The Middle East, a region with Islam as the population of the majority, has Christianity as a significant minority religion in the region. Although Christianity originated in the Middle East, Christians today account for only 10% to 15% of the region’s population, a fall from 20% in the first half of the 20th century. The only Middle Eastern nation that can be considered as a Christian Majority is Cyprus. 78% of the national population of Cyprus are Christians. The largest Christian group in the region is, however, the Egyptian Copts who speak in Arabic and number around 15 to 21 million.
Now, we will discuss the religious landscape of some of the Middle Eastern countries with the highest population of Christians:
In Cyprus, Christianity is the religion of the majority. Most of the Greek Cypriots identify as Greek Orthodox. Islam is the second most followed religion in the country with the majority of the Turkish Cypriots identifying themselves as Sunni Muslims. The religious site in the country, the Hala Sultan Tekke, serves as a pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims. Around 1.5% of the population of Cyprus are Roman Catholics and 1% are members of the Church of England. Maronites and Armenians account for about 0.9% of the population while a small Jewish community also exists.
40.5% of the population of Lebanon are Christians. The country is the Middle East’s most religiously diverse nation. Muslims account for 54% of the nation’s population. Although the country has a significant Christian population, it has been decreasing over the years. The emigration of Christians to other nations and the high birth rate of Muslims in Lebanon have resulted in the rapidly dropping Christian population in Lebanon. Previously, the country had a Christian majority. The country recognizes 18 religious sects including 12 Christian, 4 Muslim, 1 Druze and 1 Jewish sect. The Maronites constitute Lebanon’s biggest Christian community followed by the Greek Orthodox.
In Egypt, Sunni Islam is the religion of the majority. A small percentage of the population, about 10%, are Christians. However, this is only an estimated figure as the religious census is a controversial topic in the country. Prior to the 7th century, Egypt was a Christian country. However, Arabic invasions led to mass conversions of Egypt’s population to Islam. Soon, the country became the hub of Islamic culture and politics and during the presidency of Anwar Sadat, Islam was declared as Egypt’s state religion and the Sharia dictated the law of the country. More than 90% of Egypt’s Christians are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church while others identify themselves as members of the Coptic Catholic Church, and other Christian denominations. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is regarded as the Middle East’s and North Africa’s biggest Church.
Sunni Muslims constitute the majority of the population of Syria (69 to 74%) while Shia Muslims make up around 13% of the country’s population. The country also has a significant Christian population accounting for about 10.2% of the Syrian population. The majority of Syria’s Christians are Antiochian Greek Orthodox. Other Christian denominations practiced in the country are Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and others.
About 6% of the Christian population of Jordan are Christians and 92% are Muslims. The country’s Christian communities are among the oldest in the world. The Christians here settled around the 1st century AD. The Christian population in the country has, however, fallen from 20% in 1930 to just about 6% in the present times. High rates of emigration of Christians to the West, immigration of Muslims to Jordan from neighboring countries, and the increased birth rate of Muslims have resulted in the dramatic decline in the Christian population in Jordan. According to an estimate by the Orthodox Church, 250,000 Christians reside in Jordan and all of them are Arabic-speaking. In Jordan, religious discrimination is prevalent with missionaries of religions other than Islam facing legal and societal discrimination.
Persecution Of Christians In The Middle East
Although nearly every country in the Middle East has a minority Christian population, persecution of the Christian communities in the region continues unabated. The degree of discrimination varies from one country to another but the Christians in such countries are often isolated. Although such was not the case in the past, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War was followed by an increased level of violence against the Christians in the Middle East. The situation has worsened in the current times especially after the rise of the ISIS. Thus many political figures and organizations have termed the persecution of Christians by ISIS as a genocide.