Reaching the Nations

Kuwait

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 17,818 square km.  Kuwait consists of a small area of land on the far northwest of the Persian Gulf and borders Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  Hot, dry weather occurs throughout much of the year and slightly abates during the mild winter.  Desert plains cover the country.  Natural hazards include cloudbursts and sandstorms.  Limited access to fresh water forces Kuwait to desalinate ocean water.  Pollution and desertification are also environmental issues.  Kuwait is divided into six administrative governorates. 

Population: 2,692,526 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 3.549% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 2.76 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: 76.51 male, 78.96 female (2009)

Peoples

Kuwaiti: 45%

Other Arab: 35%

South Asian: 9%

Iranian: 4%

Other: 7%

Of the 2.7 million people in Kuwait, nearly 1.3 million are foreigners. 

Languages: Arabic is widely spoken and the official language.  English is also commonly used.  Languages indigenous to South Asia and the Philippines are spoken by immigrant workers.  Only Arabic has over one million speakers (2.16 million). 

Literacy: 93.3% (2005)

History

The territory of present-day Kuwait was initially controlled by the Greeks and later the Parthian Empire.  The Sassanid Empire ruled the region between the third and seventh centuries until the arrival of Islam.  Permanent settlers did not arrive until the 18th century and were lead by Sabah I Bin Jaber who became the first Emir of Kuwait.  The Ottomans ruled the region but allowed autonomy to Kuwait.  Starting in 1899, Kuwait signed a treaty with the British which gave the British control of foreign relations and defense.  Independence occurred in 1961.  Iraq attacked and annexed Kuwait in 1990.  The invasion was promptly repelled by allied forces in 1991 and power was restored to native Kuwaitis.  During the Iraq army retreat, more than 700 oil wells were set ablaze.  In the past several decades, Kuwait has grown increasingly wealthy due to the nation's abundant oil reserves.     

Culture 

Kuwait shares many cultural similarities with neighboring Arab nations.  Hospitality and greeting are heavily emphasized.  Tea and coffee are widely consumed and offered to guests; refusal is seen as impolite.  Wealth, occupation, and ethnicity determine socio-economic class.  Polygamy is permitted.  Calligraphy is a celebrated form of art.  The rate of alcohol use is low whereas cigarette use is high and comparable to Western Europe. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $55,800 [120% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.916

Corruption Index: 4.3

Despite its small size and population, Kuwait holds the fifth largest oil reserves in the world which have fueled strong economic growth and made it one of the wealthiest nations.  Oil profits account for 80-95% of government revenue.  The unemployment rate is low and 60% of the workforce is foreign.  Industry and services each account for half the GDP.  Trade partners include Japan, South Korea, United States, South Korea, and India. 

Corruption appears to be increasing and among the highest for developed Arab nations.  Bribery and corruption from government officials appear the greatest concerns.[1] 

Faiths

Muslim: 85%

Other (primarily Christian): 15%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  300,000

Coptic Orthodox  70,000

National Evangelical  40,000  70

Armenian Orthodox  4,000

Greek Orthodox  3,500

Greek Catholic  2,000

Seventh Day Adventists  less than 300  less than 4

Anglican  100

Latter-Day Saints  70  1

Religion

The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.  Other religious groups include Christians, Hindus, and Zoroastrian.  Estimates place the Christian population around 450,000.  There are approximately 150 to 200 Christian Kuwaiti citizens; the remainder of Christians are non-citizen expatriate workers.[2] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 20th

The constitution grants freedom of religious belief and practice as long as it does not disturb public order or contradict public morality.  The state religion is Islam.  Non-Sunni Muslims face many restrictions, including a ban on proselytism of Muslims which is strictly enforced.  Seven Christian churches have full government recognition: National Evangelical, Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Anglican.  Indian Orthodox, Mar Thoma, Latter-day Saints, and Seventh Day Adventists do not have legal recognition but have permission to assemble in rented villas, homes, or buildings of recognized denominations.  Unrecognized denominations are barred from posting signs on the outside of their meeting location.  Non-Muslim missionaries cannot work in the country.  Recognized Christian churches are usually unable to acquire more land for chapels resulting in severe overcrowding of functioning facilities.  Those who criticize or oppose Islam face severe penalties including imprisonment.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 98%

