Christianity originated in Palestine. The city of Jerusalem was the base for a bishopric until Islamic conquests of the seventh century led to a decline in its importance within the Christian world. Many pilgrimage sites relating to the life of Jesus of Nazareth are located in this region. So how has Christianity fared in this region in recent decades? The simple answer is that it has faced serious difficulties in this region, and is generally regarded as being in decline.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, Christianity had established an uneasy but nevertheless workable relationship with Islam, the dominant religious force in the region. The Ottoman Empire gave a significant degree of religious freedom to non-Islamic faiths, especially Judaism and Christianity. By the early nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire extended throughout the Middle East and deep into Persia. Christians were active participants in the renaissance of the Arab language and letters (often referred to as the “Nahda”). Christian scholars such as the Lebanese Marronites Butros al-Bustani and Nasif al-Yaziji played a leading role in this development, seeing it as a coun- terweight against sectarian tensions within the regions, which often led to communal violence.
The Great War led to the defeat of the Ottoman forces throughout the Middle East, and substantial changes throughout the Arab world. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which gave British support to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, created widespread discontent throughout the Arab world, which flared into open warfare with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Although these developments were not in themselves necessarily damaging for Christianity in the region, they led to increasingly politicized forms of Islam emerging, some of which portrayed Christianity as the last ves- tiges of the Crusades in an Islamic region.