Christianity in the United Arab Emirates

Rami Dabbas | Columnist | Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Abu Dhabi, Christianity in the UAE

Christianity in the United Arab Emirates

According to many historians, the Christian presence in the United Arab Emirates dates back to the first centuries of Christianity, as it spread in various countries of the Arabian Peninsula and the Arabian Gulf.

In 1992, in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the remains of an ancient monastery dating back to the seventh century AD were discovered. Abu Dhabi authorities took the initiative to preserve the remains and turned them into Christian monuments and tourist attractions, Emirati news agencies report.

These antiquities were discovered on Sir Bani Yas Island, opposite the western shores of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It includes the main nave, side wings, temple, plaster, burial, tower and prayer house, some rooms for monks and the abode of the abbot of the monastery.

The current presence of Christians in the Emirates

On the land of the UAE live residents of about 200 nationalities, including Christians. Like others, Christians in the UAE enjoy a decent life, respect and equality, values that have been established by the state, which has become a leading example of tolerance and cultural pluralism.

The first church in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was built in 1962, though it wasn't officially dedicated until 1965, on a plot of land donated by the Emirate, which bore the name St. Joseph the Catholic.

The first mass in the Emirate was organized in 1958 at Qasr al-Hosn. In the neighboring emirate of Dubai, the first church was built in 1967 and bore the name St. Mary.

Before the construction of churches, specifically in the fifties, priests would come to the homes of Christians to pray in them.

The opening of churches, however, gave Christians more space to practice their religion in complete freedom, including after the United Arab Emirates was established in 1971 and the eventual arrival of expatriates in the country.

In various parts of the country today, the Emirates embraces churches of different Christian denominations, such as Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Copts, Armenians, evangelicals and Anglicans.

Among the most prominent churches in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi are St. Joseph Church, St. Paul Church, the Evangelical Church, the Armenian Church, St. Nicholas Church, St.Elias Orthodox Cathedral, St. Andrew's Church, St. George's Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

In all, there are 45 churches in the United Arab Emirates.

The most recent church to be inaugurated in Abu Dhabi was the Cathedral of St. Elias in the Mussafah area in early 2018, on a plot of land granted by the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The gift of the land was to serve as an example of Khalifa's tolerance and respect for the other.

This donation was not unique. Since the era of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late founder of the Emirates, sheiks of the Emirates have donated lands to Christian denominations in order to build churches on them. 

Christian numbers

The UAE is inhabited by 800,000 Christians, the majority of whom are Catholics. Catholics make up about 10 percent of the population. There are also many thousands of members of the Greek Orthodox sect in various parts of the Emirates and two Greek Orthodox churches in Abu Dhabi. The first Greek Orthodox church was opened in 1975 and bears the name of the Church of "St. Nicholas." A new church was opened in the same emirate in 2018.

Christians also have a church called "Our Lady of the Annunciation" in the complex of churches in the Jebel Ali area of Dubai. It was opened in 2009 after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum donated a plot of land for its construction.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Naufal MQ

Rami Dabbas is a political activist and writer who has contributed to several media outlets. He is a pro-Israel advocate and human rights activist fighting against sharia law, radical Islamic terrorism and Arab nationalism. He connects with many NGOs and thinks tanks to promote peace with Israel and counter-Jihad organizations. He is a former Muslim who left Islam in 2012 and later became a Christian.