||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (December 2012)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Palestine||38,000 (excluding East Jerusalem)-50,000|
|Arabic, Hebrew (within Israel), French (within Lebanon and diaspora), English (diaspora)|
(Arab, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria)
Melkite and other sects
[a].^ excluding Copts
[b].^ excluding Assyrians
[c].^ excluding Maronites
[d].^ prior to Syrian civil war
Arab Christians (Arabic: العرب المسيحيين Al-'Arab Al-Masihiyin) are ethnic Arabs of the Christian faith, They are the remnants of ancient Arab Christian clans and Arabized Christians, such as Melchites and Rum Christians. Many of the modern Arab Christians are descendants of pre-Islamic Christian Arabian tribes, namely the Kahlani Qahtani tribes of ancient Yemen (i.e. Ghassanids, Lakhmids and Banu Judham). During the 5th and 6th centuries the Ghassanids, who adopted Monophysite Christianity, 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, Nu'man III, a client of the Sasanian (Persian) Empire in the late sixth century AD, also converted to Christianity (in this case, to the Nestorian sect).[verification needed] Arab Christians played important roles in Al-Nahda, and because Arab Christians formed the educated upper and bourgeois classes, they have had a significant impact in politics, business and culture, and most important figures of the Al-Nahda movement were Christian Arabs.[dead link] Today Arab Christians play important roles in the Arab world, and Christians are relatively wealthy, well educated, and politically moderate.
Arab Christians, forming Greek Orthodox and Latin Christian communities, are estimated to be 200,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Jordan and an equal number or more among the Palestinian Arab population and within the Arab-Israeli population combined.[better source needed] There is also a sizable Arab Christian Orthodox community in Lebanon and marginal communities in Iraq and Egypt.
Arab Christians term is also generally applied to Arabized Melkite societies in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, who trace their roots to Greek and Aramaic-speaking Byzantine Christians. 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. Members of these communities still call themselves Rûm which literally means "Roman", or "Asian Greek" in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. In that particular context, the term "Rûm" is used in preference to "Yāvāni" or "Ionani" which means "European-Greek" or Ionian in Biblical Hebrew (borrowed from Old Persian Yavan = Greece) and Classical Arabic. Some members of the community also call themselves "Melkites", which literally 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, the term tends to be more commonly used by followers of the Greek Catholic church. Some Arab Christians are a more recent end result of Evangelization. Emigrants from Arab Christian (including Melkite) communities make up a significant proportion of the Middle Eastern diaspora, with sizeable population concentrations across the Americas, most notably in Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and the US.
Arab Christians are not the only Christian group in the Middle East, with significant non-Arab indigenous Christian communities of ethnic Assyrians, Armenians, Georgians, Greeks and others[who?]. Besides those, large ethno-religious Middle Eastern Christian groups such as Copts and Maronites are being argued with a great deal of controversy whether their ethnic identity is Arab or not. Even though sometimes classified as Arab Christians, the largest Middle Eastern Christian groups of Lebanese Maronites and Egyptian Copts often claim non-Arab ethnicity: significant proportion of the Maronites claim descent from ancient Phoenicians, while some Egyptian Copts[who?] also eschew an Arab identity, preferring an Ancient Egyptian one. However, both Maronites and Copts had lost their linguistic differentiation during the Ottoman period in favor of the Arabic language, given the cultural, economic and political prestige which Arabic enjoyed, and therefore they can still be considered Arabic-speaking Christians, even if not technically Arab Christians. The Syriac Christian groups, composed largely of Assyrians, form the majority of Christians in Iraq, north east Syria, south-east Turkey and north-west Iran. They are generally defined as non-Arab ethnic groups, including by the governments of Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Assyrians practice their own native dialects of Syriac-Aramaic language, in addition to also speaking local Arabic dialects. Despite their ancient pre-Arabic roots and distinct linguo-cultural identities, Assyrians are sometimes erroneously related by Western sources as "Christians of the Arab World" or "Arabic Christians", creating confusion about their identity  Assyrians were also related as "Arab Christians" by pan-Arabist movements and Arab-Islamic regimes.
