Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #2

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Two, a female from Bethlehem. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF here.

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 301-304.

Respondent Two – female – Bethlehem

Respondent Two was born and raised in Jordan, a Palestinian in exile. Her father was a teacher who encouraged his children to read, especially in English. This emphasis on reading gave her the opportunity to think and explore things outside of Islam and to question her family’s religion.

During her childhood years, her father’s answer to any questions that were raised about Islam was always, “don’t question Islam, just accept it.” This answer did not satisfy her, so she continued to read and think independently.

When the respondent reached high school, she began to notice what she described as “contradictions, logical tensions, and other problems,” in the Qur’an. However, she was always reminded that she should never “question Islam, just accept it” and that she should “believe in Allah, Muhammad, the Qur’an, and angels.” The more she read, the more she noticed what she thought were problems in Islam and contradictions in the Qur’an. One specific issue she found objectionable was that “Allah can’t forgive one mistake.” She also mentioned that her mind would wander during prayer and that she started to think that Islam might not be true.

While studying in college she became friends with a Christian, which not only was a new experience for her it provided a new way of thinking about religion in general, and Christians specifically, even though her new Christian friend never suggested that she should become a Christian.

It was at that time that her initial set of dreams occurred, but it would be almost ten years before she understood their meaning. In the first dream of this set, all the stars in the sky came together in a single bright mass before falling one by one to the ground beside her. Having no idea what the dream meant, she asked trusted friends and family members who either laughed at her or said they could not interpret the dream. She wondered if the stars represented jinns – evil spirits. The last dream in this series of dreams was once again of all the stars in the sky coming together, but this time, they gathered together in the shape of a Christian cross. Like the previous dreams, she had no idea of the meaning of this dream, but this time she was too afraid to ask anyone for help.

About six years later, the respondent received an emotionally crushing blow when her six-months old son died suddenly. Many of the questions she had about her son’s fate were answered in a set of dreams. In the first dream she saw a white dove that told her that her son was okay. This was both understandable and comforting to her. However, in the second dream, “a man dressed in white with a face of light” appeared and said in Arabic, “come to me,” which did not make any sense to her at the time.

Although she was comforted by the thought that her son was okay, she did have a terrible nagging fear that he died because she “was not religious enough.” That resulted in her praying more regularly and more fervently, but she never could get beyond the fear of death. She said that she constantly worried that “someone else might die because I was not religious enough.”

During this episode of increased prayer and uncertainty, a family friend began to regularly visit the respondent and her husband. The focus of his visits was to talk with the couple about Jesus. It did not matter if they wanted to talk about Jesus or not, the visitor always seemed to get the conversation turned in that direction. This friend would regularly point out problems within Islam as well as testify of how his life was being blessed by Jesus.

Within a couple visits the friend gave the respondent and her husband a Bible, which she began to read immediately. Over the course of about twelve months, the respondent “read the New Testament five or six times and the Old Testament three or four times,” and she sensed her thoughts about Christianity becoming more positive. However, even though she was starting to gain a level of acceptance about Christianity and the possibility of becoming a Christian, the deity of Jesus remained a major barrier. She simply could not embrace the idea that God could come to earth in human flesh.

Soon after that first year of reading the Bible, she had her third set of dreams. The initial dream of this set took her to a large mountain upon which stood “a person of light” that spoke to her in Arabic. She asked the person of light, “Who are you?” Immediately, without giving the person of light an opportunity to answer, she answered her own question: “You are God.” Then she asked her final question, “What do you want from me?” The person of light answered, “It’s time to tell you about your first dreams. You can get the answer to your questions from Christians.”

The family friend introduced the respondent to a pastor in Jerusalem who interpreted her first dreams. He told her that, “the stars falling from the sky to the ground represented [her] leaving Jordan and arriving in Palestine, and that the stars in the shape of the cross represented [her] believing in Jesus.” This interpretation made some sense to her since she had come from Jordan to Palestine. The second portion was also reasonable, to a point. She could believe in Jesus as a man. However, she still could not accept Jesus as God.

This internal tension lasted another six months, but she continued to read the New Testament in large quantities. The more she read, the more she loved Jesus, the man and the prophet. However, the more she read, the more clear it was to her that “the New Testament presents Jesus as more than a man and more than a prophet. It presents Jesus as God, too.” “Obviously that’s one of the parts of the New Testament that Muslims believe was corrupted,” she offered as an apologetic against what she was coming to understand at that time.

