Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New Christian church in Qatar

The first Christian church in Qatar since the arrival of Islam in the 7th century is to be built in the conservative Muslim state, which is led by a reform-minded ruler.

The £4 million development of the Church of the Epiphany, which will not have a spire or free-standing cross, will begin early next year on land donated by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

The Most Rev Clive Handford, the Nicosia-based Anglican Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, said: “We are there as guests in a Muslim country and we wish to be sensitive to our hosts . . . but once you’re inside the gates it will be quite obvious that you are in a Christian centre.”

From The Times of London, read the whole thing here.

“We wish to be sensitive…” I suspect that translates into “we need to do this in order to be able to have the church.” Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that at all. Having a new public building puts them way ahead of most other Islamic states, to say nothing of places like North Korea.

I do take exception to a later statement in the same article by the good Bishop.

Bishop Handford accepts that some Qataris might not be happy. “In the conservative Muslim world you’d expect it,” he said. “You’d get the same in the conservative Christian world where mosques are being built.”

Like where? I can’t think of any Christian-dominated country where the building of a mosque would be met with the real threat of serious violence. That’s the sort of politically-correct equivalence that can’t differentiate between a hostile letter to the editor and a homicide bomber in a crowded café.

What is most interesting is that the Emir actually donated the land. That is quite a slap in the face to radical Islamofascists in his country, and requires a bit of courage on the Emir’s part. Qatar may be a pretty West-friendly country, but it is still an Islamic state and it borders Saudi Arabia, heartland of the Wahabi sect.

It is fascinating that the Anglican churches – as well as others - continue to grow and flourish in the East and the South while they diminish in the West and the North. The opportunity for a transformed life that Jesus offers is still seen as a promise in the Global South. To most of us in the prosperous and self-satisfied North, the notion of a transformed life looks more like a threat.