- 1 History
- 2 Arab Christians today
- 3 Question of identity
- 4 Church affiliation
- 5 Doctrine
- 6 Genetic studies
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 External links
Arab Christians are indigenous to West Asia, with a presence there predating the 7th century Islamic expansion into the Fertile Crescent. There were many Arab tribes which adhered to Christianity beginning with the 1st century, including the Nabateans (who incorporated elements of both Arabs and Arameans), the Ghassanids[dead link] and the Lakhmids. The latter were of Qahtani origin and spoke Yemeni-Arabic as well as Greek, and who protected the south-eastern frontiers of the Roman and Byzantine Empires in north Arabia.
Nabateans were possibly among the first Arab tribes to arrive to Southern Levant in the first millennium BC. At first, they were converted to Judaism, during the expansion campaigns of the Hasmonean Kingdom at the first and second centuries BC. However, by the fourth century Nabateans had converted to Christianity.[verification needed] The new Arab invaders, who soon pressed forward into their seats found the remnants of the Nabataeans transformed into peasants. Their lands were divided between the new Qahtanite Arab tribal kingdoms of the Byzantine vassals the Ghassanid Arabs and the Himyarite vassals the Kindah Arab Kingdom in North Arabia.
The tribes of Tayy, Abd Al-Qais, and Taghlib are also known to have included many Christians in the pre-Islamic period. The southern Arabian city of Najran was a center of Arabian Christianity, made famous by the persecution by one of the kings of Yemen, Dhu Nawas, who was himself an enthusiastic convert to Judaism. The leader of the Arabs of Najran during the period of persecution, Al-Harith, was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as St. Aretas. Some modern scholars suggest that Philip the Arab was the first Christian emperor of Rome. By the 4th century a significant number of Christians occupied the Sinai peninsula, Mesopotamia and Arabia.
The New Testament has a biblical account of Arab conversion to Christianity recorded in the book of Acts. When St. Peter preaches to the people of Jerusalem, they ask, "And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [. . .] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:8, 11, English Standard Version).[verification needed] Arab Christians are thus one of the oldest Christian communities.
The first mention of Christianity in Arabia occurs in the New Testament as the Apostle Paul refers to his journey in Arabia following his conversion (Galatians 1: 15-17). Later, Eusebius of Caesarea discusses a bishop named Beryllus in the see of Bostra, the site of a synod c. 240 and two Councils of Arabia. Christians existed in Arab lands from at least the 3rd century onward.
Also, there were Christian influences coming from Ethiopia in particular in pre-Islamic times, and some Hijazis (including a cousin of Muhammad's wife Khadijah, according to some sources) adopted this faith, while some Ethiopian Christians may have lived in Mecca.
After Islamic conquest
Following the fall of large portions of former Byzantine Provinces to the Arab armies, a large Christian population 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, Africa and southern Europe, they would offer three conditions to their enemies: convert to Islam, or pay jizyah (tax) every year, or face war to death. Those who refused war and refused to convert were deemed to have agreed to pay jizya. It is a common agreement that after the rapid expansion of Islam from the 7th century onwards, many Christians chose not to convert to Islam. Many scholars and intellectuals like Edward Said believed Christians in the Arab world have made significant contributions to the Arab civilization and still do. Some of the top poets at certain times were Arab Christians, and many Arab Christians were physicians, writers, government officials, and people of literature.
Under Arab Muslim rule, Christians were protected and began to enjoy more religious freedom under initial Arab Muslim occupation, than they had under Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Christian) rule, but they were also often a target of persecution and subjected to Jizyah, an obligatory tax for non-Muslim populations under Islamic law - a tax considered by some as discriminatory. As "People of the Book", Christians in the region were accorded certain rights under Islamic law (Shari'ah) to practice their religion (including having Christian law used for rulings, settlements or sentences in court), strictly conditioned, however, on paying a tax required from non-Muslims called 'Jizyah' in place of the customary 'Zakaat', in the form of either cash or goods. The tax 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, a form of tax which is obligatory upon Muslim citizens.
