Christianity in the Middle East

Middle Eastern Christians
Total population
10–12 million (2011)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Egypt 6–11 million (2011)[2][3]

7.7–15.4 million (2005)[4]

 Syria 2,251,000
 Lebanon 1,702,000
 Cyprus 863,000
 Iraq 400,000[5]
 Jordan 388,000
 Iran 300,000
 Palestinian territories 173,000
 Israel 155,000 – 250,000[a]
 Turkey 64,000
 Bahrain 1,000 – 73,000[a]
 Kuwait 150 – 458,000[a]
 Yemen <100 - 3,000[a]
 Qatar <10 - 144,000[a]
 Saudi Arabia 0 - 1,493,000[a]
 United Arab Emirates 0 - 424,000[a]
 Oman 0 - 73,000[a]

Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Kurdish, Persian, Turkish



[a].^ (including foreign residents)

Christianity has its origin in the Middle East and was the major religion of the region from the fourth century until some time after the Saracen Muslim Conquests of the 7th century. Although Greek had been the dominant languages of the Early Churches, emerging from Hellenized communities around the Eastern Mediterranean (Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt), many Christian groups used other, local languages, of which Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Georgian and Arabic are prominent. Christians are estimated at 5% of the population in the Middle East, falling from 20% in the early 20th century.[6]

Middle Eastern Christians are reducing in numbers for a veriety of reasons, among which are the low birth rates compared with Muslims, extensive immigration and persecution. It is estimated that at the present rate, the Middle East's 12 million Christians will likely drop to 6 million by the year 2020.[7]

The largest Christian group in the Middle East is the Arabic-speaking Egyptian ethnoreligious community of Copts, who number according to various estimations 6–11 million people,[2] with Coptic sources claiming this number to be as high as 12–16 million people.[8][9] Copts largely reside in Egypt, with tiny communities also existing in other Middle Eastern countries of Israel, Cyprus and Jordan.

Another large Christian groups in the Middle East include the Arabic-speaking Maronites, who largely reside in Lebanon, with a sizeable community in Syria as well and smaller ones in Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan. They number some 1.1–1.2 million total across the Middle East.

The Syriac Christians, who are mostly ethnic Assyrians, number roughly 2 million in the Middle East. Those communities suffered a significant decline over the last decade, since many of them fled their native Iraq, and while many found refuge in Syria and Jordan, others fled as far as Europe and the Americas. Currently, the largest community of Syriac Christians in the Middle East resides in Syria, numbering 877,000–1,139,000, while in Iraq it declined to 400,000 (from 0.8–1.2 million before 2003 US invasion).[5]

The Arab Christians, who are mostly adherents of the Greek Orthodox Church, number around 400,000 and combined with Melkite Christians (who are usually related as Arab Christians as well) compose almost 1 million. Arab Christians largely reside across Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan.

Armenian Christians, scattered all across Middle East, number around half a million, with their largest community in Lebanon with 254,000 members. The number of Armenians in Turkey is disputed having a wide range of estimations. More Armenian communities reside in Syria, Jordan and to lesser degree in other Middle Eastern countries.

The Greeks, who had once inhabited large parts of the Middle East, declined since the Arab conquests and recently severely reduced in Turkey, as a result of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, which followed World War I. Today the biggest Middle Eastern Greek community resides in Cyprus numbering around 793,000 (2008).[10] Cypriot Greeks constitute the only Christian majority state in the Middle East.

In addition, there are multiple smaller Christian groups, living permanently across the Middle East, which include Georgians, Messianic Jews, Russians and others. The population of foreign workers has recently become another significant factor in the Middle East – many of them living even in states were Christianity is not officially recognized, like Saudi Arabia. There are currently several million Christian foreign workers, temporarily residing mostly in the Gulf area. Most of them come from East Asia – namely the Phillipines and Indonesia.



