Muslim/Christian proselytizing causing problems in Israel

When I was in Israel in June, I walked through East Jerusalem with Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Begin Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University Israel. We made our way slowly through the streets toward the Nazareth Gate, an area which is predominantly Muslim. I must admit I was shocked by the garbage on the streets, blowing in the wind; so different from West Jerusalem (I resent these names — it is one city — the capital of Israel) where the streets were clean. It isn’t a lack of municipal services. It is a difference in culture.

Dr. Kedar and I walked toward the gate and he was stopped by a Muslim man. Dr. Kedar is like a rock star in Israel. He is constantly stopped by people who recognize him from TV. This Muslim man wanted to talk to him about Judaism and Islam. He seemed to disagree with Dr. Kedar’s views. The ensuing discussion took place in Arabic and Hebrew but I understood enough of it — hand gestures and a few key words helped.

This man was pointing out to Dr. Kedar that Islam is the only religion that comes from God. Moses and Jesus were just the lead-in to Mohammed, the true prophet, and the world will be a better place when we all submit to Allah. I must admit, it never occurred to me that Muslims in Israel proselytize like the Christians. There seems to be no shortage of people in Israel who want to tell others how wrong they are about how they honour God. Well, mostly it’s telling the Jewish people of this Jewish state that they are wrong. I can’t imagine Christians in Muslim states telling Muslims they are wrong. There is a severe penalty for that-death. I can’t imagine Muslims proselytizing in Vatican City, either.

Now I am reading that Christians in Judea/Samaria are afraid because of Muslim proselytizing. A billboard was posted in Nazareth outside the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, which, according to tradition, was the site where the angel Gabriel told Mary that she had been chosen by God to give birth to Jesus, the promised Messiah. It reads:

O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, ‘Three’; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son.”

There is a concerted effort by some Muslims to demean Christianity. This past May, Sheikh Issam Ameera, an imam at the Al-Aqsa mosque (built on the Temple Mount in the Old City area), posted a video online “ ‘The Islamic State is the keeper of religion and state’ in which he essentially told fellow Muslims that they must be in a constant state of war and conquest against the ‘polytheist enemy’, i.e., Christians, as well as against Jews.”

Recently, in the Old City, 60-80 twenty-something Muslims rampaged through the Christian quarter throwing stones at houses and businesses (shades of Kristallnacht). They also attacked the Ethiopian Orthodox monastery, spray-painting anti-Christian messages and destroying a cross. There were reports of Muslims attacking Christians at the Damascus Gate as well.

Rami Fellemon, a Palestinian Christian and director of Jerusalem Evangelistic Outreach(JEO), headquartered in East Jerusalem, said that many Christians are questioning their life in Judea/Samaria. They are thinking of leaving because of the harassment.

I find this all rather ironic. Here are Christians threatened by proselytizing Muslims. This is precisely how Jews feel when on the receiving end of Christian proselytizing.

The mission of Jerusalem Evangelistic Outreach was established in 1989 by a local pastor with the purpose of reaching Arabs with the message of salvation. The JEO believe the best way to reach out to Muslim Arabs is through story-telling as Arab culture has been passed down orally. Outreach is done through “media production and distribution, relief ministry, bookstores in the Holy Land, and trips to Biblical sites to teach their stories and significance.”

Their mission is “To reveal the living word of Jesus by providing Christian Media Libraries across Israel and Palestine. Students, including Muslim children, will be able to watch Christian films and be encouraged to learn more about Jesus. This project is also being made available to Christian Community Centers; Sunday Schools and Youth Groups.”

They “want all people in the Holy Land to come to Christ with the church growing and influencing society.”

And Christians are  surprised that the Muslims are responding in anger? Destroying their places of worship? Attacking their people?

The Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian non-profit, reports on Christian prosecution. “There’s no persecution in the Holy Land … unless you share your faith. Rami Ayyad, manager of a Bible Society book store in the Gaza Strip, was kidnapped and killed because of his witness for Christ.

“More than 120,000 Christians live in Israel with an estimated 8,000 Palestinian Arab evangelical believers, 1,400 in the West Bank and 300 in Gaza,”

Christians preaching to Muslims are told to “take every opportunity of being friendly with Muslim neighbours, shopkeepers and others. Show them that you love them in practical ways. Do not try to preach at them. Be a good listener…develop a spirit of gentle aggressiveness, to “show perfect courtesy toward all men” (Titus 3.2).

They have a fear, though, of alienating Muslims: “ A common Christian car-sticker nowadays reads ‘Christians for Israel’. This can only mean, to the Muslims of the world, ‘Christians against Islam.’ We need to develop a spirit of love towards all men and to avoid taking sides in political disputes. Love must be the supreme motivating factor in our relationships with Muslims. Their confidence in us will soon evaporate if they sense in any way at all that we secretly harbour militant attitudes towards them.”

Do they secretly harbour militant attitudes toward Muslims or is it that they don’t love the Jews as much as they profess?

Their Christian Evangelical vision regarding Muslims is no different than the vision of Evangelicals regarding the Jews in the Jewish State of Israel. Muslim riots against proselytizing Christians are the last thing Israel needs. If attacks on Christians lead to their leaving, perhaps this will be an incentive for the State of Israel to ban all proselytizing.

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "
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