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Arab Christians are Christians who maintain Arabic as the primary language of their community. Large numbers of Arab Christians can be found in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in Lebanonmarker, Syriamarker, Jordanmarker and Israelmarker/Palestine. Emigrants from Arab Christian communities make up a significant portion of the Middle Eastern diaspora, with high population concentrations in the Americas, particularly in Argentinamarker, Brazilmarker, Colombiamarker, the Dominican Republicmarker, Ecuadormarker, Mexicomarker, and the United Statesmarker.


Arab Christians are culturally, linguistically and ethnically speaking Arab, and are adherents of the Christian faith. Arab Christians are indigenous to the Arab world, with a presence there predating the 7th century Islamic expansion in Western Asia. Many Arab Muslims today were originally Arab Christians who converted to Islam for various reasons, chief among them, avoiding the payment of jizya, a tax for non-Muslim populations under Muslim rule. Most Levantine Christians are ethnic Arabs descended from the Kahlani Qahtani tribes of ancient Yemenmarker (i.e. Ghassanids, Lakhmids, Banu Judham and Hamadanmarker).

The majority of the Maronite Patriarchs for the last 10 centuries descended from the widely known noble Qahtani Ghassanid Arabs that ruled the Levant in the Roman/Byzantine era and even some Frankish/Ghassanids.

Arab Christians made significant contributions to the Arab civilization and still do. Some of the top poets at certain times were Arab Christians, and many Arab Christians were physicians, writers, government officials, and people of literature.

There have been occasional claims that the Maronites can trace their ancestry to Phoenicians. This is a myth intended to distance the Maronites from their Arab roots. The Maronites were inhabitants of Orontes (Al-Assi) valley in Syria. They are most probably descendants of some Arab tribes which never converted to Islam. The eminent Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi (incidentally, a Christian) in his 'A House of Many Mansions' [1988] states (ch. 6): "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.. Certainly, since the 9th century, their language has been Arabic, which indicates that they must have originated as an Arab tribal community.. The fact that Syriac remains the language of their liturgy. is irrelevant. Syriac, which is the Christian literary form of Aramaic, was originally the liturgical language of all the Arab and Arameo-Arab Christian sects, in Arabia as well as in Syria and Iraq."<<></<>ref>

There is also a portion of Arabic-speaking Christians which belong to the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people ethnic group. They use Syriac-Aramaic in their liturgy and some still speak it as a language. They are often identified as Arab but are a separate ethnicity.

Some of the most influential secular Arab nationalists were Levantine Greek Orthodox Christians like Michel Aflaq, founder of the Baath Party, George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Constantin Zureiq.


The first mention of Christianity in Arab lands occurs in the New Testament as the Apostle Paul refers to his journey in Arabia following his conversion (Galatians 1: 15-17). Later, Eusebius of Caesarea discusses a bishop named Beryllus in the see of Bostra, the site of a synod c. 240. Christians existed in Arab-speaking lands from the third century onward. Some modern scholars suggest that Philip the Arab was the first Christian emperor of Rome. By the fourth century a significant number of Christians occupied the Sinai peninsula, Mesopotamia and Arabia.Others say that the first Christian ruler in history was an Arab called Abgar VIII of Edessa, who converted.

Throughout many eras of history, Arab Christians have co-existed fairly peacefully with their fellow non-Christian Arabic-speaking neighbours, principally Muslims and Jews. Even after the rapid expansion of Islam from the 7th century AD onwards through the Islamic conquests, many Christians chose not to convert to Islam and instead maintain their pre-existing beliefs.

As "People of the Book", Christians in the region are accorded certain rights by theoretical Islamic law (Shari'ah) to practice their religion free from interference or persecution; that was, however, strictly conditioned with first paying a special amount of money (tribute) obliged from non-Muslims called 'Jizyah' (pronounced Jiz-ya), in form of either cash or goods, usually a wealth of animals, in exchange for their safety and freedom of worship. The tax was not levied on slaves, women, children, monks, the old, the sick, hermits, or the poor.

Arab Christians, and Arabic-speaking Jews for that matter, predate Arab Muslims, as there were many Arab tribes which adhered to Christianity since the first century, including the Nabateans and the Ghassanids. The latter were of Qahtani origin and spoke Yemeni-Arabic as well as Greek who protected the south-eastern frontiers of the Roman and Byzantine Empires in north Arabia.

The tribes of Tayy, Abd Al-Qais, and Taghlib were also known to have included a large number of Christians prior to Islam. The Yemenite city of Najranmarker was also a center of Arabian Christianity, and were made famous by virtue of their persecution by one of the kings of Yemen, Dhu Nawas, who was himself an enthusiastic convert to Judaism. The leader of the Arabs of Najran during the period of persection, Al-Harith, was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as St. Aretas.

Arab Christians today


Before the Christian faith reached the territory of Lebanon, Jesus had traveled to its southern parts near Tyre where the scripture tells us that he cured a possessed Canaanite child. Christianity in Lebanonmarker is almost as old as gentile Christian faith itself, early reports relate the possibility that Saint Peter himself was the one who evangelized the Phoeniciansmarker whom he affiliated to the ancient patriarchate of Antiochmarker. Paul also preached in Lebanon, he had lingered with the early Christians in Tyre and Sidonmarker. Even though Christianity was introduced to Lebanon after the first century CE, its spread was very slow , particularly in the mountainous areas where paganism was still unyielding.

