Middle Eastern Muslim nations have a horrible track record when it comes to respecting religious freedom.
Actually, that is an understatement. Middle Eastern Muslim nations are actually a hotbed of religious persecution, especially against Christians.
So how did this 70% Muslim-majority Middle Eastern nation get removed from the Open Doors 2019 World Watch List?
Bahrain, like its Muslim neighbors, has a history of persecuting Christians living within its borders.
According to the Open Doors website:
“Christian persecution [in Bahrain] results from a prohibition against Christians proselytizing Muslims, the restriction of religious expression and the inhibited freedom of assembly imposed by state authorities.
“Because Bahraini society is Islamically conservative, leaving Islam is seen as a betrayal of tribe and family members, who place pressure on converts to return to Islam.
“Some expatriate Christians in the country experience relative freedom to worship but are under close surveillance by the government and security forces.
“Converts from Islam experience the most severe persecution, as family members and local communities pressure them to recant their Christian faith. Despite this pressure, reports of Christians being killed, imprisoned or physically harmed for their faith are rare.”
But in their latest press conference announcing the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors has officially removed Bahrain from the 50 worst places for Christians to live.
After explaining the global threats to religious liberty in 2019, and the grim reality still faced by 245 million Christians worldwide, Open Doors USA President/CEO David Curry had this to say:
“There are signs of hope. Bahrain, you might notice, has dropped out of the top 50 of the World Watch List.”
“I want to commend them,” he added. “Thank you to the royal leaders and the royal family of Bahrain and the government there for what they have done in the last several years. I think it could be a model within that region for how it could be done.”
According to Curry, non-Muslims in Bahrain are worshiping “more freely than ever before.”
“It is improving their entire society,” Curry added.
“All of the countries here on the list have minority religions within them but they are often pushed to the side and they are not included in these conversations. I think the first thing has been that they have been talking with these Christian leaders and others, Jewish leaders, and trying to protect the space for people to worship,” Curry explained.
“I think what Bahrain has done is they have created a safe place for people to worship and that is critically important.”
Just last year, Bahrain announced it was creating an official post in its government whose job was to work to improve religious freedom in the country, calling the position “an ambassador-at-large position for peaceful coexistence and religious freedom within its ministry of foreign affairs.”
Also last year, Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa established the “King Hamad World Centre for Peaceful Co-Existence” and in 2017, the king authored and signed “The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration,” calling for an end to religious extremism and greater religious tolerance in the Middle East.
Bahrain’s progress on religious liberty is being noticed elsewhere as well.
Johnnie Moore, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has made several trips to Bahrain in recent years and recently wrote an article for the Christian Post entitled, “Why Bahrain Makes Us Optimistic for Peace in the Middle East.”
“Bahrain is modeling for the region that you can have both,” Moore said. “You can be a distinctly majority-Muslim country in the gulf and be an entirely welcoming society that doesn’t see the freedom of worship or belief as a threat but rather an asset.”
“There is a 200-year-old Hindu temple in Bahrain. As you walk up to that temple, they are selling Hindu gods on the streets in this Arab Muslim country. It is an extraordinary thing.”
“Today, a time when Coptic Christians face ever-growing threats in their native Egypt, they find in Bahrain a society where hundreds of Coptic expatriates travel every weekend from Saudi Arabia to worship freely with their co-religionists.
“While ancient Catholic churches lay in rubble in Iraq and Syria, Bahrain is constructing the largest Catholic church in the Arab world.”
Please praise the Lord for this glimmer of hope in what seems sometimes to be a hopeless region in our fallen world.
And pray with us that this example will spread and Christians will be free to worship the Lord and proclaim His Truth throughout the Middle East!