Evangelization and early history

Christianity by Country
Cefalu Christus Pantokrator cropped.jpg

Full list  •   v · d · e

Christianity spread rapidly from Jerusalem along major trade routes to major settlements, finding its strongest growth among Hellenized Jews in places like Antioch and Alexandria. The Greek-speaking Mediterranean region was a powerhouse for the Early Church, producing many revered Church Fathers as well as those who became labelled as heresiarchs. From Antioch, where Christians were first so called, came Ignatius, Diodore of Tarsus, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, Theodoret, John of Antioch, Severus of Antioch and Peter the Fuller, many of whom are associated with the School of Antioch. In like manner, Alexandria boasted many prominent theologians, including Athenagoras, Pantaenus, Clement, Origen, Dionysius, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Arius, Athanasius, Didymus the Blind, Cyril and Dioscorus, associated with School of Alexandria. The two schools dominated the theological controversies of the first centuries of Christian theology. Whereas Antioch traditionally focused the grammatical and historical interpretation of Scripture and developed a dyophysite christology, Alexandria was much influenced by neoplatonism, using an allegorical interpretation and developing miaphysitism. Other prominent centres of Christian learning developed in Asia Minor (most remarkably among the Cappadocian Fathers) and the Levantine coast (Gaza, Caesarea and Beirut).

Politically, the Middle East of the first four Christian centuries was divided between the Roman Empire and Parthia (later Sasanian Persia). Christians experienced sporadic persecutions in both political spheres. Within Parthia, most Christians lived in the region of Mesopotamia/Asuristan (Assyria) and spoke eastern Aramaic dialects related to those spoken by their co-religionists just across the Roman border. Legendary accounts are of the evangelization of the East by Thomas, Addai/Thaddaeus and Mari. Syriac emerged as the standard Aramaic dialect of the three border cities of Edessa, Nisibis and Arbela. Translation of the scriptures into Syriac began early in this region, with a Jewish group (probably non-rabbinic) producing a translation of the Hebrew Bible becoming the basis of the Christian Peshitta. Syriac Christianity is most famous for its poet-theologians, Aphrahat, Ephrem, Narsai and Jacob of Serugh.

Eusebius[11] credits Mark the Evangelist as the bringer of Christianity to Egypt, and manuscript evidence shows that the faith was firmly established there by the middle of the 2nd century. Although the Greek-speaking community of Alexandria dominated the Egyptian church, speakers of native Coptic and many bilingual Christians were the majority. From the early 4th century, at the latest, the monastic movement emerged in the Egyptian desert, led by Anthony and Pachomius (see Desert Fathers).

Eusebius (EH 6:20) also mentions the appointment of a bishop and the holding of a synod in Bostra around 240, which is the earliest reference to church organisation in an Arabic-speaking area. Later that decade, Eusebius (6:37) describes another synod in Arabia Petraea. Some scholars have followed hints in Eusebius and Jerome that Philip the Arab, the son of an Arab sheikh, may have been the first Christian Roman Empire. However, evidence to support this theory is thin. The Ghassanid tribe were important Christian foederati of Rome, while the Lakhmids were an Arab Christian tribe that fought for the Persians. Although the Hejaz was never a stronghold of Arab Christianity, there are reports of Christians around Mecca and Yathrib before the advent of Islam. One hadith even speaks of an icon of the Virgin and Child in the Ka'ba.

Christianity came to Armenia both from the south, Mesopotamia/Assyria, and the west, Asia Minor, as demonstrated by the Greek and Syriac origin of Christian terms in early Armenian texts. Eusebius (EH 6:46, 2) mentions Meruzanes as the bishop of the Armenians around 260. Following the conversion of King Trdat III to Christianity, Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated Bishop of Armenia in 314. Armenians continue to celebrate their church as the oldest national church. Gregory was consecrated at Caesarea in Cappadocia.

The Georgian kingdom of Iberia (Kartli) was probably evangelized first in the 2nd or 3rd century. However, the church was only established there in 330s. A number of sources, both in Georgian and other languages, associate Nino of Cappadocia with bringing Christianity to the Georgians and converting King Mirian III of Iberia. Georgian Christian literature emphasizes her connexion with Jerusalem and the role played the Georgian Jewish community in the growth of Christianity. Certainly, early Georgian liturgy does share a number of conspicuous features with that of Jerusalem. The Black Sea coastal kingdom of Lazica (Egrisi) had closer ties to Constantinople, and its bishops were by imperial appointment. Although the Lazican church originated around the same time as its Iberian neighbour, it was not until 523 when its king, Tzate, accepted the faith. The Iberian church was under the authority of the Patriarch of Antioch, until the reforming king Vakhtang Gorgasali set up an independent catholicos in 467.

