Professor talks extinction of Christianity in Middle East

By Abigail Loop
Staff Writer

Is Christianity becoming extinct?

One Baylor professor explored the concept, and said it could be happening in the Middle East.

Dr. Philip Jenkins, co-director of the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in Baylor’s Institute of Religion, recently wrote a research article that was featured as Christianity Today magazine’s November cover story.

In the article, Jenkins discusses historical research and current events and questions whether persecution toward Christians in Iraq and Syria could lead to a complete extinction of Christianity in the Middle East.

Jenkins said when looking at historical conflicts, he tried to trace the relations between Christians and Muslims and the political conflict as it has ensued over time that has led up to today. After looking at the current conflicts between religious and political groups, Jenkins said he believes the danger of Christianity draining out in the Middle East is a real possibility.

“Over time, countries in the Middle East have developed large Muslim minorities and in a political conflict, Christians become the scapegoat,” Jenkins said. “This is similar with past situations involving Jews in Europe.”

Jenkins said when looking at countries such as Iraq and Syria, the decrease in Christianity can already be seen. Christians made up 5 percent of the population in Iraq about 30 years ago, and now, the percentage is close to zero. Syria, which had a Christian population close to 15 percent, has also dropped dramatically.

“The situation in Syria and Iraq just doesn’t look good,” Jenkins said. “For example, 50 years ago there was even a Jewish population in these countries. These have now been entirely removed. Christians are facing the same situation.”

According to Jenkins’ article, “Today, Syria’s continuing civil war threatens to extend Islamist power still further. Islamic State flags have appeared in Lebanon. Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt has warned that both Christians and his own Druze people stand ‘on the edge of extinction.’”

Jenkins said he believes a main concern is that conflicts will spread to other countries in the Middle East, and he warns governments there to be cautious.

“Countries like Egypt can still be affected and governments have to be very careful how they treat these countries since relationships are very delicate,” Jenkins said. “As far as situations in Iraq and Syria, I don’t think its feasible to think it will get better for Christians.”

Dr. Abdul Saadi, assistant professor in Arabic, was born and raised as a Christian in the Middle East.

Saadi said while he thinks there are many dire situations occurring now in Middle Eastern countries, people should not lose hope.

“In Turkey 50 years ago, there was a Christian community of around 100,000 people and now there are less than a thousand,” Saadi said. “But there are still those thousand people who are maintaining churches and are considered a group.”

Saadi said when still looking at countries such as Syria and Iraq, there have been very painful situations but Christians are not giving up.

“I have personal friends and family living in the Middle East right now and they say that as long as there is one Christian family around them, they are not leaving,” Saadi said. “Many people have declared this statement and speak some hope. The situations look bleak but we cannot know the outcome.”