As-Salimiyah, Jalib As-Suyuhì, As-Sabahì¨iyah, Hìitan-Al-janubiyah, Subbahì¨-as-salim, Hawalli, Al-Qurayn, Al-Farwaniyah, As-Sulaybiyah, Al-Fuhì¨ayhì¨il.

One of the 10 largest cities has a congregation.  39% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.  88% of the national population lives in the Kuwait City metropolitan area. 

LDS History

Church members have lived in Kuwait since the 1970s.  At the time there were six members, including four from one expatriate family.[4]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 70 (2009)

In 2009, Westerns formed a third of the Kuwait branch's active membership.  Other nationalities include Indians and Filipinos.[5]  There were an estimated 70 members in Kuwait in 2009.[6] 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1 Group: 1

The Kuwait Branch has functioned for several decades and belongs to the Manama Bahrain Stake.  A military group serves the needs of American military stationed in Kuwait. 

Activity and Retention

In mid-2009, there were 60 active members in the Kuwait Branch.  There are likely many unknown inactive members.  Activity for known membership appears to be around 80% based on official membership figures. Overall activity is likely somewhat lower as there may be an unknown number of inactive members who joined the LDS Church in the U.S., the Philippines, or elsewhere, but are not known to the Church.  

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English, Bengali, Farsi, Hindi, Telugu, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu.

All LDS scriptures are available in Arabic and Tagalog.  Book of Mormon translations have been completed for Hindi, Telugu, and Urdu; only Book of Mormon selections are available in Bengali and Farsi.  Most Church materials are available in Arabic and Tagalog whereas Hindi, Telugu, Urdu, and Farsi have more limited Church materials.  Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony are available in Farsi and Gospel Principles, The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony, and the Articles of Faith are translated into Bengali.  The only Church materials in Malayalam are Gospel Fundamentals and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony. The Liahona annually has 12 issues in Tagalog, four in Telugu, three issues in Urdu, and one issue in Hindi. 

Meetinghouses

The Kuwait Branch meets in a small detached villa in central Kuwait City.[7] 

Humanitarian and Development Work

No major humanitarian or development work has occurred due to the nation's prosperous circumstances.  Small service projects are likely carried out by members. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church is prohibited from conducting missionary work among Muslims.  Members are allowed to talk to non-Muslims about the Church.  Church members have often struggled to find when and where worship services for the Kuwait Branch occur due to government restrictions on publishing this information.  In 2009, the Church published the contact information for the branch president on its meetinghouse location website.  Obtaining full government recognition will likely be challenging.

Cultural Issues

In accordance with the Muslim day of worship, LDS Church services are held on Fridays.  The frequent offering of tea and coffee to guests presents a challenge for members to refuse without offending their Kuwaiti hosts.  Legal and cultural restrictions place the entire Muslim population unreached by the Church's missionary program.  Those engaged in polygamous relationships must divorce polygamous spouses and be interviewed by a member of the area presidency in order to join the Church. 

National Outreach

Kuwait's small geographic size and urban population concentrated in Kuwait City require few outreach centers.  However, most the population is inaccessible due to legal and cultural restrictions.  Non-Muslim immigrant groups can be reached by member-missionary efforts in accordance to local law. 