In 314, the Edict of Milan proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire, and Christianity rapidly rose to prominence. The church's dioceses and bishoprics came to be modelled on state administration: partly the motive for the Council of Nicaea in 325. However, Christians in the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire (speaking variously Syriac, Armenian or Greek) are often found distancing themselves politically from their Roman co-religionists to appease the shah. Thus, around 387, when the Armenian Highland came under Sasanian control, a separate leadership from that in Caesarea developed and eventually settled in Echmiadzin, a division that still, to some extent, exists to this day. Likewise, in the 4th century, the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Sasanian capital, was recognised as leader of the Syriac- and Greek-speaking Christians in Persia, assuming the title catholicos, later patriarch.

Although Christianity in Ethiopia is traditionally linked to the biblical tale of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles (8. 26–30), it is more likely that the story is referring to a servant of a Meroitic queen. The Kebra Nagast also connects the Queen of Sheba with the royal line of Axum. Evidence from coinage and other historical references point to the mid-4th-century conversion of King Ezana of Axum as the establishment of Christianity, whence Nubia and other surrounding areas were evangelized, all under the oversight of the Patriarch of Alexandria. In the 6th century, Ethiopian military might conquered a large portion of Yemen, strengthening Christian concentration in southern Arabia.


The first major disagreement that led to a fracturing of the church was the so-called Nestorian Schism of the 5th century. This argument revolved around claims by Alexandrians over alleged theological extremism by Antiochians, and its battleground was the Roman capital, Constantinople, originating from its bishop's, Nestorius's, teaching on the nature of Christ. He was condemned for splitting Christ's person into separate divine and human natures, the extremes of this view, however, were not preached by Nestorius. Cyril of Alexandria succeeded in the deposition of Nestorius at the First Council of Ephesus in 431. The result led to a crisis among the Antiochians, some of whom, including Nestorius himself, found protection in Persia, which continued to espouse traditional Antiochian theology. The schism led to the total isolation of the Persian-sphere Church of the East, and the adoption of much Alexandrian theology in the Antiochian sphere of influence.

Some of the Alexandrian victors at Ephesus, however, began to push their anti-Nestorian agenda too far, of whom Eutyches was the most prominent. Much back and forth led to the Council of Chalcedon of 451, which found a compromise that returned to a theology closer to that of Antioch, refereed by Rome, and condemned the monophysite theology of Eutyches. However, the outcome was rejected by many Christians in the Middle East, especially by non-Greek-speaking Christians on the fringe of the Roman Empire – Copts, Syriacs, Assyrians and Armenians. In 482, Emperor Zeno attempted to reconcile his church with his Henotikon. However, reunion was never achieved, and the non-Chalcedonians adopted miaphysitism based on traditional Alexandrian doctrine, in revolt against the Byzantine Church. These so-called Oriental Orthodox Churches include the majority of Egyptian Christians – the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria – along with their African neighbours – the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churchs – many Syriacs – the Syriac Orthodox Church – and the majority of Armenians – the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The name Melkite (meaning 'of the king'), originally intended as a slur, came to be applied to those who adhered to Chalcedon (it is no longer used to describe them), who continued to be organised into the historic and autocephalous patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Collectively they form the traditional basis for the Greek Orthodox Church, known as Rūm Orthodox (Arabic: الروم الأرثوذكس‎) in Arabic, which is their language of worship throughout Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and diaspora. The Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church held to a moderate Antiochian doctrine through these schisms and began aligning itself with Byzantium from the early 7th century, and finally broke off ties with their Armenian non-Chalcedonian neighbours in the 720s.

Muslim conquests

The Muslim conquests of the 7th century brought to end the hegemony of Byzantium and Persia over the Middle East. Within the Roman sphere, the non-Chalcedonians welcomed the advent of new rule as a means to freedom from Byzantine animosity. The conquest came at the end of a particularly gruelling period of the Roman-Persian Wars, from the beginning of the 7th century, in which the Sasanid Shah Khosrau II had captured much of the Syria, Egypt, Anatolia and the Caucasus, and the Byzantines under Heraclius only managed a decisive counter-attack in the 620s.

The Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Sophronius negotiated with Caliph Umar in 637 for the peaceful transfer of the city into Arab control (including The Umariyya Covenant). Likewise, resistance to the Arab onslaught in Egypt was minimal. This seems to be more due to the war fatigue throughout the region rather than entirely due to religious differences.

