Religious tolerance is growing in the Persian Gulf over the past six years, going beyond the practical concern of accommodating the large migrant worker populations in the region, reports the National Catholic Register (June 15).
One example of greater religious freedom is the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia in Awali, Bahrain, which will be the largest Catholic church in the Persian Gulf, on land donated by King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa. Driving the trend is the increased number of Christian guest workers, mainly from India and the Philippines and “initiatives by wealthy rulers to open up the region to the world,” writes Victor Gaetan. The large numbers of guest workers in the region, totaling over 3 million, has led to a spate of building large church complexes—from the 2,700-seat Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in 2007 to the addition of Protestant, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches in an area of Qatar known as “church city.” Qatar’s openness to churches is significant because the country follows the strict Wahhabi school of Islam and until recently did not allow the practice of the Christian faith.
Although churches are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, the new cathedral in Bahrain will likely serve the worker population of 1.5 million Catholics in the country who only have to cross a 15-mile causeway to attend Mass. Churches have been allowed in Bahrain and Kuwait for decades, but the recent expansion of churches in the region is “more than an attempt to contain” foreign populations and is a “positive opening” to the outside world, according to Allan Keiswetter of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Another unusual gesture in Doha, Qatar is the inclusion of Georgetown University in its invitation for American universities to open campuses in the country.
The core curriculum is the same in Washington as in Doha—all students have to take theology and philosophy, which include Bible and Muslim-Christian relations courses.
(National Catholic Register, http://www.ncregister.com.)