Kuwait has a large Christian minority numbering nearly half a million which provides opportunity for member-missionary work and mission outreach organized on the congregational level.  Unique opportunities exist for members to speak to Coptic Christians about the Church. This denomination has experienced little to no LDS mission outreach as Coptic Christians primarily live in Muslim nations which ban or severely restrict proselytism and have very few LDS members.  The small number of active LDS members in Kuwait, the preponderance of members from the U.S. and the Philippines who do not speak the languages of many local Christians, and limited member-missionary participation, all limit the extent and potential of member-missionary outreach.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Due to the sensitive nature of the Church in Kuwait, membership records are difficult to update and keep accurate as finding less active or inactive members is very difficult or impossible.  The Kuwait Branch has been described as tight-knit which may make church participation difficult for members or investigators who do not feel that they fit in.  Few converts have joined the Church in Kuwait and consist primarily of Westerners, Filipinos, and Indians. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The small Kuwait Branch must accommodate a wide range of cultures.  The wide ethnic diversity in Kuwait has facilitated greater understanding between different ethnic and cultural traditions.  However misunderstandings between these groups are possible due to differences in language, religion, and culture.  The presence of Filipino and Indian members in the branch allow for greater understanding, outreach and fellowshipping among these ethnic groups.

Language Issues

Church meetings in Kuwait are primarily conducted in English. The wide range of languages spoken complicates efforts to strengthen members and expand outreach to non-Muslims.  The Church does have Church materials in nearly all languages spoken by foreign workers.  However, distribution of these materials is difficult and must occur according to Kuwaiti law.  Many of the languages have few or no LDS speakers in Kuwait, lessening the likelihood of members forming associations or being able to reach out to speakers of these languages. 

Leadership

The small membership is self-sustaining.  The branch president in 2009 was an American expatriate.  His counselors were American and Indian.  A former branch president was Filipino.[8]

Temple

Kuwait is assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.  Temple trips are likely organized with the rest of the Manama Bahrain Stake and are challenging as the temple is 3,000 miles away.  Greater membership and congregational growth in other Middle Eastern nations may one day result in a temple being constructed in the region, perhaps in the United Arab Emirates.

Comparative Growth

Despite Kuwait's sizable Christian minority, the Church's presence remains smaller than in many Persian Gulf states.  The Church was established later in several other Arab nations and today has more members in these countries than in Kuwait.  Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have seen the most rapid growth whereas Kuwait and Oman have seen the slowest growth. 

Few efforts occur by other Christian groups to gain converts from other Christian denominations.  The size of Christian denominations is primarily determined by the demographics of foreign workers and the religious makeup of their home countries. 

Future Prospects

The outlook for growth in Kuwait among non-Muslims appears favorable due to the multi-cultural presence in the Kuwait Branch and permission by the government for church meetings to occur.  Bans on open proselytism limit outreach to member-missionary efforts and challenge outreach to both Muslims and non-Muslims.  Language-specific congregations may be organized once the meetinghouse becomes too small to accommodate active membership.  Tagalog appears the most likely to have a language-specific congregation in the future.


[1]  Kazak, Sawsan.  "Kuwait corruption levels on the rise," Zawya, 4 June 2009.  http://www.zawya.com/Story.cfm/sidZAWYA20090604042143/Kuwait%20Corruption%20Levels%20On%20The%20Rise

[2] "Kuwait," International Religious Freedom Report 2009," 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127351.htm

[3]  "Kuwait," International Religious Freedom Report 2009," 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127351.htm

[4]  Ballentine, Toby.  "The World Is My Home," New Era, Oct 1976, 44

[5] Bushman, Harriet Petherick.  "A Mormon branch in Kuwait: Peaceful, once you get there," Mormon Times, 23 June 2009.  http://mormontimes.com/people_news/people_church/?id=9349

[6]  "Kuwait," International Religious Freedom Report 2009," 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127351.htm

[7] Bushman, Harriet Petherick.  "A Mormon branch in Kuwait: Peaceful, once you get there," Mormon Times, 23 June 2009.  http://mormontimes.com/people_news/people_church/?id=9349

[8]  Bushman, Harriet Petherick.  "A Mormon branch in Kuwait: Peaceful, once you get there," Mormon Times, 23 June 2009.  http://mormontimes.com/people_news/people_church/?id=9349