Ottoman Empire

Under European colonial rule

Persecution of Christians in Middle East

Christians in the Middle East face continuous persecution and are often isolated. [12]Suspicions of the West prevalent in much of the Middle East and often transformed into outright hatred because of the ravages attributed to Western Colonialism and Imperialism and unqualified support for Israel has fueled hatred against Christians because they have been perceived as sharing the same religious beliefs with the Western Colonialists. Derogatory words and insults are often used on christians describing them as "illegitimate children of the crusaders" or as "slaves of western colonialists". Christians in the Middle East face many difficulties in terms of jobs and housing.

Christians today


Egyptian Christians, known as Copts, are mainly members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Coptic language – a derivative of the ancient Egyptian language, written mainly in the Greek alphabet, is used as the liturgical language of all Coptic churches inside and outside of Egypt. The Copts constitute the largest population of Christians in the Middle East, numbering between 6–11 million.[2] Although Copts in Egypt speak Egyptian Arabic, they believe in a Coptic identity similar to many Egyptian Muslims who believe in Egyptian nationalism (also referred to as Pharaonism). The ancient Egyptian language is descended from the Afroasiatic language family which is theorized to originate in Southwest Asia before eventually spreading and entering North Africa. There is a wide range of estimations regarding the numbers of Copts in Egypt, though without an official census there is no reliable official data. In 2008, Coptic groups claimed to compose some 12–16 million people. However, the Egyptian government has accused Christian groups and western media[citation needed] of overestimating the population of Christians in Egypt. Egyptian government sources however claim[citation needed] that the actual number of Christians living in Egypt is significantly lower than this.


In Iraq, Christians numbered about 636,000 in 2005, representing 3% of the population of the country. The vast majority are Assyrians who are concentrated in the north, particularly the Nineveh Plains, Dohuk region, and in and around cities such as Mosul, Erbil, Kurkuk and in Baghdad. There are also a proportion of Arab Christians in the center of cities and have small numbers of Armenian, Kurdish, Persian and Turcoman Christians. They had numbered over 1 million in 1980, or 7% of the population, but almost 400,000 fled to other countries, especially after the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Iraqi Christian population is also declining due to lower birth rates and higher death rates than their Muslim compatriots. Since the 2003 invasion, Iraqi Christians suffer from lack of security. Many lived in the capital Baghdad and in Mosul prior to the Iraq war,[13] but most have since fled to northern Iraq, where Assyrian Christians form a majority in some districts. Christians belong to Syriac churches such as the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Syriac Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, with a small number of Protestant converts. The Iraqi former foreign minister and deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz (real name Michael Youkhanna) is probably the most famous Iraqi Christian. Assyrians in Iraq have traditionally excelled in business, sports, the arts, music, and the military. In his recent PhD thesis[14] and in his recent book[15] the Israeli scholar Mordechai Zaken discussed the history of the Assyrian Christians of Turkey and Iraq (in the Kurdish vicinity) during the last 180 years, from 1843 onwards. In his studies Zaken outlines three major eruptions that took place between 1843 and 1933 during which the Assyrian Christians lost their land and hegemony in their habitat in the Hakkārī (or Julamerk) region in southeastern Turkey and became refugees in other lands, notably Iran and Iraq, and ultimately in exiled communities in European and western countries (the USA, Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, Sweden, France, to mention some of these countries). Mordechai Zaken wrote this important study from an analytical and comparative point of view, comparing the Assyrian Christians experience with the experience of the Kurdish Jews who had been dwelling in Kurdistan for two thousands years or so, but were forced to migrate the land to Israel in the early 1950s. The Jews of Kurdistan were forced to leave and migrate as a result of the Arab-Israeli war, as a result of the increasing hostility and acts of violence against Jews in Iraq and Kurdish towns and villages, and as a result of a new situation that had been built up during the 1940s in Iraq and Kurdistan in which the ability of Jews to live in relative comfort and relative tolerance (that was erupted from time to time prior to that period) with their Arab and Muslim neighbors, as they did for many years, practically came to an end. At the end, the Jews of Kurdistan had to leave their Kurdish habitat en masse and migrate into Israel. The Assyrian Christians on the other hand, came to similar conclusion but migrated in stages following each and every eruption of a political crisis with the regime in which boundaries they lived or following each conflict with their Muslim, Turkish, Arabs or Kurdish neighbors, or following the departure or expulsion of their patriarch Mar Shimon in 1933, first to Cyprus and then to the United States. Consequently, indeed there is still a small and fragile community of Assyrians in Iraq, however, millions of Assyrian Christians live today in exiled and prosperous communities in the west.[16]