Role in Al-Nahda
Renaissance of Arab culture in the nineteenth century began in the wake of exit of Mohammed Ali Pasha from the Levant in 1840 and accelerated in the late nineteenth century. Beirut, Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo were the main centers of renaissance and this led to the establishment of schools,universities,Arab 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 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 and the printing in Arabic letters. In music, sculpture and history and the humanities generally, as well as economics, human rights, and a summary of the case that the cultural renaissance by the Arabs the late Ottoman rule was a quantum leap for them to post-industrial revolution,[source needs translation] and can not be limited to the fields of cultural renaissance of Arab in the nineteenth century these categories only as It is extended to include the spectrum of society and the fields as a whole,[source needs translation] and is almost universal agreement among historians on the role played by the Arab Christians in this renaissance, both in Mount Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and their role in the prosperity through participation not only from home but in the Diaspora also.[source needs translation] as the fact that Christians in the modern era the educated and bourgeois classes, making their contribution to the economic boom with a significant impact, as they were the owners of a significant impact in the cultural renaissance, and in the revolt against colonialism Pflm, writings, and their work.[source needs translation] is noteworthy for example, in the press sound Anjoa founder of the «mirror the Middle» in 1879 and the Secretary of Saal founder of the Journal of Law and George Michael Knight founder of the «Egyptian newspaper» in 1888 and Alexander Shalhoub founder of the Journal of the Sultanate in 1897 and Selim Takla and his brother Bishara Takla founding Al-Ahram newspaper, and in the jurisprudence of the Arabic language The Abraham Yazigi Yazigi and Nassif and Peter Gardener. At the same time entered into by the Archbishop of Aleppo Mlatios grace of the first printing press letters to Arab Levant and continued in print until 1899. On the other hand, contributed to Arab Christians in fighting policy Turkification pursued by the Assembly of the Union and Progress and has emerged in Aleppo, in particular, Bishop Germanos Farhat and Father Boutros Tallawy, and the school was founded the Patriarchate in the prolific that came out a multitude of flags of the Arab at that point, and played college Christian university of St. Joseph and the American University of Beirut and Al-Hikma University in Baghdad and other leading role in the development of civilization and Arab culture.[source needs translation] In Iraq, an active father Anastas Marie Carmelite, and in the literature mentioned Gibran Khalil Gibran and Mikhail Naima Lomé increase and Ameen Rihani and Shafiq Maalouf and Elias Farhat. The answer, in politics and Alazuri Shokri Ghanem and Jacob Abov, Faris Nimr and Boutros-Ghali, in Lebanon and Egypt. Given this growing Christian role in politics and culture, governments began to turn contains the Ottoman ministers from the Arab Christians and all of them epic in Lebanon. In the economic sphere, a number of Christian families, including Al Sursock and all stockist and all Websters in the Levant and all Sakakini, and all-Ghali, and all fixed in Egypt,[source needs translation] Thus, the Arab Middle East led the Muslims and Christians a cultural renaissance and national general despotism which formed Rkizath Society of Union and Progress and Policy Turkification, and established this renaissance as seen Paul Naaman "Arab Christians as one of the pillars of the region and not as a minority on the fringes.
In the post-Ottoman era
Some of the most influential Arab nationalists were Arab Christians, like Syrian intellectual Constantin Zureiq. Several Arab Christians edited the leading newspapers in Mandatory Palestine including Filastin, edited by the Isa brothers (Daoud Isa), and Al Carmel which was edited by Najib Nassar. Khalil Sakakini, a prominent Jerusalemite, was also an Arab Orthodox, and George Antonious, author of The Arab Awakening.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, a number of Arab Greek Orthodox communities were affected, including Bassa, Ramla, Lydda, Safed, Kafr Bir'im, Iqrit, Tarbikha, Eilabun. In addition around 20,000 Christians fled Haifa, 20,000 fled West Jerusalem, 700 fled Acre and 10,000 fled Jaffa. However prominent members remained such as Tawfik Toubi, Emile Toma and Emile Habibi and they went on to be leaders of the Communist party in Israel. George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was Arab Christian.
