Turkic (Ottoman) nationalism. Its main advocates were well known community leaders and writers in Palestine, such as Ya'qub Farraj, Khalil al-Sakakini, Yusuf al-Bandak (publisher of Sawtal-Sha'b) and cousins Yousef and Issa El-Issa (founders of Falastin). The cousins were among the first to elucidate the Arab struggle against the Greek clerical hegemony of the Church of Jerusalem. Both Sakakini and El-Issa argued that the Palestinian and the Syrian (Antiochian) community constituted an oppressed majority, controlled and manipulated by a minority Greek clergy. 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 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, 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 dismissed and demoted because of accusations of a real estate deal with Israel, although his dismissal was ruled uncanonical by Patriarch Bartholomew.
Antiochian Greek Christian (Rûm)
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. They are either members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch or the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and they have ancient roots in the Levant, more specifically, the territories of western Syria, northern and central Lebanon, western Jordan, and Hatay, which includes the city of Antakya (ancient Antioch). Antiochian Greeks constitute a multi-national group of people and thus 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 is assumed to accentuate the separate origin unique to the Rûm (lit "Roman" or "Asian-Greek") Christians of the Levant. Some members of the community also call themselves Melkite, which means "monarchists" or "supporters of the emperor" (a reference to their past allegiance to Macedonian and Roman imperial rule) although in the modern era, that term tends to be more commonly used by followers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
The Orthodox Christian congregation was included in an ethno-religious community, Rum Millet ("Roman nation"), during the Ottoman Empire. Its name was derived from the former Eastern Roman (Byzantine) subjects of the Ottoman Empire, but all Orthodox Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Aromanians, Megleno-Romanians and Serbs, as well as Georgians and Middle Eastern Christians, were considered part of the same millet in spite of their differences in ethnicity and language. Belonging to this Orthodox commonwealth became more important to the common people than their ethnic origins.
The former 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.
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. The first split for the two groups came in 431, when they broke away from what was to become the Roman Catholic church over a theological dispute. 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 Iraqi Chaldeans 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. Today, due to both forced and accepted Arabization, many Chaldeans identify themselves situationally as Arabs.
The Assyrians (including Chaldeans) 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.
Arab Christian communities can be found throughout the Arab world.
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 freedoms. 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 is 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.
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 Syro-Lebanese Christians the fullness of civil rights, prior to the Nasser reforms.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 contentiously disputed.
Christians constituted 60% of the population of Lebanon in 1932. 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 politically and demographically significant.
Lebanese Christians are the only Christians in the Middle East with a sizable political role in the country. 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.
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. 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. However, Palestinian Christians in Gaza face restrictions on their freedom of movement by the Israeli blockade, which has been cited as one of the reasons conbtributing to their dwindling numbers.
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, however, 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 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 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), Greeks and Armenians. Assyrian Iraqi Christian refugees fled to Syria 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). Western Aramaic is spoken by Arab Christians and Muslims alike in remote villages in Syria, including Maaloula, Jubb'adin and Bakhah.
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 Assyrian identity. The combined population of Syria and Lebanon in 1910 was estimated at 30% in a population of 3.5 million. According to the 1960 census in Syria which recorded just over 4.5 million inhabitants, Christians formed just under 15% of the population (or 675,000). 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.
Although 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.
- Christianity and Islam
- Christianity in the Middle East
- Christian influences on the Islamic world
- 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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