Most Christians, permanently in Israel are ethnic Arabs, numbering roughly 135,000, who belong to Greek Orthodox and to a lesser degree Latin and Greek Catholic (Melkite) Churches. Smaller communities of Middle Eastern Christian peoples in Israel also include the Maronites, Assyrians, Armenians and Messianic Jews. During the 1990s, the Christian community had been increased due to the immigration of Jewish-Christian mixed marriages, who had predominantly arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union. This added another 20–30 thousands of mostly Greek Orthodox Christians with Russian and Ukranian ancestry.

In recent years, the Christian population in Israel has increased significantly by the migration of foreign workers from a number of countries (predominantly the Philippines and Romania). Numerous churches have opened in Tel Aviv, in particular.[17]

Nine churches are officially recognised under Israel's confessional system, for the self-regulation of status issues, such as marriage and divorce. These are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite (Greek Catholic), Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite and Syriac Orthodox churches. There are more informal arrangements with other churches such as the Anglican Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


John of Damascus an Arab monk and presbyter, 7th century (Greek icon).

In Jordan, Christians constitute about 7% of the population (about 400,000 people), though the percentage dropped sharply from 18% in the early beginning of the 20th century. This drop is largely due to influx of Muslim Arabs from Hijaz after the First World War, the low birth rates in comparison with Muslims and the large numbers of Palestinians (85–90% Muslim) who fled to Jordan after 1948. Nearly 70–75% of Jordanian Christians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The rest are Catholics, with a small minority adhering to Protestantism. Christians are well integrated in the Jordanian society and have a high level of freedom. Nearly all Christians belong to the middle or upper classes. Moreover, Christians enjoy more economic and social opportunity in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan than elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. They have a disproportionately large representation in the Jordanian parliament (10% of the Parliament) and hold important government portfolios, ambassadorial appointments abroad, and positions of high military rank.

Jordanian Christians are allowed by the public and private sectors to leave work to attend Divine Liturgy or Mass on Sundays. All Christian religious ceremonies are publicly celebrated. Christians have established good relations with the royal family and the various Jordanian government officials and they have their own ecclesiastic courts for matters of personal status.

Most native Christians in Jordan identify themselves as Arab, though there are also non-Arab Assyrian/Syriac, Armenian and Maronite groups in the country.


The earliest indisputable tradition of Christianity in Lebanon can be traced back to Saint Maron in the 4th century, the founder of national and ecclesiastical Maronitism. Saint Maron adopted an ascetic, reclusive life on the banks of the Orontes river near HomsSyria and founded a community of monks who preached the Gospel in the surrounding area. The Saint Maron Monastery was too close to Antioch, making the monks vulnerable to emperor Justinian II’s persecution. To escape persecution, Saint John Maron, the first Maronite patriarch-elect, led his monks into the Lebanese mountains; the Maronite monks finally settled in the Qadisha valley. During the Muslim conquest, Muslims persecuted the Christians, particularly the Maronites, with the persecution reaching a peak during the Umayyad caliphate. Nevertheless, the influence of the Maronite establishment spread throughout the Lebanese mountains and became a considerable feudal force[citation needed]. After the Muslim Conquest, the Maronite Church became isolated and did not reestablish contact with the Church of Rome until the 12th century.[18] According to Kamal Salibi some Maronites may have been descended from an Arabian tribe, who immigrated thousands of years ago from the Southern Arabian peninsula. Salibi maintains "It is very possible that the Maronites, as a community of Arabian origin, were among the last Arabian Christian tribes to arrive in Syria before Islam".[18] Many Lebanese Christians reject this however, and point out that they are of pre Arab origin.