The suicide bomber Jules Jammal, a Syrian military officer, who blew himself up while ramming a French ship, was also an Arab Christian.
Many Palestinian Christians were also active in the formation and governing of the Palestinian National Authority since 1994.
With the events of the Arab Winter, the Syrian Arab Christian community was heavily hit in line with other Christian communities of Syria, being a victimized by the war and specifically targeted as minority by the Jihadist forces. Many Christians, including Arab Christians, were displaced and/or fled Syria on the course of the Syrian Civil War.
Arab Christians today
If one excludes the Coptic Christians, the numbers of the Greek Orthodox Church adherents in Egypt, who are ethnically Greek and Arab, is rather small - on the order of several thousands each. There are several isolated Greek Orthodox communities, largely composed of Arabs, in the Sinai Peninsula, though the rest of Egypt also has tiny numbers of other than Copts minorities.
Most Egyptian Christians are Copts, who are mainly members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. 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 6,000,000 and 11,000,000. The liturgical language of the Copts, the Coptic language, is a direct descendant of the Ancient Egyptian language. Coptic remains the liturgical language of all Coptic churches inside and outside of Egypt.
Christianity has a presence in Iraq dating to the 1st century AD. The Arab Christian community in Iraq is relatively small, and further dwindled due to the Iraq War to just several thousands. Most Arab Christians in Iraq belong traditionally to Greek Orthodox and Roman 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 ethnic Assyrians (also called Chaldo-Assyrians and Chaldean Catholics), who follow Syriac Christian churches, most notably the Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian, Ancient Church of the East, Orthodox and Assyrian Protestant churches. More than two-thirds of Iraqi Christians have fled or immigrated to other countries[which?] this century.[not in citation given]
With 122,000 Arab Christians living in Israel, as Arab citizens of Israel, out of a total of 151,700 Christian citizens, this is one of the biggest Arab Christian communities in the world. It is also the only Arab Christian community in the Middle East which experiences a net population growth. Arab Christians constitute 80% of the Christians in Israel, with smaller Christian communities of ethnic Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, Ukrainians and Assyrians. The majority of Arab Christians in Israel belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, with a sizable minority belonging to the Greek Catholic (Melkite) and Latin Churches. Other denominations are the Anglicans who have their cathedral church in the contested territory of East Jerusalem. Baptists in Israel are concentrated in the north of the country, and have four churches in the Nazareth area, and a seminary.
Some of the Arab Christians in Israel self-identify as Palestinian Arab Christians. Christian Arabs are considered to be the most educated community in Israel and they have attained more bachelor's degrees and academic degrees than Jewish, Muslims and Druze per capita. Christian Arabs also have the highest rates of success in the matriculation examinations, both in comparison to the Muslims and the Druze and in comparison to all students in the Jewish education system.
Jordanian Christians are the among the oldest Christian community in the world Christians have resided in Jordan since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, early in the 1st century AD. Jordanian Christians now number at about 400,000 people, or 6% of the population of approximately 6,500,000, which is lower than the near 20% in the early 20th century. This is largely due to lower birth rates in comparison with Muslims and to a strong influx of Muslim immigrants from neighboring countries. Also, a larger percent of Christians compared to Muslims emigrate to western countries, resulting in a large Jordanian Christian diaspora.
Christians are well integrated in the Jordanian society and have a high level of freedom. Nearly all Christians belong to the middle or upper classes. Moreover, Christians enjoy more economic and social opportunity in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan than anywhere in the Middle East and North Africa, except for Lebanon. They have a disproportionately large representation in the Jordanian parliament (10% of the Parliament) and hold important government portfolios, ambassadorial appointments abroad, and positions of high military rank. Jordanian Christians are allowed by the public and private sectors to leave work to attend Divine Liturgy or Mass on Sundays. All Christian religious ceremonies are publicly celebrated. Christians have established good relations with the royal family and the various Jordanian government officials and they have their own ecclesiastic courts for matters of personal status.
