Christianity in Kuwait: Can A Christian Work In Kuwait?

Kuwait is a country with a rich history and a unique blend of cultures. It is home to a diverse population, with a significant number of expatriates from all over the world. Despite being a predominantly Muslim country, Kuwait has a small but significant Christian population. In fact, according to recent estimates, there are around 150 to 200 Christian citizens and a small number of Baha’i citizens. Additionally, there are approximately 400,000 non-citizen Christians living in Kuwait, mostly expatriates who work and live in the country.

As a Christian, working in Kuwait can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. The country has a unique set of laws and regulations that govern employment, and it is essential for Christians to understand these laws to ensure a smooth and successful career. In this article, we will explore the employment opportunities for Christians in Kuwait, the challenges they may face, and the importance of understanding local laws and culture. We will also discuss the diverse workforce in Kuwait and the opportunities for career growth and cultural exchange that it presents.

Christian Population in Kuwait

According to the US State Department, there are approximately 400,000 non-citizen Christians living in Kuwait, mostly expatriates who work and live in the country. Additionally, there is a small number of native Kuwaiti Christians, estimated to be around 275 individuals from 8 extended families (Al-Jazeera, 3 March 2018).

The Christian population in Kuwait is diverse, with seven officially recognized Christian denominations:

  • The National Evangelical Church (Protestant)
  • Roman Catholic
  • Greek Catholic (Melkite)
  • Coptic Orthodox
  • Armenian Orthodox
  • Greek Orthodox
  • Anglican Church

Religious Freedom for Expatriate Christians

Expatriate Christian groups in Kuwait are allowed to operate in rented villas, private homes, or the facilities of licensed churches. They can conduct worship services without government interference, provided they do not disturb neighbors or violate laws regarding assembly and proselytizing.

However, it is extremely difficult for Christian groups to obtain property for worship purposes, and the existing places for meeting are often too small for the number of people gathering. This can lead to overcrowding and potential issues with local authorities.

Challenges for Converts to Christianity

One of the most significant challenges facing Christians in Kuwait is the situation for converts from Islam to Christianity. While conversion is not illegal, it is socially unacceptable and can lead to various forms of persecution.

Converts from Islam to Christianity face discrimination, harassment, and monitoring by police. They risk losing custody of their children, as a change of faith (away from Islam) is not officially recognized and can lead to legal problems in personal status matters. Converts may also face difficulties in obtaining property or inheritance rights.

The main drivers of persecution for converts are their extended family, community members, radical Muslims, and to a lesser extent, the authorities. Families often view conversion as a betrayal of both religion and family honor, leading to social ostracization and even violence in some cases.

Restrictions on Proselytizing and Evangelism

While Christians in Kuwait are generally free to practice their faith, proselytizing and evangelism are strictly prohibited. Foreign Christians have to be very careful when discussing their faith, as the government will act against any Christian who makes an attempt to speak about Christianity publicly.

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Some expatriate Christian workers have been interrogated and instructed not to share their faith, or risk losing their visas. In recent years, a few Christians have been expelled from the country without due process for alleged proselytizing activities.

Discrimination and Abuse of Migrant Workers

Many of the Christians in Kuwait are migrant workers from countries such as the Philippines, India, and Africa. These workers, particularly those with lower levels of skills, are vulnerable to discrimination and abuse in the workplace.

Female domestic workers are especially at risk, with many facing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from their employers. While their non-Muslim faith may add to their vulnerability, the abuse is primarily driven by their status as migrant workers with limited legal protections.

Historical Christian Presence in Kuwait

The earliest signs of Christian presence in Kuwait date back to the 5th-9th centuries, with the ruins of churches on the offshore islands of Failaka and Akkaz. These sites were part of a Nestorian Christian community that lived on the island, and the Kingdom of Hirah north of Kuwait also had a large Nestorian population during this period.

