Christianity in Middle East Facing Worst Religious Persecution Since Early History

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Tracie Hearne
(Photo: Reuters/Hasan Shaaban)
Lebanese and Syrian Maronites pray for peace in the Middle East.
Christians in the Middle East now face the worst religious persecution in more than one thousand years, according to a report by the Pew Research Center, leading some to ask whether this is the end for the Christian community in the region.

According to the report, which projects the future of world religions up to the year 2050, Israel and Lebanon are the only remaining countries in the Middle East where Christians have freedom to practice their religion and are safe from persecution. However, the Lebanese Christian population has dwindled from 78 percent to now 34 percent in the last century.

Some of the Gulf Islamic nations such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are seeing an influx of Christians, the report notes. These numbers are mostly migrant workers from Asia who are normally only living there temporarily and do not have full rights of freedom of religion.

“While emigration out of the Middle East and North Africa is projected to lower the share of Christians in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria, the immigration of Christians into the GCC countries is expected to more than offset these departures for the region overall,” the Pew report states.

The report concluded: “Thus, migration is expected to slow the projected decline in the Christian share of the population in the Middle East-North Africa region. If migration were not factored into the 2050 projections, the estimated Christian share of the region’s population would drop below 3%. With migration factored in, however, the estimated Christian share is just above 3% (compared with nearly 4% as of 2010).”

Last June, more than 120,000 Christians fled the Iraqi city of Mosul after Islamic State militants invaded and left Christians with an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, or face death by the sword. The militants have declared cities in Iraq and Syria as their “Islamic Caliphate.”

Iraq’s Christian population has dwindled to almost 400,000 since last July from more than 1 million in 2003. In total, about 1.2 million people have been affected by the conflict in Iraq.
With very little aid for Christians in the Middle East, The New York Times asks if Christianity has any future in the region of its birth.

“Christianity is under an existential threat,” Anna Eshoo, a Democrat member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California, and an advocate of Mideast Christians, told The New York Times in a piece that details the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

Last year, Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Baghdad, said that every Christian in Iraq wants to leave due to fear of the jihadists invading additional regions of the country.

“Many Christians here are very frightened about what has happened to their community up in the north. Some have relatives who have lost everything: their homes, furniture, cars. They have nothing left at all,” he told the Telegraph.