The Persian Gulf nation of Qatar has been without a Christian church structure for 1,300 years—ever since Islam took root in the area. That began to change in 2000 when the government gave the Roman Catholic Church permission to build the first Christian building, which is under construction. Soon, believers from other Christian branches will also worship in their own churches, thanks to the country's ruler, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Last spring, the emir offered land to the Anglican, Coptic, and Orthodox churches that meet in the capital, Doha.

Ian Young, archdeacon for the Anglican Church of Cyprus and the Gulf, serves as priest to a congregation of several hundred. He said the congregation has raised a quarter of the church's cost. He expects fundraising abroad will account for the rest.

"The three churches will be located in the same large area on the outskirts of the capital," Young told CT. "This is a real positive step forward."

Young, from Perth, Scotland, has presided since 1991 over the Anglican congregation, which has been meeting in an elementary school on Friday mornings and Sunday evenings. His congregation comprises 26 nationalities. Most come from Asian countries, but many Americans—including military personnel from U.S. Central Command's forward headquarters—also attend.

Young said the Anglican building will include a church school and an area for social activities. Other Protestant denominations will use the Anglican facility.

No cross or spire will mark the building. Asked about potential terrorist threats, Young said, "Of course, we have to be sensitive to security. But we will do what we can in a sensible way. We don't want to live behind a fortress. We want to be welcoming to all."

Sheikh Al-Thani, Qatar's hereditary ruler, has been pressing his country toward democracy and religious tolerance. For example, during a three-day, Muslim-Christian seminar he sponsored in June last year, Sheikh Al-Thani proposed a permanent body to promote dialogue between the two religions.

Other Gulf states, including Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, have allowed church buildings in efforts to attract skilled foreign labor. But in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, non-Muslim religious practice is officially forbidden. Some 70,000 Christian expatriates live in Qatar. Most are Roman Catholics, although the Anglican community is believed to be the nation's oldest, dating from 1916.

Related Elsewhere:

News elsewhere includes:

Qatar opens doors to first church in 14 centuries | The first Christian church in the conservative Muslim state of Qatar since the arrival of Islam in the 7th century is to be built on land donated by the reform-minded Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. (The Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 10, 2005)
Scot to lead Christian church to be built in Muslim stronghold | A Scottish archdeacon is to run the first Christian church to be built in the conservative Muslim state of Qatar since the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. (The Scotsman, Nov. 4, 2005)
Muslim state to build first Christian church for 1,400 years | The first Christian church in Qatar since the arrival of Islam in the 7th century is to be built in the conservative Muslim state, which is led by a reform-minded ruler. (Times, London, Nov. 02, 2005)
Qatar to get first church | An Anglican congregation plans to build Qatar's first Christian church since Islam's arrival in the 7th century. (Aljazeera, Oct. 23 2005)

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