Lebanon holds the largest number of Christians in the Arab world proportionally and falls just behind Egypt in absolute numbers. It is known that Christians made up between 65%–85%[citation needed] of Lebanon's population before the Lebanese Civil War, if not more, and they still form 48%–50%[citation needed] of the population today (if all refugees and immigrants of the Muslim faith are excluded); if one counts the estimated 10–15 million strong diaspora, they form more than the majority of the population. The exact number of Christians is uncertain because no official census has been made in Lebanon since 1932. Lebanese Christians belong mostly to the Maronite Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox, with sizable minorities belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholics. Lebanese Christians are the only Christians in the Middle East with a sizable political role in the country. The Lebanese president, half of the cabinet, and half of the parliament follow one of the various Lebanese Christian rites.

Many Lebanese Christians consider themselves of indigenous Phoenician ancestry, arguing that their presence predates the arrival of Arabs in the region. Though they originate from the Orontes river near Homs–Syria and founded a community of monks who left the Syriac Orthodox church, most still speak Aramaic today.

Palestinian Territories

Mariam of Abellin

About 173,000 Arab Palestinian Christians lived in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1990s,[13] in addition to about 122,000 living in Israel as Arab citizens of Israel. Both the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash, and the founder if its offshoot the DFLP, Nayif Hawatmeh, were Christians, as is prominent Palestinian activist and former Palestinian Authority minister Hanan Ashrawi.

Over the last years, unlike the surge in Christian population of Israel, the number of Christians in the Palestinian territories declined both in the West Bank and especially in Gaza, where since the Hamas' takeover, anti-Christian attitudes have been on the high. The decline of Christianity in the West Bank is largely attributed to poor birth rates, compared with the dominant Muslim population; anti-Christian attitudes by radical Muslim organizations; and general economic and security situation imposed by the Israeli military, which prompts the Palestinian Christians to seek better opportunities abroad.


In Syria, Christians formed just under 15% of the population (about 1.2 million people) according to the 1960 census, but no newer census has been taken. Current estimates suggest that they comprise about 10% of the population (2,000,000), due to having lower birth rates and higher emigration rates than their Muslim compatriots. The Christians in Syria are Syriac Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, follower of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Maronite Church, with some Roman Catholics. The most Syrian Christians are ethnic Assyrians/Syriacs and Armenians.


Many millions of Middle Eastern Christians currently live in the diaspora, elsewhere in the world. These include such countries as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela among them. There are also many Middle Eastern Christians in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, France (due to its historical connections with Lebanon and North Africa) and Spain (due to its historical connections with northern Morocco), and to a lesser extent, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands.

The largest number of Middle Eastern Christians, residing in the diaspora is of Lebanese Maronites, who have migrated out of Lebanon for security and economic reasons since WWI. Much fled Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War.

Syriac Christians currently reside in diaspora with large communities in Europe, America and Australia, reaching more than a million outside of the Middle East. Much of these is attributed to the massive Christian exodus from Iraq, following the 2003 invasion and the consequent Iraq War.

Among the Arab Christians about 400,000 Palestinian Christians reside in the diaspora, largely in the Americas, where their communities have been established since the late 19th century and peaked following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. More emigrated from Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War.

The majority of self-identifying Arab Americans are Eastern Rite Catholic or Orthodox, according to the Arab American Institute.[verification needed] On the other hand, most American Muslims are black or of South Asian (Indian or Pakistani) origin.


Coptic Christians

The largest Christian community in the Middle East are the Copts of Egypt, whose churches are mainly divided into:

Syriac/Assyrian/Aramean Christians

Many Christians in the Middle East are followers of Eastern Rite Syriac Christianity, are ethnically distinct from Arabs, and divided into several sects:

  • Assyrian Church of the East (also known as the Nestorian Church, Persian Church and sometimes East Syriac Church) 1st century AD – Mainly found in Iraq, Iran, south east Turkey and north east Syria.
    • Chaldean Catholic Church since the 16th century AD- made up of Assyrian converts to Catholicism. Mainly found in Iraq, Iran, south east Turkey and north east Syria
    • Ancient Church of the East since the 20th century AD – An offshoot of the Assyrian Church of the East. Mainly found in Iraq, Iran, south east Turkey and north east Syria
    • Assyrian Evangelical Church – Made upof ethnic Assyrian converts to Protestantism,since 20th century. Mainly found in Iraq, Iran, south east Turkey and north east Syria

Members of the above churches are ethnic Assyrians

Arab and Melkite Christians

Christian Arabs, belonging mostly to Greek Orthodox and Melkite churches, whose followers were initially Greek speaking Middle Easterners:

All are mainly found in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and to a lesser degree Yemen, Oman and Egypt

Armenian Christians

There is also the Armenian Church[disambiguation needed ] with its divisions:

Armenia, historically, was the first state to accept Christianity after Adiabene. There are small numbers of Russian Orthodox and Assyrian Christians there also. Armenian Christians are also to be found in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus and Jordan.

