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Quietly, Christianity gains momentum in Doha.

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To understand the emerging popularity of Christianity in this Gulf region, you must witness the heavy traffic on roads leading to the Religious Complex every Friday morning, the overcrowded parking lot outside the complex, and the large masses of people moving in different directions towards their churches. In these churches, people are singing, screaming, dancing, waving, and whispering prayers. Located on the outskirts of Doha, the Religious Complex is a sanctuary for most Christians in Qatar.

Eight Christian denominations operate in Religious Complex; Roman Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Indian Christian, Coptic, Lebanese Maronite, and Evangelical Protestant; the Catholic Church being the largest.

Though there is hardly any public information available to illustrate how large this community is, churches like the Catholic church of Our Lady of the Rosary, with a congregation of approximately 200,000, prove how large the Christian community is, considering that the 2019 World Populations Review accounts that Qatar has a population of more than 2.8 million people.

Father Rally Gonzaga, parish priest at Our Lady of the Rosary Church said, “Many Christians are coming to Qatar for work. When they come, they are happy to find a community.” The Anglican center, which hosts the second-largest Christian community, has 85 different prayer groups, 150 worship services, and a congregation of 16,000 to 25,000 every week.

In 2005, representatives of Christian churches signed an agreement with the Qatari government for a 50-year (renewable) lease on a large piece of land to establish the Religious complex. Ever since then, Christian churches have expanded from small prayer groups to large ministries. However, this does not mean that Christian denominations have complete freedom to exercise their beliefs.

According to the Qatar 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, the constitution of Qatar states that Islam is the state religion and sharia shall be “the main source of legislation.” The report also says the constitution guarantees the “freedom to practice any religious rites” if the concerned party practices their religion “in accordance with the law and maintains public order and morality.” According to the law, non-muslims are prohibited from public worship and displaying religious symbols. As a result, Christian congregations cannot advertise their religious services. Through word of mouth, online chat rooms, and moderate advertisement on social media, churches in Doha have been able to communicate their services.

Converting from Islam to Christianity is also considered as apostasy and illegal, so the Christian community in Qatar is solely comprised of expatriates. Hinduism is another popular religion among expatriates.

David Albanese, a member of Doha Fellowship, believes the Christian community is larger than it was in 2013 when he first arrived in Doha. “The increase of Christians in Doha is mainly due to the increase of migrants in the country. it is basic logic.”

Big churches like our Lady of the Rosary Church now have mass in numerous languages due to their increasingly diverse community: English, Arabic, Urdu, Korean, French, and many more. The Anglican center also claims to have a community of worshippers from 65 countries, India and the Philippines making the largest percentage.

Father Paul Gordon from the Church of the Epiphany, located in Anglican center said, “ We actually need more space for worship. The Christian community is expanding, and it will continue to do so.”

Contemplating why the Christian community has drastically increased in Qatar comes with many layers. Churches like Mountain of Fire and Miracles, whose main ministry originates from Nigeria, have formed sub-communities in Qatar. These churches are usually of small size and their main premise is to create a sense of familiarity, security, and assurance for their expatriate communities. “One phenomenon that proves that Christian communities have increased is how nowadays people prefer to commune in churches they are more affiliated to,” said Victoria Ng’eno, a Kenyan expatriate in Doha.“Today, if I decide to go to church, I would go to a Kenyan Catholic church, that was not an option when I first came to Qatar 11 years ago,” she said. “I am happy that I was able to baptize my child in a Kenyan Catholic church instead of any random Catholic church.”

Beyond Religious Complex, there are many church villas scattered around Doha, where small Christian communities choose to have fellowship. These communities are more likely to attract non-Christian expat communities. Jiayi Shen, a Chinese student at Northwestern University in Qatar, started attending a church villa when she came to Doha. For expats living in Doha, joining a religious affiliation is one way to integrate into the diaspora.“The church community I go to is mostly Asian. A Chinese professor invited me to church. Ever since then, I have been attending Bible study and church gatherings.”

When asked what being part of a Christian community means to him, David Albanese said, “ I go to church mainly for my children. I want them to grow up in an environment similar to the one I grew up in. I don’t know why everyone else goes to church. Maybe that’s why.”