Most native Christians in Jordan identify themselves as Arab, though there are also significant non-Arab Assyrian and Armenian ethnic groups in the country. Christian ex-Muslims are not permitted to legally convert, and do not enjoy the same rights as other Christians in Jordan.
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 Arab Christians and Melchites, while the most dominant group are Maronites with about 1 million population, whose Arab identity is somewhat disputed.
Christians form 30%-38% of the total population of 4.5 million as of 2010. The exact number of Christians is uncertain because no official census has been made in Lebanon since 1932. Lebanese Christians belong mostly to the Maronite Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox, with sizable minorities belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholics. Lebanese Christians are the only Christians in the Middle East with a sizeable political role in the country. The Lebanese president, half of the cabinet, and half of the parliament follow one of the various Lebanese Christian rites.
While most Maronites claim pre-Arab origins in the region, with relation to Mardaites and perhaps even Phoenicians of the ancient times, there is no question Arabization of this population, taking place over centuries of Muslim rule and Arab domination in the region. The indigenous Western Aramaic language among the Maronites was abandoned as a spoken tongue by the end of the Middle Ages, making this community also to adopt elements of Arab culture from their Arab Christian and Arab Muslim neighbours. Nevertheless, many Maronites still strongly point out their unique origins, separate from Arab peoples, and predating the Arab migrations to the region. Some Maronites tend to oppose such divergence opinions, and actually see themselves as part of the Arab nation, defined by the Pan-Arab identity. There are even voices aiming to link Maronites with Arabs by bloodline. For example, according to Kamal Salibi some Maronites may have been descended from an Arabian tribe, who immigrated thousands of years ago from the Southern Arabian peninsula. Salibi maintains "It is very possible that the Maronites, as a community of Arabian origin, were among the last Arabian Christian tribes to arrive in Syria before Islam".
Most of the Palestinian Christians identify themselves as Arab Christians culturally and linguistically, claiming descent from the early Jews and Gentiles, who converted to Christianity during the Roman and Byzantine rule, as well as Christian Ghassanid Arabs and Greeks who settled in the region since. Between 36,000-50,000 Christians live in the Palestinian Authority, most of whom belong to the Orthodox (Greek Orthodox and Arab Orthodox) and Catholic (including Melchite) churches. The majority of Palestinian Christians live in the Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus areas.
Many Palestinian Arab Christians hold high-ranking positions in Palestinian society, particularly at the political and social levels. Israeli historian Benny Morris writes that Christian-Muslim relations constitute a divisive element in Palestinian society.
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. 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. There have also been cases of persecution by radical Islamist elements, mainly in the Gaza Strip.[better source needed] Palestinian Christian human rights activist Hanna Siniora has attributed local harassment against Christians to "little groups" of "hoodlums" rather than to the Hamas or Fatah governments. 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.
The decline of the Christian community in the Palestinian controlled areas follow the general trend of Christian decline in 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.
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 2,350.00. 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 north east), and Armenian origins, with a major recent influx of Assyrian Iraqi Christian refugees into these communities. Due to the Syrian civil war, a large number of Christians fled the country to Lebanon, Jordan and Europe, though major share of the population still resides in Syria (some being internally displaced). No updated data is yet available on their distribution.
The Arab Christians of Syria are Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic (Melkites), Maronites, Armenian and Syrian Catholics, some Latin Rite Roman Catholics other non-Arab Syrian Christians include Assyrians and Armenians. The largest Christian denomination in Syria is the Greek Orthodox church, who are exclusively Arab Christians followed in second place by the Syrian Orthodox. The appellation "Greek" refers to the liturgy they use, sometimes used to refer to the ancestry and ethnicity of the members, however not all members are of Greek ancestry; in fact the Arabic word used is "Rum", which means "Byzantines", or Eastern Romans. Overall, the term is generally used to refer mostly to the Greek liturgy, and the Greek Orthodox denomination in Syria. Arabic is now its main liturgical language. Melkite Church is another major religious denomination of Arabized Christians in Syria. Melkites, the followers of the Greek Catholic Church form another major group.
