Key religious beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church and the traditions of their religious history are well known to most Arabs. In America, few people regularly associate the modern Middle East with Christianity despite the fact that most of the Bible occurred there. A natural place for Christians, the holy Quran states several times about the equality between Muslims and other “people of the book.” For example, The Quran Chapter 2 verse 62 explains people of the book as Christians, Sabeans, and Jews.
Christian Diversity in the Middle East
Christianity has a presence in the modern Arab and predominantly Islamic areas of the world. While they are a minority now, at one time, many people in the Middle East were Christians. Throughout the Middle East, the most common forms of Christian worship include the ideas associated with the Maronite, Coptic, Arab Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, or Eastern Orthodox Church. In religious studies, these variations of Christianity found in North Africa, Southwest Asia, the east Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Russia are called Eastern Christianity. Protestants and Roman Catholics comprise Western Christianity.
Sabeans Are a Unique Christian Not Christian Group in Arabia
There are also many strange places where Western Christianity pops up in Arabia. For example, did you know that there is a Protestant church in the Arab area of Iran called St. Christopher’s? In some places, like Iraq and Iran, there are two types of Christianity. Anglicans arrived with British settlers in the petroleum industry in the early 1900’s. However, Iran’s and Iraq’s other “Christians” follow a religion termed “Mandaeans ” associated with the Sabeans that predates Judaism. Despite being called Christians, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees states that many of these Sabean Mandaeans do not actually focus on the teachings of John the Baptist or consider themselves Christians.
Orthodox Considered the First Church
When Arab Christians describe their Orthodox religious history, they will let you know that the term Orthodox means “first.” In other words, Orthodox Christians are the first Christians. In Greek, orthodox means “to believe correctly.” While Roman and Orthodox beliefs are similar, one interesting difference between them is the Orthodox belief in faith healing. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that their Bishops have a type of power referred to as “laying on of hands” restoration just like it was practiced by the Apostles.
The Difference between Arab Christian and Muslim Homes
When you know Arab Christians, you notice their home contains important features that are different than their Muslim neighbors. For example, on the east wall, there is an area for prayer that includes pictures of Jesus, Mary and other Saints. Muslims, on the other hand, do not believe in having pictures of human faces in areas of prayer. For this reason, you will never see icons or pictures of saints in a mosque.
Solidarity between Muslims and Orthodox Christians
Despite the fact that Christian and Muslims worship differently, in the modern Arab world, citizens of the same country are more likely to be friends than enemies. With the revolutions and changes of leadership in the Middle East over 2011, many Muslims and Christians took the time to say they are allied with all of their fellow countrymen despite religious differences. In Egypt, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Muslims said they were united as Egyptians first. In Iraq, Muslims made a point of saying, “Iraq would not be Iraq without its Christians.”
The Future of Christians in the Middle East
While it seems that Eastern Orthodox Christian acceptance is on the rise in the Middle East, Habib C. Malik identifies that the politics need to match the solidarity the people are feeling. Malik contributed an essay to the Hoover Institution volume “Islamism and the Future of the Christians in the Middle East.” In it, he wrote, “What Muslims living in the West demand for themselves-and receive-by way of rights and legal protections they ought to be ready to grant to Christians living in Muslim-majority countries.”
In other words, laws in some Middle Eastern countries do not reflect how people living in those countries really feel about each other. Thankfully, revolutions in those Arab communities mean that this situation has a chance to be rectified. As democracy grows in the Middle East, Arabs of all religious backgrounds need to continue to strive for a secular society that allows minorities the autonomy Muslim communities are granted in the West.