Georgian Christians

In Georgia, the majority of the population belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church also have adherents there.

Kurdish Christians

The Kurdish-Speaking Church of Christ (The Kurdzman Church of Christ) is an Evangelical church with mainly Kurdish adherents.


The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East is the Anglican church responsible for the Middle East and North Africa. It is quite small, with only some 35,000 members throughout the area.

Notable Christians in the Middle East

  • Fairuz, Lebanese singer.(Lebanese, Greek Orthodox Christian)
  • Elias Chacour Archbishop, prominent reconciliation and peace activist (Palestinian, Melkite Greek Catholic Christian)
  • Michel Aflaq, founder of pan-Arabist Baath party, (Syrian, Greek Orthodox Christian).
  • Tariq Aziz, former Iraqi (Baath party) foreign minister and deputy prime minister, (Iraqi Chaldean Catholic Christian), an ethnic Assyrian
  • Suleiman Mousa, prominent historian and author of T.E. Lawrence: An Arab View, (Jordanian, Catholic Christian).
  • George Wassouf, Syrian singer, an ethnic Syriac[citation needed][dubious ].
  • Edward Said, prominent intellectual and writer (Palestinian, Protestant Christian).
  • Constantin Zureiq, prominent intellectual and academic, (Syrian, Greek Orthodox Christian).
  • George Habash, founder of PFLP, (Palestinian, Greek Orthodox Christian).
  • Nayef Hawatmeh, founder of DFLP, (Jordanian, Greek Orthodox Christian).
  • Said Khoury, entrepreneur, co-founder of the Consolidated Contractors International Company, (Palestinian, Greek Orthodox Christian).
  • Yousef Beidas, prominent Financier, (Palestinian, Greek Orthodox Christian).
  • John Sununu, US political leader, (Palestinian-Lebanese, Greek Catholic Christian).
  • Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian scholar and politic activist, (Palestinian, Anglican Christian).
  • Steve Bracks (from the Barakat family) Australian State MP, Premier of Victoria, Australia, (Lebanese, Catholic Christian).
  • René Angélil, Canadian producer and husband of Céline Dion, (Lebanese-Syrian, Greek Catholic Christian).[20]
  • Carlos Menem, president of Argentina from 1988 to 1999, (Syrian, converted to Roman Catholic from Sunni Islam)
  • Emile Habibi, writer, (Arab citizens of Israel, Protestant Christian)
  • Azmi Bishara, former Knesset member, (Arab citizen of Israel, Greek Orthodox Christian)
  • Azmi Nassar, manager of the Palestinian national football team, (Arab citizen of Israel, Greek Orthodox Christian)
  • Salim Tuama, Hapoel Tel Aviv middlefielder, (Arab citizen of Israel, Greek Orthodox Christian)
  • Simon Shaheen, oud and violin virtuoso and composer, (Arab citizen of Israel, Greek Catholic Christian)
  • Salim Jubran, member of the Israeli Supreme Court, Arab citizen of Israel, Maronite (Christian)
  • Ralph Nader, US Presidential candidate and consumers' rights activist (son of Lebanese Greek Orthodox Christian immigrants, but declines to comment on personal religion)
  • Hani Naser, musician,producer (son of Jordanian Christian Immigrants)
  • Shakira, international superstar daughter of Lebanese father from Zahle and Colombian mother of Catalan descent, Greek Orthodox Christian
  • Tony Shalhoub, three-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe-winning American television and film actor. (Lebanese, Maronite Christian)
  • Marie Keyrouz, chanter of Eastern Church music, Melchite Greek Catholic nun. Founder of L'Ensemble de la Paix (Ensemble of Peace) and Founder-President of L'Instituit International de Chant Sacré (International Institute of Sacred Chant) in Paris.
  • Julio César Turbay, president of Colombia from 1978 to 1982, (Lebanese Maronite Christian)
  • Carlos Slim Helú, Mexican businessman, (Lebanese Maronite Christian)
  • Bruno Bichir and Demián Bichir, Mexican actors, (Lebanese Maronite Christians)
  • Amin al-Rihani, writer and intellectual, (Lebanese, Maronite Christian).
  • Afif Safieh, diplomat, (Palestinian, Greek Catholic Christian).
  • Bobby Rahal, race car driver, team owner, and businessman, (Lebanese, Maronite Christian)
  • Doug Flutie, Heisman Trophy winner, NFL quarterback, (Lebanese, Maronite Christian)
  • Jacques Nasser, past CEO Ford Motor Company, French-American of Lebanese descent, Greek Orthodox Christian
  • Helen Thomas, Whitehouse Journalist, American of Lebanese descent, Greek Orthodox Christian
  • George Mitchell, former Senator and Politician, Lebanese, Maronite Christian
  • John Mack, former Chairman & CEO of Morgan Stanley, American of Lebanese descent, Greek Orthodox Christian
  • Mosab Hassan Yousef, author of Son of Hamas