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. They are Greek Orthodox. However, they are known as Arab Christians, because of their language. Antioch (capital of Hatay Province) is also historical capital of Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch. Turkey is also home to a number of non Arab Armenian and Assyrian Christians.
Hundreds of thousands of Arab Christians also live in the diaspora, outside of the Middle East. They reside in such countries as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela among them. There are also many Arab Christians in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, France (due to its historical connections with Lebanon and North Africa), and Spain (due to its historical connections with northern Morocco), and to a lesser extent in Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands. Among those, across Europe and the Americas, an estimated 400,000 Arab Christians are living in the Palestinian diaspora.
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 North African Christians of Berber or Arab 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.
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.
After the ascent of the nationalist Ba'ath party in Iraq in 1963 Assyrian Christians were referred to as "Arab Christians" by Arab nationalists who denied the existence of a distinct Assyrian identity, despite Assyrians speaking the pre-Arab Aramaic language. In 1972 a law was passed to use Syriac language in public schools and in media, shortly afterwards however Syriac was banned and Arabic was imposed on Syriac language magazines and newspapers.
By the time of the 1977 census, Assyrians were being referred to as either Arabs or Kurds. Christians were forced to deny their identity as Assyrian nationalism was harshly punished. One example of this "Arabization" program was Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, an Assyrian member of the Chaldean Catholic faith who changed his surname from Mikhael Youhana upon joining the Baath Party.
By the 1990s those Christians who still referred to themselves as "Assyrians" were exempt from the Oil-for-Food program and did not receive their monthly food rations. Many Assyrians were expelled from their villages in northern Iraq, others were forced to replaced their names with Arab ones.
They likewise pointed out that Arab nationalist groups have wrongly included Assyrian-Americans in their head count 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 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 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. In current times the spoken language of Copts is Arabic, and a significant number of Coptic Christians self-identify as part of the Arab nation.
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.
At the March 1936 Congress of the Coast and Four Districts, the Muslim leadership at this conference made the declaration that Lebanon was an Arab country, indistinguishable from its Arab neighbors. In the April 1936 Beirut municipal elections, Christian Maronite and Muslim Politicians were divided along Phoenician and Arab lines in concern of whether the Lebanese coast should be claimed by Syria or given to Lebanon, increasing the already mounting tensions between the two communities.
Lebanese nationalism, which rejects Arab identity, has found a strong support among some Maronites and even other Orthodox Christians. However, this form of nationalism, nicknamed Phoenicianism, never developed into an integrated ideology led by key thinkers, but there are a few who stood out more than others: Charles Corm, Michel Chiha, and Said Aql in their promotion of Phoenicianism.
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.
During a final session of the Lebanese Parliament, a Marada Maronite MP states his identity as an Arab: "I, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Arab, grandson of Patriarch Estefan Doueihy, declare my pride to be a part of our people’s resistance in the South. Can one renounce what guarantees his rights?"
In contrast to most Arab Christians in Israel, a handful of Arabic-speaking Christian Israelis do not consider themselves Arab, noting their non-Arab, Aramean ancestry as a source. This is especially evident in the Maronite-dominated city of Jish in Galilee, where Aramean nationalists have been trying to resurrect Aramaic as a spoken language. In September 2014, Israel recognized the "Aramean" ethnic identity, in which Arabic-speaking Christians of Israel, with Aramean affinity, can now register as "Aramean" rather than Arab. This recognition comes after about seven years of activity by the Aramean Christian Foundation in Israel, led by IDF Major Shadi Khalloul Risho and the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, headed by Father Gabriel Naddaf of the Greek-Orthodox Church and Major Ihab Shlayan. The Aramean ethnic identity can be given to Aramaic-speaking adherents of five Christian Eastern Syriac churches in Israel, including the Maronite Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church and Syrian Orthodox.
