Reaching the Nations

Yemen

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 527,968 square km. Located on the southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea.  Several small islands also belong to Yemen, notably the Socotra archipelago and islands in the Red Sea.  The climate is hot year round with the exception of mountains in the west which receive seasonal monsoon.  Coastal areas are humid whereas the interior and eastern areas are dry.  A narrow plain runs along most coastal areas.  Most the interior consists of hills and plateaus.  There are mountains in the western interior.  Sand and dust storms are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include a lack of fresh water, soil erosion, and desertification.  Yemen is divided into 21 administrative governorates.  

Population: 22,858,238 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 2.786% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 5 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy:  61.01 male, 65.08 female (2009)

Peoples

Arab: 95%

Somali: 3%

Other: 2%

Languages: Arabic dialects (95%), Somali (3%), Hindi (1%), other (1%).  Arabic is the official language and the only language with over one million speakers.  Soqotri is the native language of the Socotra archipelago.   

Literacy: 50.2% (2003)

History

Access to fresh water and fertile soil has allowed a longer legacy of civilization in Yemen compared to other nations on the Arabian Peninsula.  Several civilizations and empires were based in Yemen between 2000 BC and the 7th century when the Islamic Empire quickly integrated the region into its control.  Prior to assimilation in the Ottoman Empire, several dynasties from other Near East nations controlled Yemen.  The British East India Company took control of South Yemen in the 19th century to curb pirate attacks on trade ships.  In 1918, North Yemen became independent from the Ottoman Empire whereas South Yemen gained independence from the British in 1967.  In 1970, a Marxist government came to power in South Yemen and resulted in hundreds of thousands of Yemenis fleeing from the south to the north.  Friction between the two Yemeni states occurred during the 1970s and 1980s.  Unification of North and South Yemen occurred in 1990 but hostilities between the north and south have flared periodically until present.  The fragility of the Yemeni state is indicated by insurgencies which broke out in South Yemen and the Sa'dah Governorate in the last decade.  Many Yemenis continue to identify according to their tribe rather than their nationality, giving rise to internal conflict and insurrection.  As in several other Arab nations in 2011, Yemen experienced major protests and sustained civil disorder as a result of allegations of corruption in government, low living standards, and poor economic conditions.  Clashes with anti-government rebels and loyalist armed forces intensified during the year and ultimately resulted in president Salih leaving office.                                                                                                                              

Culture 

Yemen's rich ancient history continues to strongly influence modern culture.  Several World Heritage sites are in Yemen, most of which are ancient walled cities.  The Socotra archipelago boasts a large number of indigenous species and has developed its own unique culture separate from mainland Yemen.  Qat is an evergreen shrub that Yemeni commonly cultivate and chew which some nations classify as an illegal drug.  Yemeni Jews have a rich cultural tradition  which began from King Solomon seeking out the finest materials in present-day Yemen to build the temple in Jerusalem.  Islam strongly influences daily life and is the source for Yemeni law.  Yemen has low rates of alcohol and cigarette use.  Polygamy is legal and practiced by a minority.

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,500 (2009) [5.39% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.575

Corruption Index: 2.3

Yemen has one of the least developed economies in the Middle East and is strongly dependent on oil revenues for economic growth.  Recent fluctuations in oil prices has cut government earnings and slowed economic development.  Government has attempted to diversify the economy in order to reduce its vulnerability to the demand and price of oil.  Poverty is a major concern as 45% of Yemenis lived below the poverty line and 35% were unemployed in 2003.  Most work in agriculture and animal husbandry whereas all other sectors of the economy employ less than 25% of the workforce.  Services and industry produce 51% and 39% of the GDP, respectively.  Agricultural products include grain, fruits, vegetables, and qat.  Oil production and refining is the primary industry.  Major trade partners include China, Thailand, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Legislation combating corruption was passed in recent years, but limited natural resources, a rapidly growing population, and political instability have contributed to widespread corruption.  Allegations of corruption have been directed toward nearly all major government institutions, such as elections, customs, taxation, and the judicial system. 

Faiths

Muslim: 99%

Other: 1%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   4,000

Latter-Day Saints  less than 50  1?