  1. ^ Malik, Habib. "The Future of Christians in the Middle East | Hoover Institution". Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  2. ^ a b c "Coptic Orthodox Church". BBC. Retrieved 27 February 2011.  "estimates [for the Coptic Orthodox Church] ranged from 6 to 11 million; 6% (official estimate) to 20% (Church estimate)"
  3. ^ "Egypt". The World Factbook. CIA. July 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2011.  "Religions: Coptic 9%", "Population (Egypt): 82,079,639 (July 2011)".
  4. ^ Khairi Abaza and Mark Nakhla (25 October 2005). "The Copts and Their Political Implications in Egypt". The Washington Institute. Retrieved 27 August 2010.  "Christians make up 10–20 percent of Egypt's population of seventy-seven million, though precise estimates of the number of Copts vary widely."
  5. ^ a b "With Arab revolts, region’s Christians mull fate". 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  6. ^ Willey, David (10 October 2010). "Rome 'crisis' talks on Middle East Christians". BBC. Retrieved 1 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Daniel Pipes. "Disappearing Christians in the Middle East". Daniel Pipes. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  8. ^ "?". United Copts of Great Britain. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 27 August 2010.  "In 2008, Pope Shenouda III and Bishop Morkos, bishop of Shubra, declared that the number of Copts in Egypt is more than 12 million." (Arabic)
  9. ^ "?". العربية.نت. Retrieved 27 August 2010.  "In 2008, father Morkos Aziz the prominent priest in Cairo declared that the number of Copts (inside Egypt) exceeds 16 million."
  10. ^ "2008 estimate". Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  11. ^ Ecclesiastical History 2:16, 24.
  12. ^ Fearing Change, Many Christians in Syria Back Assad, New York Times
  13. ^ a b "Arab Christians – National Geographic Magazine". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  14. ^ Mordechai Zaken,"Tribal chieftains and their Jewish Subjects: A comparative Study in Survival: PhD Thesis, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2004.
  15. ^ Mordechai Zaken,"Jewish Subjects and their tribal chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival", Brill: Leiden and Boston, 2007.
  16. ^ [ ^ Joyce Blau, one of the world's leading scholars in the Kurdish culture, languages and history, suggested that "This part of Mr. Zaken’s thesis, concerning Jewish life in Iraqi Kurdistan, "well complements the impressive work of the pioneer ethnologist Erich Brauer. Brauer was indeed one of the most skilled ethnographs of the first half of the 20th century and wrote an important book on the Jews of Kurdistan [Erich Brauer, The Jews of Kurdistan, First edition 1940, revised edition 1993, completed and edited par Raphael Patai, Wayne State University Press, Detroit])
  17. ^ Adriana Kemp & Rebeca Raijman, "Christian Zionists in the Holy Land: Evangelical Churches, Labor Migrants, and the Jewish State", Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, 10:3, 295–318
  18. ^ a b Salibi, Kamal., A house of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered., University of California Press., Berkeley, 1988. p. 89
  19. ^ Assyrian Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox)
  20. ^ "À voir à la télévision le samedi 24 mars – Carré d'as". Le Devoir. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 

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