Some might be surprised to learn of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ presence in the Middle East, given the social and political realities in the area. But the Church is actually thriving in a number of these areas, led primarily by expatriate and immigrant workers. Such is the case in the small Persian Gulf nation of Kuwait, which just granted the Church official recognition. Prior to the Church’s recognition, seven other Christian churches were officially recognized: the Roman Catholic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the National Evangelical Church Kuwait (Protestant), the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church.
Kuwait’s constitution provides for freedom of religion so long as the practicing of said religion does not hinder the public order in any way, and Latter-day Saints in the area report being able to operate freely and without government interference. Kuwait allows for such diversity because roughly two-thirds of Kuwait’s residents are not citizens, hailing from other parts of the non-Islamic world. Overall, Kuwait is among the more tolerant and diverse Middle Eastern countries.
Then what does official recognition mean, and what are the benefits? The Church Newsroom release states that recognition “allows local leaders to better serve the needs of members in Kuwait,” which is a fine way of not saying much. According to the US State Department, the process for registration as an officially recognized church is unclear, but officially recognized entities deal with a number of government agencies have open “files” at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which “enables them to bring in pastors and staff necessary to operate their churches.” Three Churches, Catholic (including Roman Catholic and Maronite), Anglican, and Protestant, enjoy “full recognition” under the government, which enables them to operate compounds officially recognizes as churches. The other four (and now five with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are allowed to function openly, hire employees, invite religious speakers, etc., but their compounds are only registered as private homes. Cumorah.com states that even fully registered churches face difficulty acquiring additional land for places of worship, which the State Department corroborates by explaining that the two Catholic churches in Kuwait are severely overcrowded.
So it appears the primary benefit will be allowing Latter-day Saints to be a shade more out in the open, as well as making the Church part of the institutionalized churches in Kuwait. And now the Kuwait Ward can apparently invite speakers from out of town!
Bishop Terry Harradine of the Kuwait Ward, expressed his gratitude for the government’s decision:
“We are grateful to the Government of Kuwait and in particular to His Highness, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al -Sabah, Emir of Kuwait, for his exemplary leadership in allowing freedom of worship in the State of Kuwait, in particular for the expatriate workforce,” later adding, “We appreciate the assistance and guidance of the Kuwait Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs for their assistance in promoting religious tolerance within the country.”
The Church has one ward in Kuwait, with approximately 300 members on the rolls. The Kuwait Ward is part of the somewhat mysterious Manama Bahrain Stake, which, due to political issues, appears to only contain two wards when in reality, the Church has units in a certain large and influential country to the south of Kuwait.
The Book of Mormon was fully translated into Arabic in 1986. In 2017, the Church announced its intent to produce a triple combination in Arabic. The project is ongoing.
Kuwait is not the first country in the region to grant the Church official recognition. The United Arab Emirates, home to a cool new meetinghouse (and we think someday soon, a temple) recognizes the Church, and religiously tolerant Bahrain openly allows church activity. As of 2018, the Church still does not have legal recognition by the government of Qatar.
Extra points if you’ve ever met someone who served a mission in Iran prior to the revolution! It happened!