Arabic: masīhiyy; nasrāniyy
"Christian" is also used as an adjective, defining something as belonging to Christianity.
What qualifies to call someone Christian, is a combination of the belief in Jesus Christ as a central representation of the divine on earth, the belief in at least the Gospels and the belief in an eternal life for the believers. From these common ideas, a number of variations spin. The definition of what are sacred text varies only with small, sectarian groups. The exact understanding of the nature of, and the purpose of Jesus varies also. Less ambiguity appears to be linked to the belief in an eternal life after death. Most Christians will define being a Christian from a longer list of beliefs, but these definitions vary from group to group.
Few Christians will diverge from the belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God.
A Christian is usually part of a church community, although this often involves no specific activities. This relation is linked to the necessity of passing through certain rituals, like baptism.
The term is derived from the Greek word for Messiah, Christos which is rendered in English, "Christ". The designation "Christian" came from an early understanding of Christ being a proper name for Jesus, as well as the distinction of the faith in Jesus being the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament. The first time somebody referred to themselves as "Christians" was, according to Acts 11:26, in Antioch, late in the 40's CE.
Christians being used for a religion distinct from Judaism came from a gradual development through the remainder of the 1st century. Even the first congregations calling themselves Christians, may well have understood themselves as part of Judaism following the teachings of Jesus. In order not to confuse the different groups and their understandings in early Christianity, this encyclopaedia uses the term "Jesus-Judaism" for the period in which the first followers of Jesus still were Jews.
All represent minorities in their countries, which have Muslim majorities. Christians have in most of these countries limited rights compared to Muslims. Christians in Saudi Arabia, 880,000 in number, are not permitted to build churches.
Christians have through history suffered persecution both from Zoroastrian rulers and Muslim rulers. The rule, however, has been that Christians have been allowed freedom of faith and practice.
Christians in this part of the world have been the victim of Muslim-led genocides and ethnic cleansings. Presently this goes on in Iraq, Palestine and Sudan. But the greatest atrocities were in Turkey up until 1923, against Armenians, Assyrians ang Greeks, where about 1 million were killed and another 4.5 million were driven out of their homelands, lands where they had lived since long before the beginning of Islam. Also, in North Africa, between 1.5 million and 2 million Christians, most born in this region, were forced to leave from the 1950's until the 1970's.
Anyone can convert to Christianity, and there is no form of punishment for those abandoning the religion, as is the case for Muslims (where there is death penalty). Yet, as being a Christian in many communities is so closely interwoven with all social life, abandoning Christianity will effectively be to abandon one's community and friends, perhaps even family.
Christians made themselves guilty of persecutions in the Middle East and North Africa, too. Worshippers of pre-Christian relgions and Jews were harshly treated in the Byzantine Empire. Christians in Egypt both suppressed believers in Ancient Egyptian religion, as well as went ahead and destroyed as many religious decorations as possible. But there were also numerous harsh acts on those minorities accused of heresy.
The word is also used as an adjective, describing an object associated with Christianity.
Early in Christian history, there apparently was a bridge between Christianity of Jesus and teh Serapis cults of Egypt. Devotees of Serapis called themselves Christians, as described in the Augustan History .