After Kuwait became a British protectorate in 1899, mission work began, and the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait was organized in 1903. Samuel Zwemer of the Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church in America moved to Kuwait in 1903 and opened a Bible shop, as well as a clinic that later developed into a hospital.

The influx of expatriate workers following Kuwait’s oil-fueled ‘Golden Era’ (1946-1982) led to a rise in the number of Christians in the country. Many of these workers brought with them a diversity of churches, including Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Church of South India, and other denominations.

Areas of Concern for Christians

While Kuwait is a small country, the risks and challenges faced by Christians vary depending on their specific circumstances. Kuwaiti converts to Christianity face the highest risks, as they are part of a conservative society with strong family ties. Turning away from Islam is seen as a betrayal of both religion and family honor, leading to severe social consequences.

Western Christian expatriates are often relatively free to practice their beliefs, as long as they refrain from proselytizing. However, non-Western Christians with lower levels of skills, such as domestic workers, are more likely to face discrimination and abuse in the workplace.

Drivers of Persecution

The table below shows the level of influence of various drivers of persecution in Kuwait:

Drivers of PersecutionLevel of Influence
Extended FamilyStrong
Government OfficialsStrong
Non-Christian Religious LeadersMedium
Citizens (Broader Society)Medium
Ethnic Group LeadersMedium
Political PartiesMedium

As the table shows, the extended family and government officials are the strongest drivers of persecution for Christians in Kuwait, particularly for converts from Islam. Non-Christian religious leaders, citizens from the broader society, ethnic group leaders, and political parties also play a role in creating a challenging environment for Christians

Hate Speech and Violence

In Kuwait, there have been instances of hate speech and violence directed towards Christians, particularly converts from Islam. Hardline Islamists have been known to incite violence against Christians, with some clerics advocating for the removal of churches from the country. This atmosphere of intolerance and hostility can create a dangerous environment for Christians, especially those who have converted from Islam.

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For example, in 2019, a Kuwaiti cleric called for the destruction of all churches in the country, sparking outrage among Christians and human rights groups. Such hate speech and incitement to violence can have serious consequences for Christians, who may face physical attacks, vandalism of their places of worship, or even murder.

Government Restrictions and Surveillance

The Kuwaiti government imposes restrictions on civil and political freedoms to maintain control and prevent any threats to its authority. Freedom of expression, press, and association are limited, and there are strict regulations on religious activities, including proselytizing. The government closely monitors religious practices and may intervene if they perceive any activities as a threat to public peace or Islamic values.

The government’s surveillance and control extend to online activities, with websites and social media platforms being monitored for any content deemed offensive or threatening to public order. This can include Christian websites, blogs, or social media groups that discuss Christianity or criticize Islam. The government may block access to such websites or arrest individuals who create or share content deemed offensive.

Impact on Converts from Islam

Converts from Islam to Christianity face significant challenges and risks in Kuwait. They are at high risk of discrimination, harassment, and even violence from family members, community members, and radical Muslims. The social stigma attached to apostasy in Islam can lead to severe consequences for converts, including social ostracization, loss of custody of children, and legal problems.

According to a 2020 report by the US State Department, converts from Islam to Christianity in Kuwait face “severe social and legal consequences,” including “loss of family and community ties, loss of employment, and even death threats”. The report also noted that the government does not provide adequate protection for converts, who may be forced to flee the country to escape persecution.

Cultural and Social Pressures

The conservative nature of Kuwaiti society, influenced by Islamic traditions and values, creates a challenging environment for Christians, especially converts. Family and tribal ties are strong, and any deviation from the accepted norms, such as converting to Christianity, is met with resistance and condemnation. Converts often face pressure from their families to renounce their new faith and return to Islam to preserve family honor.

In some cases, families may use physical or emotional abuse to coerce converts back to Islam. Women who convert to Christianity may face particular challenges, as they may be seen as having brought shame to their families and may be subject to honor killings. The social and cultural pressures on converts can be overwhelming, leading some to live in secrecy or flee the country to escape persecution.