The re-registration of Arameans began in October 2014, and first will be applied to 200 Maronite families of Jish, who had already requested such recognition; in further future it is expected to apply to up to 10,000 Israeli citizens, formerly registered as Arab Christians. According to Shadi Khalloul, one of the initiators of the move, "All Christians from the 133,000 Christians who live in Israel and belong to one of the Eastern churches can now be listed as a Aramean...". The move was met also with opposition by large parts of the Arab Christian society and was denounced by the Greek Orthodox Christian Patriarchate,
Although the majority of the followers of Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the Levant adhere to Arab nationalism, some politicians reject Arabism, such as the secular Greek Orthodox Antun Saadeh, founder of the SSNP, who was executed for advocating the abolition of the Lebanese state by the Kataeb led government in the 1940s. Saadeh rejected Arab Nationalism (the idea that the speakers of the Arabic language form a single, unified nation), and argued instead for the creation of the state of United Syrian Nation or Natural Syria encompassing the Fertile Crescent. Saadeh rejected both language and religion as defining characteristics of a nation, and instead argued that nations develop through the common development of a people inhabiting a specific geographical region. He was thus a strong opponent of both Arab nationalism and Pan-Islamism. He argued that Syria was historically, culturally, and geographically distinct from the rest of the Arab world, which he divided into four parts. He traced Syrian history as a distinct entity back to the Phoenicians, Canaanites, Arameans, Babylonians etc.
The Arab Christians largely belong to the Greek Orthodox or Antiochian Orthodox Churches, though there are also adherents to other churches: Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Latin Catholic Church, and Protestant Churches.
Arab Orthodox Society
Internal Orthodox Church tensions
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 April 11, 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 recent dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the Greek Patriarch Irenaios has led to the Patriarch being pushed aside because of accusations of a real estate deal with Israel.
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. In more recent times (especially since the mid-19th century), some Arab speaking Christians from the Levant region have been converted from these native, traditional churches to more recent Protestant ones, most notably Baptist and Methodist churches. This is mostly due to an influx of Western, predominantly American Evangelical, missionaries.
Relation of Levantine populations to Phoenicians
A study in the genetic marker of the Phoenicians led by Pierre Zalloua, showed that the Phoenician genetic marker was found in 1 out of 17 males in the region surrounding the Mediterranean and Phoenician trading centers such as the Levant, Tunisia, Morocco, Cyprus, and Malta. The study focused on the male Y-chromosome of a sample of 1,330 males from the Mediterranean. Colin Groves, biological anthropologist of the Australian National University in Canberra says that the study does not suggest that the Phoenicians were restricted to a certain place, but that their DNA still lingers 3,000 years later.
In Lebanon, almost one-third of the population carry the Phoenician gene in their DNA. This Phoenician signature is distributed equally among different groups (both Christians and Muslims) in Lebanon and that the overall genetic makeup of the Lebanese was found to be similar across various backgrounds. The Phoenician gene in this study refers to haplogroup J2 plus the haplotypes PCS1+ to PCS6+, however the study also states that the Phoenicians also likely had other haplogroups.
In addition, the study found that the J2 ("old levantine haplogroup") was found in an "unusually high proportion" (about 20-30%) among Levantine people such as the Syrians, Lebanese and the Palestinians. The ancestor haplogroup J is common to about 50% of the Arabic-speaking people of the Southwest Asian portion of the Middle East. A Lebanese Christian who was tested as having the J2 haplogroup stated that "It carries no big meaning," and added he views himself as "Lebanese, Arab and Christian -- in that order."
Genetic differences of Arab Christians and Arab Muslims
According to a 2010 study of Israeli scientific groups, published by the Nature magazine, different multiple sclerosis (MS) prevalence rates were reported for Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel. Global comparisons of HLA allele frequencies revealed significant differences between Christians and Muslims; therefore, case–control analyses were stratified by religious affiliation. The study investigated the associations between HLA class I and class II genes and MS in the Israeli Arab population, and for the first time present allele frequency data for the Christian Arab population.
- Arab Orthodox Society
- Arab Orthodox Benevolent Society
- Antiochian Greeks
- Bible translations (Arabic)
- John of Damascus
- List of Christian terms in Arabic
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