Religion

The entire population is Muslim with the exception of fewer than 5,000 individuals.  Most of the Christians are foreigners temporarily living in Yemen for employment.  Services for Catholics, Protestants, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are held in several cities.[1] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 5th

The constitution does not protect or repress religious freedom.  Islam is the state religion and legislation is based on Islamic Shari'a law.  The proselytism and conversion of Muslims is forbidden.   Apostasy from Islam can result in the death penalty and the government has detained several Christian converts who left Islam in recent years.  Government permits individuals to practice their religious beliefs and allows assembly with no government interference with some restrictions.  In the late 2000s, Jews, Christians, and Bahai's received marked persecution from some Muslim groups, with many foreigners facing deportation or voluntarily making plans to leave the country.  Government does not usually pursue prosecution of those committing violence against religious minorities and has done little to ensure their safety.  However, most Muslim groups live harmoniously with the few non-Muslims.  Religious minorities have been able to get visas for ministers to serve their communities.  Rebel or terrorist organizations have targeted foreigners who are accused of performing missionary activity, several of whom remain missing.[2]

Largest Cities

Urban: 31%

Sana'a, Taizz , Al Hudaydah , Aden, Ibb, Dhamar, Al-Mukalla, Chanffar, Sayyan, Asch-Schir.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation.

One of the 10 largest cities may have a congregation.  21% of the population lives in the five largest cities. 

LDS History

Church members have lived in Yemen since the 1970s.[3]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 50 (2008)

Any LDS members are likely Western expatriates living temporarily in Yemen for employment purposes. 

Congregational Growth

Branches or groups: 1?

A group or branch may meet in Yemen.  Any Church activity would fall under the jurisdiction of the Middle East/Africa North Area.  Yemen may fall under the boundaries of the Manama Bahrain Stake. 

Activity and Retention

There likely have been few or no convert baptisms in Yemen.  Activity rates for members likely represent members' home nations.  Inactive members are likely unknown to the Church as the Church does not have an official presence.  Many members who actively follow Church teachings may not participate in worship services as they are unaware where meetings are held.  Active membership like consists of fewer than 20 members. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English, Hindi

All LDS scriptures and many Church materials are available in Arabic.  A Hindi translation of the Book of Mormon is available as well as a wide, although limited, selection of Church materials.  Somali language Church materials are limited to Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony

Meetinghouses

Any Church meetings are likely held in the privacy of members' homes. 

Health and Safety

Conditions for foreign missionaries in Yemen are very precarious and are currently unfavorable even for humanitarian assistance.  Several missionaries were kidnapped by Islamic extremists and remain  missing. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

As of April 2010, no humanitarian or development work has been performed by the Church in Yemen.

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The government does permit meetings for non-Muslim religious groups, which likely indicates that any LDS gatherings would likely not be met with government interference.  However, non-Muslims have been the focus of increased violence and persecution in recent years.  Meetings would likely have to be done in private in order to avoid any potential threats.  The Church is barred from the proselytism of Muslims, rendering all but a few thousand inhabitants legally unreachable by potential missionary efforts.  Separatist movements and insurgencies threaten the stability of the government, further challenging the Church's efforts to obtaining any recognition.  Rebel-controlled regions experience less religious freedom and will be likely unsuitable for any LDS activity among foreigners until government control is restored. 

Cultural Issues

The strong influence of Islam on daily living and legislation creates the greatest cultural obstacle restricting the Church's activities.  The chewing of qat is a cultural habit which stands against LDS church teachings.  Those practicing polygamy who desire to be baptized must end polygamous marriages in divorce and get interviewed by a member of the mission or area presidency; however this issue is largely moot as no proselytism is permitted among Muslims

National Outreach

The entire population is unreached by the Church.  Future mission outreach possibilities will likely first concentrate on the non-Muslim foreign workers, many of whom are Christians. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The sensitive nature of the Church in Yemen restricts the Church from publishing meeting times and locations for foreign members.  Some members living in Yemen are likely unaware of a Church presence.  Those inquiring about meetings for Church services may contact the Church's Middle East Desk at Church headquarters for additional information.  A telephone number and email address for the Middle East Desk are available on the Church's meetinghouse locator website. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Potential outreach among the native population will likely face challenges assimilating Yemenis from conflicting tribes. 

Language Issues

Church meetings are likely conducted in English.  The widespread use of Arabic dialects simplifies any future outreach.  Many immigrant workers have some Church materials in their native language. 

Leadership

Leadership is likely very limited and only able to support a small branch or group. 

Temple

Together with the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is likely assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.

Comparative Growth

Only a handful of Middle Eastern nations have no reported Church congregations or membership but may have a small number of active members privately holding worship services.  These nations may include Iran, Libya, and Algeria.  Most nations in the Arabian Peninsula have at least two congregations (one for the military and one for other members).  With the exception of Catholics, no Christians report any statistics on membership in Yemen.

Future Prospects

Yemen's fragile political situation makes any greater Church establishment in the near future unlikely.  Outreach among Yemenis living in nations with mission outreach may provide the first steps needed toward a greater Church presence in Yemen.  The arrival of additional LDS foreign workers and improved protection of the rights of religious minorities are needed before any greater progress can be achieved.


[1]  "Yemen," LDS Church News, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127361.htm

[2]  "Yemen," LDS Church News, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127361.htm

[3]  "Comment," Ensign, Dec 1979, 66