The eviction of a Christian congregation from a private villa used for worship gatherings for the past seven years has some observers speculating whether Kuwait’s Islamist politicians are beginning to actively target non-Muslim groups.
An American contractor for the U.S. Army in Kuwait, also a Christian, contacted The Christian Post in mid-April, saying that The Lighthouse Church (TLC) he attends was having difficulty renewing its lease. The man, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, said the lease was then suddenly terminated without explanation.
A villa church tied to the TLC congregation was later told by the landlord it had to pay an exorbitant fine each month to use a facility it had been renting, according to the Christian contractor. Church leaders reportedly decided not to argue and moved out.
Both congregations, affiliated with the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait, have found temporary meeting places, but leaders fear they will be unable to find permanent homes.
“The question is whether there will be further problems with other community branches, and whether we will be able to find other locations,” the contractor told CP. “It is strange to realize that I have just been the victim of religious persecution. I also realize that I have some fear for my personal safety here.”
The Christian contractor suggested that the rising Islamic tendencies in Kuwait’s policy might be to blame for the congregations’ alleged eviction.
“It turns out our church was forced out of the villa we were leasing by pressure from unknown persons on the landlord,” the man told CP in an email. “Our leaders were in the process of renewing our lease and had the needed exemption in hand to allow us to use the villa.”
Raising non-Muslim worship spaces in Kuwait is nearly impossible because of the common interpretation of Islamic law forbidding any other religion than Islam. Although Islamic law is not officially the law of the land, the authorities are often pressured to reject permits for the erection of new churches.
According to some estimates, there are between 150 and 200 Kuwaiti Christians and up to 350,000 foreign Christians living in the country. There are around 20 church buildings.
Nevertheless, congregations have been allowed to meet as house churches at private venues.
That tradition might be changing, according to reports, as conservative Muslim religious and political leaders have begun speaking out against the existence of any churches, including house churches, on the peninsula. Some observers point to the fact that Islamists won a majority in parliament in February’s elections. Kuwait is 85 percent Sunni Muslim, with a 30-percent Shi’a minority, as well as sizable Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities.
At first, local Christians were not worried about the surge of Islamist politicians, according to the Christian contractor who attends The Lighthouse Church. “The Emir and the rest of the parliament are tolerant. This move was unexpected by most of us,” he said. But that is beginning to change. “There seems to be an expectation that they [Islamists] will continue to expand their influence and numbers,” the man told CP.
Non-citizens (anyone without the proper proof of heritage) cannot own property in Kuwait. “The easiest way for the church footprint to be reduced here will be to simply forbid leases to the churches,” the contractor suggested.
In February, Islamists reportedly introduced legislation to remove existing Christian churches from Kuwait. After criticism from abroad, party officials clarified later that the legislation would not remove the churches but prohibit further construction of Christian churches and other non-Muslim places of worship in the country. The issue has yet to be resolved.
“Next week I will present a draft law to remove all churches from Kuwait because Kuwait is an Islamic country where churches are not permitted to be built,” Islamist MP Osama Al-Monawer was quoted as saying at the time. Reports have also emerged about conservative members of parliament putting pressure on the country’s Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs to strictly enforce the ban on raising churches.
In March another controversy erupted when a Kuwaiti delegation reportedly sought the advice of Saudi Grand Mufti on the issue. Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stressed that Kuwait was part of the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it was necessary to destroy all churches in it, which drew criticism from international observers.
In addition, Kuwaiti laws on blasphemy have been tightened, as the parliament ruled at the beginning of May that offending Islam or the Prophet Muhammad could be punished with death.
Most recently, in a Monday report, Al-Watan Daily said the Kuwaiti Undersecretary of the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Adel Al-Kandari, has asked for a list of all churches in Kuwait without giving any explanation. The ministry reportedly also asked for all details about these churches, their location, and the geographical distribution and area of each church. The purpose of al-Kandari’s request was not immediately clear.