Manama: Bahrain's 400 Christians celebrated Christmas amid growing confidence that their comfortable lives and futures in the Muslim kingdom were not at risk despite the region's increasing volatility.
"We are pleased with the benefits that Bahraini Christians are getting in this country, the latest of which is my breakthrough election as the second deputy chairperson of the Shura Council," Alice Samaan said in a press statement.
About 80 Christian families live in the kingdom which has 16 established churches, including the National Evangelical Church, the oldest Christian institution in the Gulf. Three more churches want to operate in Manama and the authorities are studying their applications.
"We do not feel any sense of isolation or segregation in the country and we are treated as citizens regardless of our religious affiliations," said Anglican Church priest Hani Aziz. "Bahrainis are well educated and highly tolerant of other religions and cultures. They do accept others for what and who they are."
Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, accused Tony Blair and the United States of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the "crusading West".
But for Bahraini Christians, there is no feeling of danger or threats. "Our situation in Bahrain is excellent. We do not suffer from any prejudice and our rights are fully protected by the state," said lawyer Ebrahim Zahi.
Bahraini media specialist Shaikh Jaber Bin Mohammad Al Khalifa said the extraordinary warning from the Archbishop did not apply to Bahrain.
"Churches in Bahrain like Muslims more than evangelical churches in Britain or the United States do. As Muslims, we have always had great rapport with the church people in Bahrain and I have just offered my best wishes to my Christian friends at the special reception they regularly host on Christmas Day," he told Gulf News.
However, recent calls by some Christians to include Christmas Day in the official holidays list were rejected as impractical by Alice Samaan. "This is a Muslim country and we understand that Christmas is not celebrated by non-Christians."
Unofficially, several private companies allow their Bahraini and expatriate Christians to take the day off or to come to work late.