In Qatar, the country on the Arabian Peninsula that will host the World Cup, local citizens do not have the right to be Christians. Only a few villages for foreigners are allowed, and the number dropped to less than half during the pandemic: from 157 to 61 cities, after a government imposition.
The country does not officially recognize the conversion from Islam, which causes legal problems and loss of social status, custody of children and property. Currently, both native-born Christians and migrants are at risk of discrimination, harassment and police surveillance. This year, Qatar climbed 11 positions on the World Persecution List, which encompasses 50 countries. Even so, Christians in Qatar are hopeful that the World Cup can bring more religious freedom to the country.
“We are expecting a great movement of the Holy Spirit during the World Cup”, says an elderly man from one of the Protestant churches in Qatar, consulted through the Christian association Portas Abertas and who prefers not to be identified. He lives in one of the villages in the country where services are allowed and is one of the group’s pastors.
Another Christian church leader is Bishop Beda Robles, president of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Qatar (ECAQ). Today, it is one of the religious organizations recognized by the government, to which “the opportunity to build a church and freedom of worship is granted, within the parameters and respect of the host country”, as the website reveals. The Alliance has more 90 Filipino, African, Indian and Nepalese congregations.
Robles believes that the World Cup “will be very good for Qatar and a great opportunity” for the nation. “Many of us will serve as volunteers at the event. We pray for Qatar, we pray for the World Cup, we hope that Christians around the world will be with us in prayer as well”, says the religious leader.
Not everyone is so optimistic. A Christian who prefers not to be identified declares, through Open Doors, that “Qatar is afraid that its culture will be challenged during the World Cup”. “There is a tension between the strict culture of Qatar and the world culture”, describes the nun.
“Some in the expatriate church fear they could be held responsible if Christians from other nations speak of Christianity openly, and thus violate the law of Qatar”, says another unidentified interviewee who oversees Open Doors’ work in the Arabian Peninsula.
In addition to the official headquarters of the cup, which is in 18 th place in the ranking, six other countries vying for the world cup are on the World Pursuit List: Iran (9th), Saudi Arabia (11º), Morocco (27º), Tunisia (35º), Mexico (43º) and Cameroon (44º).
Apart from Mexico, other countries have the persecution of Islamic oppression, in which Islam is the main religion and Christians are systematically persecuted by their families, communities, government and authorities, suffering state sanctions, and may including being arrested and killed.
In Mexico, Christians are persecuted by guerrillas, paramilitary groups and indigenous tribes, who forbid evangelism and their members to leave their traditional religions to follow Christianity.
Mauro Cruz, General Secretary of Portas Abertas in Brazil believes that the world championship can focus on social issues in the host country and the nations participating in the competitions.
“We are under no illusion that a mega event will end the persecution in the country, but we hope that in the near future, Qatar – as well as the entire Arabian Peninsula, where Christians are persecuted and prohibited from revealing and practicing their faith – be open to dialogue and that religious freedom be respected in these countries”, says Cruz.