Legal and Social Consequences

The legal system in Kuwait does not officially recognize conversions from Islam to Christianity, leading to legal complications for converts in personal status matters. For example, fathers who leave Islam may lose custody of their children, and converts may face challenges in property rights and inheritance. The social consequences of conversion can be severe, with converts risking alienation from their families and communities.

According to Kuwaiti law, a Muslim who converts to another religion may be considered an apostate, which can lead to legal penalties, including imprisonment or even death. The legal system also discriminates against non-Muslims, who may face restrictions on their rights to property, inheritance, and child custody.

Impact on Expatriate Christians

Expatriate Christians in Kuwait, particularly those from non-Western countries, face challenges in practicing their faith freely. While they are generally allowed to worship in private settings, they may encounter discrimination and mistreatment in the workplace or community. The social and cultural norms in Kuwait can create barriers for expatriate Christians, affecting their social integration and well-being.

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Expatriate Christians may also face challenges in accessing religious services and materials, as the government restricts the importation of religious texts and materials. This can limit their ability to practice their faith freely and may force them to rely on underground networks for religious support.

Continued Surveillance and Control

The Kuwaiti government maintains strict control over religious activities and expressions, particularly those perceived as a threat to Islamic values or public peace. Christians, especially converts from Islam, are closely monitored by authorities, and any attempts at proselytizing or public expression of their faith may lead to legal repercussions, including deportation.

The government’s surveillance and control extend to religious gatherings and meetings, which may be subject to monitoring and disruption by security forces. This can create a climate of fear and intimidation, making it difficult for Christians to practice their faith freely and openly.

Visa Requirements for Christians Working in Kuwait

To work in Kuwait, both expatriate Christians and Kuwaiti Christians need to obtain approval from the government before starting their job. The process involves several steps and can take 3-6 months to complete.

Key requirements include:

  • Having a job offer from an employer in Kuwait.
  • Providing proof of employment eligibility and qualifications.
  • Submitting educational qualifications, a medical report, and a passport copy.
  • Obtaining a letter from your bank confirming financial status.
  • Undergoing tests for Hepatitis B and HIV.
  • Translating all documents into Arabic.

The Kuwaiti government may deny visa applications if they conflict with their rules. If approved, the application is sent to the Nationality and Immigration Department for final approval.

It’s important to note that some forms of employment, such as domestic work and driving, may not require a residency visa. However, the salary must be approved by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and there are restrictions on working hours and job changes.

Challenges for Christians in Kuwait

While Christians in Kuwait generally enjoy religious freedom, there are some challenges they face, particularly for converts from Islam to Christianity. These include:

  • Restrictions on importing religious texts and materials.
  • Strict government control over religious activities and expressions.
  • Monitoring of Christians, especially converts, by authorities.
  • Potential legal repercussions for proselytizing or public expression of faith.
  • Challenges in accessing religious services and materials.

The government’s surveillance and control extend to religious gatherings and meetings, which may be subject to monitoring and disruption by security forces. This can create a climate of fear and intimidation, making it difficult for Christians to practice their faith freely and openly.

Conclusion

While Christians in Kuwait generally enjoy religious freedom, particularly expatriate workers, there are still significant challenges and restrictions they face. Converts from Islam to Christianity are the most vulnerable, facing discrimination, harassment, and legal problems. Migrant workers, especially female domestic workers, are also at risk of abuse and exploitation.

It is essential for Christians in Kuwait to be aware of these challenges and to navigate the cultural and legal landscape carefully. Proselytizing and evangelism are strictly prohibited, and Christians must be mindful of local customs and laws when practicing their faith.

Despite these challenges, the Christian community in Kuwait continues to thrive and contribute to the country’s diverse society. By fostering understanding and respect for religious differences, Kuwait can ensure that all its citizens and residents, regardless of their faith, can live in peace and harmony.

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