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An Egyptian Coptic Christian | © Mark Fischer/Flickr
An Egyptian Coptic Christian | © Mark Fischer/Flickr
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8 Things to Know About Arab Christians

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 21 December 2017
Unfortunately, many Arabs have to deal with a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions today. Not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Arab. In fact, there are millions of Arab Christians around the Middle East who celebrate a wide range of denominations; from the Coptic Christians of Egypt to Maronites in Syria, to Orthodox Christians and Evangelicals, the world and history of Arab Christians is a colourful and important one that we should not overlook. Here are but a few of the things you should definitely know about Arab Christians:

There have been Christian Arabs since the time of Jesus

Although there is some dispute over the exact ethnicity of those who first converted to Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries after the death of Jesus, early Arab tribes from the east were among those who settled in Palestine, converted to Christianity and then brought the religion back with them all the way as far as Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Since the time of Jesus, Arab Christian communities have existed in Palestine, North Africa and in the Arabian Peninsula.

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Arabs were one of the first people to convert to Christianity | © jonas Sk./Flickr

The New Testament in the Bible even mentions Christian Arabs

If you want further proof that Arabs were converting to Christianity since the beginning of the religion itself, look no further than the Bible. In the Book of Acts in the New Testament, Saint Peter preaches to Jerusalem saying, “…both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabian—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”.

They did not ‘convert’ to Christianity after being Muslim, these communities have been Christian since before the time of Islam

Many are under the misconception that all Arabs are Muslim, and therefore, Arab Christians must have converted to Christianity from Islam, or something along those lines. This is completely false, and as the religion of Islam came after the religion of Christianity, it is actually the other way around in that Arabs were originally Christians who then partially converted to Islam.

They have a wide variety of Christian denominations

Christian Arabs are as diverse as the cultures of Arab people themselves and are proud of the many different Christian communities that are spread across the Middle East. From the Coptics in Egypt to the Orthodox in Palestine, from the Catholics in Iraq to the Maronites in Syria, Christianity in the Middle East is dynamic and colourful.

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Ancient Coptic tombs in Egypt | © flat.luxury/Flickr

The largest population of Christians in the Middle East are in Egypt

With around 15 million Coptic Christians, 5,000 Maronite Christians and around 350,000 non-denominational Christians, Egypt holds the largest population of Christians in the Middle East. Many of these Christian communities go as far back as traceable Egyptian history and are proud of their true Egyptian spirit and contribution to one of the most historic Arab countries in the world.

The country of Jordan has some of the oldest Christian communities in the world

Arab Christians in Jordan boast having some of the most ancient Christian communities in the entire world, with evidence of churches and Christian settlements from as early as the 1st century. With the majority of Jordanian Christians belonging to the Greek Orthodox denomination, they only make up around 4% of the entire population of Jordan but still manage to remain a powerful force of culture and religion in the country.

80% of Christians who are in Israel are Arab

Israel has one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East, and while some of them are non-Arabs, almost 80% of the entire population of Christians within Israel are in fact Arab! This makes an enormous portion of Christians within Israel of Arab descent, with most of Palestinian origin.

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Although rebuilt and expanded throughout the centuries, many believe this original church in Nazareth to be from the 4th century | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

Arab Christians have played an enormous role in Arab civilization, history, art and politics

While many focus on the Islamic civilization of the Arab world that contributed greatly to humanity’s arts, sciences and literature, Arab Christians should not be forgotten. Playing a huge role in both ancient and modern literature, politics, philosophy and art, Arab Christians have and will continue to play an important role in Arab civilization as a whole.