The earliest indisputable tradition of Christianity in Lebanon can be traced back to Saint Maron in the 4th century CE, the founder of national and ecclesiastical Maronitism. Saint Maron adopted an ascetic recluse life on the banks of the Orontes river in the vicinity of HomsmarkerSyriamarker and founded a community of monks which began to preach the gospel in the surrounding areas. By Faith, liturgy, rite, religious books and heritage, the Maronites were of Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) origin. The Saint Maron Monastery was too close to Antioch to enable the monks freedom and autonomy which prompted Saint John Maron, the first Maronite patriarch-elect to lead his monks into the Lebanese mountainsmarker to escape emperor Justinian II’s persecution; the Maronites monks finally settled in the Qadisha valleymarker. During the Arab conquest the Christians, particularly the Maronites were persecuted, the persecution culminated during the Umayyad caliphate; nevertheless the influence of the Maronite establishment spread throughout the Lebanese mountains and became a considerable feudal force. It wasn’t until the Crusades that the western world knew of the existence of the Maronites. In the 16th century, the Maronite Church adopted the catechism of the Catholic Church and merged with it. Moreover, Rome dispatched Franciscan, Dominican and later Jesuite missionaries to Lebanon to secure the conversion of the Maronites to Catholicism.

Spurring from their turbulent history, the Maronites formed a secluded identity in the mountains and valleys of Lebanon,_led by the Maronite patriarch who voices his opinion in temporal issues_ identify themselves as a unique community which by religion and culture is distinct from the predominantly Muslim Arab world. The Maronites played a major part in the definition of and the creation of the state of Lebanon. The modern state of Greater Lebanon was established by Francemarker in 1920 after the instigation of Maronite ambitious leaders headed by patriarch Elias Peter Hoayek who presided delegations to France following WWI and requested the re-establishment of the entity of the Principality of Lebanon (1515AD-1840AD). With the creation of the state of Lebanon, Arabism was overcome by Lebanism which emphasizes Lebanon’s Mediterranean and Phoenician heritage. In the National Pact, an unwritten gentleman’s agreement between the Maronite President Bshara el-Khoury and Sunni prime minister Riad as-Solh the seats of presidency were distributed between the main Lebanese religious denominations; according to the pact the President of the Lebanese republicmarker shall always be a Maronite, furthermore, the pact also states that Lebanon is a state with an “Arab face” (not an Arab identity).

Lebanon holds the largest number of Christian in the Arab world in proportion to its total population. It is known that they made up around 55% of Lebanon's population before the Lebanese Civil War, but their percentage today may be as low as 40% now (1,800,000), however of the estimated 16,000,000 strong diaspora, they form a majority. Lebanese Christians belong mostly to the Maronite Catholic Church, with sizable minorities of Greek Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholics, among others. There are also many Roman Catholics in the country due to French rule, and most of them are of French descent. There is, however, uncertainty about the exact numbers because no official census has been made in Lebanon since 1932.


In Syria, Christians formed just under 15% of the population (about 1.2 million people) under the 1960 census, but no newer census has been taken. Current estimates put them at about 10% of the population (2,000,000), due to lower rates of birth and higher rates of emigration than their Muslim compatriots. Most Christians are Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic, with some Syriac Christians.


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 twentieth 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, while the rest adhere to Catholicism 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 Jordanmarker than elsewhere in Southwest Asia. Although they constitute less than ten per cent of the total population, they have 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 their work to attend Divine Liturgy or Mass on Sundays. All Christian religious ceremonies are publicly celebrated in Jordan. 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.

Palestine and Israel

About 75,500 Palestinian Christians live in the Palestinian territories of the West Bankmarker and Gaza Stripmarker, with about 122,000 Palestinian Christians living in Israelmarker and an estimated 400,000 Palestinian Christians living in the Palestinian diaspora. 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.

North Africa

There are tiny communities of Roman Catholics in Tunisiamarker, Algeriamarker, Libyamarker, and Moroccomarker because of French rule for Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, Spanish rule for Morocco, and Italian rule for Libya. Most of the members in North Africa, however, are foreign missionaries or immigrant workers and people of French, Spanish, and Italian colonial descent, while only a minority among them are converted Arabs (or their descendants) or descendants of converted Berber, often brought to Christian (Catholic) belief during the modern era or under Frenchmarker colonialism. Charles de Foucauld was renowned for his missions in North Africa among Muslims, including African Arabs.

Many millions of Arab Christians also live in a diaspora elsewhere in the world. These include such countries as Argentinamarker, Australia, Brazilmarker, Canadamarker, Chilemarker, Colombiamarker,Venezuelamarker, Cubamarker, Dominican Republicmarker and the United Statesmarker. The majority of self-identifying Arab Americans are Eastern Rite Catholic or Orthodox, according to the Arab American Institute. On the other hand, most American Muslims are black or of South Asian (Indianmarker or Pakistanimarker) origin. There are also many Arab Christians in Europe, especially in the United Kingdommarker,Francemarker (due to its historical connections with Lebanonmarker and North Africa), and Spain (due to its historical connections with north Morocco), and to a lesser extent, Irelandmarker, Germanymarker, Italymarker, and Greecemarker.


Like Arab Muslims and Arab Jews, Arab Christians refer to God as Allah, since this is the word in Arabic for "God". The use of the term Allah in Arab Christian churches predates Islam by several centuries. In more recent times (especially since the mid 1800s), some Arabs from the Levant region have been converted from these native, traditional churches to more recent Protestant ones, most notably Baptist and Methodist churches. This is mostly due to an influx of Western, predominantly Americanmarker Evangelical, missionaries.

Prominent Arab Christians

See also



External links

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