The Middle East presents serious challenges to any Christian church, but the Seventh-day Adventist Church has managed to get a foothold in nearly all the countries of the Middle East. Adventists even run a college in Lebanon. There are four countries where Adventists are not yet established, but were there may be openings as the Arab Spring continues.
The Middle East - Four Places without Seventh-day Adventists
Syria: The country of Syria has 22.7 million citizens living in 185,180 km 2.
Statistical analyses from 2006 shows that 87% of Syrians are Muslim and this is growing. The Muslim birthrate reportedly was higher than that of the minorities, and proportionately fewer Muslims were emigrating abroad. Of the Muslims, 74% were members of the Sunni branch, while the remaining 13% were Alawites, Ismailis and Twelvers combined. 10% of the population was made up by Christians, while the remaining 3% were Druze. Adherents to each faith tend to be clustered in specific areas of the country. The map shows areas Syria with significant Christian populations.
Various Eastern Orthodox Churches represent most Syrian Christians but there are a few western Protestants as well. By common practice, Christians do not attempt to convert or accept converted Muslims into Christian Churches in Syria.
Damascus was one of the first regions to receive Christianity during the ministry of Paul who was converted on the road to Damascus. After the military expansion of the Umayyad empire into Syria and Anatolia, the teachings of Islam came into practice and many became Muslims.
Damascus still contains a sizeable proportion of Christians, with churches all over the city, but particularly in the district of Bab Touma. Masses are held every Sunday and civil servants are given Sunday mornings off to allow them to attend church, even though Sunday is a working day in Syria. Schools in Christian districts have Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, while the official Syrian weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. This is in theory an ideal situation for Seventh-day Adventists. Syrian Christians operate a separate court system that deal with civil cases like marriage, divorce and inheritance based on Bible teachings.
In May 2011, in response to the ongoing Arab Spring protests, International Christian Concern reported that many Syrian Christians were more afraid of the anti-government protesters than of the government itself, because under the Syrian Assad government there has been tolerance towards religious minorities.
Palestinian Territory: Disputed by Israel, the Palestinian Territory is not a Christian friendly place, especially for Jewish Sabbath keepers. The Gaza Strip portion has been essentially sealed off for years to travel, while the West Bank has also seen more than its fair share of violence.
It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the history of the Palestinian Territory or the State of Palestine. The size and scope of Palestine is disputed making the population numbers fuzzy. According to Wikipedia:
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) estimated Palestinians at mid year 2009 as 10.7 million persons as follows: 3.9 million in the Palestinian Territory (36.6%), 1.2 million (11.5%) in Israel; 5.0 million in Arab countries (46.2%), 0.6 million in foreign countries (5.7%).
According to Guardian (2008) the Palestinian territories have one of the fastest growing populations in the world, with numbers surging 30% in the past decade (2008). There was 3.76 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, up from 2.89 million 10 years earlier.
According to the U.S. Census population growth mid 1990-2008 in Gaza and West Bank was 106 % from 1.9 million (1990) to 3.9 million persons.
According to UN (2010) Palestinian population is 4.4 million. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics population density in 2009 was 654 capita/km2, of which 433 capita/km2 in the West Bank including Jerusalem and 4,073 capita/km2 in Gaza Strip. In the mid 2009 the share of population less than 15 years was 41.9 % and above 65 years 3 %.
What is clear is that there are somewhere around 4 million people in Palestine and that the population is young and growing fast.
Palestinians are predominantly Sunni Muslims, but Palestinian Christians represent a significant minority, followed by much smaller religious communities, including Druze and Samaritans.
Christians comprise less than 4% of Arabs living within the states of Israel and Palestine. Christians make up approximately 4% of the West Bank population, less than 1% in Gaza, and nearly 10% of Israel's Arab population. Forced out by wars and anti-Christian policies, the majority of Palestinian Christians live abroad. In 2005, it was estimated that the Christian population of the Palestinian territories was between 40,000 and 90,000 people, or 2.1 to 3.4% of the population. Most are in the West Bank, but there is a community of 5,000 in the Gaza Strip.
The towns of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem Old City used to have majority Christian populations but now are Muslim majority.
Yemen: Yemen has a land area of 555,000 square kilometers and a population of approximately 24 million (2010). It is located at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. The modern State of Yemen only came into existence with the unification of Southern and Northern Yemen in 1990. The country is actually a republic, one of the only true republics in the region.
Virtually all citizens of Yemen are Muslims, belonging to the Zaydi order of Shi'a Islam (45%-50%) or to the Shafa'i order of Sunni Islam (55-50%).
Jews are the only indigenous religious minority but nearly all of the country's once-sizable Jewish population has emigrated to Israel or elsewhere and fewer than 500 Jews remain in the country of Yemen today.
There are 3,000 Christians throughout Yemen, most of whom are refugees or temporary foreign residents, not native born citizens. There are reportedly about 40 Hindus living in Aden with Indian origins.
While there is officially freedom to practice one's religion in Yemen, prostilizing of Muslims is illegal as is converting from Islam. Therefore there is no freedom to change your religion. These restrictions make missionary activity very difficult in a country where nearly everyone is born into Islam.
Saudi Arabia: The largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, the exact size is undefined because the borders with Yemen and Oman are not precisely agreed upon. The population is about 27.1 million and this includes a large contingent of foreign workers.
97% of the population of Saudi Arabia is Muslim, and Islam is the state religion. There is zero religious freedom and no missionaries. (The last Christian prest was kicked out in 1985).
The Koran is the constitution of Saudi Arabia
In 2010, the U.S. State Department stated that in Saudi Arabia "freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice" and that "government policies continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom".
There are about a million Christians among the guest workers in Saudi Arabia but they are not allowed to have public or home churches, celebrate Christmas or Easter (but they must keep Ramadan). No one may openly practice their non-Islamic faith in any way. Even private prayer services are forbidden in practice and the Saudi religious police reportedly regularly search the homes of Christians.
Muslims are not free to change their beliefs. Conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) carries the death penalty, although there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years. Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal. This makes even secret sharing of faith very dangerous. Radio and internet are the only effective ways to reach into Saudi Arabia with the gospel.
Religious discrimination even extends into the legal system. Compensation in court cases discriminates against non-Muslims: once fault is determined, a Muslim receives the entire amount of compensation determined, a Jew or Christian half, and all others a sixteenth.
Here are the only other places where Seventh-day Adventists can not be found yet: