The purpose of religion is supposed to be first a pursuit of the truth about spiritual realities. However, for many people, it is about political manipulation and is used for this reason. “Religion is the opiate of the masses”, as the crude saying goes by Marx, is as politically true in so far as how it has been used by manipulators of society since the early days of human history. Some will say not to discuss “religion and politics”, but discussion about the two cannot be separated because religion expresses truths of a philosophical nature, and politics is the application of said truths to some extent.
In the Middle East, Christianity is already a hot religious topic, and when archaeology is mentioned, it can become even more tense because it is perceived to be a political challenge to the beliefs of Islam. However, the truth can only be hidden for so long, and thanks to advanced technologies and the Internet, it has become much more difficult to hide the past, and many nations are starting to admit that they must be open to uncomfortable truths. While Saudi Arabia has aggressively resisted this, other Muslim nations, especially in the Gulf, have shown something of an openness to this. One of these nations is the tiny island nation of Bahrain, which according to archaeologists have recently discovered the first ancient Christian sites in Bahrain.
Experts have found the first archaeological evidence showing Christianity was practised in Bahrain, a discovery which sheds light on a missing part of the country’s history.
Ancient documents have suggested there were Christian communities in the country before the spread of Islam in the 7th century, but this is the first time buildings or objects have been discovered which prove this.
The remains are thought to be of a former monastery, which then became a Muslim cemetery, and in the 17th century a mosque was built on top. Archaeologists believe it is likely there are more Christian sites in Bahrain which could be discovered in the future.
Names of towns or villages had also provided evidence that Christianity was practiced in Bahrain between the 4th and 7th centuries, a village close to the archaeological site is called Deir, which means monastery in Arabic. Little is known about how Islam initially spread throughout the Gulf and why people stopped practising Christianity. Evidence of Christian sites have also been found on Islands belonging to Iran and Abu Dhabi.
Professor Tim Insoll, from the University of Exeter, worked on the excavations with the local community, who initially investigated the mound and who requested help in uncovering its history.
Professor Insoll said: “It has been hard to find evidence of Christian Bahrain because these sites and buildings have since been used for different purposes and are now underneath modern housing, which is why this discovery is so special”.
“The historical memory of these times exists in the names of towns, and even people, as well as historical documents, so we knew there was concrete evidence to discover, and we hope to find more in the future.” (source)
In many of these Gulf Arab nations, there are large numbers of foreign workers from the Philippines and India, many who are Christians. Additionally, there have been reports among the people who live in these nations who are served by these workers- rich Muslim families for the most part -who have expressed something of an interest in Christianity or if not that, something of an acceptance of it in terms that Christians merit a place to hear their voice in the social order. This has been evidenced by in the neighboring UAE as well as Qatar the massive construction of Churches and the improving conditions for Christian religious liberties.
This does not mean that things are great, or superior to what they currently are in many places in the Western world. Much work is still needed to be done. However, unlike the western world, that seems to be going through a continual decline that may lead to worsening conditions, there is not only a hope for improvements in the Muslim lands, but as the openness to Christianity increases, and coupled with the discoveries of archaeological sites such as this one, a gentle proposal could be made to further recognize and elevate the place of Christianity and Christians in society as they will have a claim not only by their presence and interest, but with a physical connection to the history of the nation.
What the future brings is yet to be known, and many changes could happen. However, just as when the Protestant Revolution happened there were millions more people in the Americas and certain nations in east Asia who received the light of the Gospel by way of the Portuguese and Spanish conquistadores, so it may be that as the world leans deeper towards paganism and war, that the Muslim nations, who have so ardently resisted the Gospel or simply been shut out from it due to historical and religious reasons, may continue to be opened more to the very same Gospel that once filled them in the days when, after Christ died and rose from the dead, His disciples went out and preached in the streets and towns and hills before they were martyred.
One can hide the truth, or obscure it, but that can only be done for so long.