Her husband had lost interest in their friend’s regular discussions about Jesus and Islam within the first three months, but she had not. In fact, she had become more interested, but she had to be cautious in order to avoid upsetting her husband, who eventually suspected she had become a believer and sent her to her father to be sorted out. Since she had not yet believed, her father could not get a confession from her, and with a stern warning sent her back to her husband.

Immediately upon her arrival, the respondent’s husband warned her that if she ever became a Christian he would divorce her and send her back to her father, who would certainly kill her for the family’s honor. Fearing for her safety, she replaced the Arabic Bible that she carried in her purse with an English one since her husband could not read English. She also began listening to the New Testament on an mp3 player, which gave her safer and easier access to the New Testament while riding the bus or cleaning the house.

Shortly after her return home from her father’s home, she informed the man who had been witnessing to her and her husband that she was “really close to believing,” but that she still could not believe Jesus is God. Within a couple days of this conversation, she had her final dream, in which “Jesus appeared dressed in white with a glowing light in his face.” In Arabic, he said to her, “I am the way.” At that moment, she awoke from her sleep “believing in Jesus.” She immediately got up and called the person who had been witnessing to her and whispered, “I believe Jesus is God!”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, dreams, a crisis, uncertainty, and common objections to the gospel.

Download my dissertation as a free PDF here.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #3

Looking for Privacy?

If you are looking for privacy; you know, a kind of private prayer closet, the Western Wall probably isn’t the most logical choice.

Baptist House Jerusalem Vandalized

JPost – Reuters

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Baptist House in Jerusalem has been vandalized again. The story offers a good historical recap of the various acts of vandalism that have happened there over the years, including the arson that led to the rebuilt sanctuary that appears in the accompanying photo.

For those that don’t/can’t read Hebrew, the graffiti says, ” Jesus the son of a whore. Price tag. We will crucify you.” The article explains a bit about the first two phrases, but totally disregards the latter. I’ll add a few more thoughts about these phrases.

1. Israelis commonly refer to Jesus as Yeshu, rather than Yeshua. Because this usage/identification is so common, many Israelis honestly believe his name to be Yeshu, which is an acronym for “May his name and memory be erased.” Some counter that the acronym explanation is simply a Christian attempt to gain sympathy. If that’s the case, what’s the explanation for the use of Yeshu, rather than the common Hebrew name Yeshua? 

2. “Price tag” is the call phrase for a group of West Bank Jews who are vandalizing mosques and other buildings in a similar (or sometimes more severe) way.

3. The JPost completely disregards the phrase, “We will crucify you.” That coupled with “price tag”  might be intimidating for those who are left to wonder who did this, and whether it may have future implications. Because the perpetrators are unknown, those questions remain unanswered. I wonder why the JPost didn’t mention the most threatening graffiti? Update: The JPost did mention this phrase in a previous article.

Crucifixion Friday in the Old City

Many Christians from around the world were expected to flood the city for Good Friday, and they did. In fact, since Passover and Eastern and Western Easter falls on the same weekend this year, the city seemed particularly crowded. In expectation of the large crowds the Israeli government implemented new access procedures at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which created a lot of tensions. Flags like the one below could be seen throughout the Christian Quarter.

The flag is aimed at the Israeli authority’s efforts to control the crowds, which at times ended up communicating to those wanting to be near or inside the church that they were not allowed to worship. Obviously, once the new arrangements were announced, someone(s) went into action to highlight the Israeli actions and paint them as negatively as possible. However, being in the area today, I must admit, one could easily get a very negative impression without the presence of the flags.

Here are the police controlling access to the church:

The police were standing behind barricades, allowing people to enter in very small numbers. At one point, tensions were so high that the riot police were called in:

I was told that things escalated to the point of blows being exchanged. I did not see that, but I have no reason to doubt it.

It seems to me that the Israelis are in a no win situation here: If they don’t control the crowds, there is a real possibility of a stampede or worse, and they will be accused of shirking their responsibility for public safety. If they do control the crowds, they are accused of preventing pilgrims from worshiping. 

History indicates that during times like these, the various Christian groups that have authority within the church facility can’t manage to get along without violence, so I’m not sure what I would advise them to do.

Jewish Wedding

While waiting for someone at a hotel in Jerusalem, I happened upon this beautiful wedding. In the end, I was at the wrong hotel because the person I was waiting for had been moved to another hotel without his knowledge. Seeing this wedding eased the sting of being at the wrong place for a couple of hours.

Checking I.D.

Admittedly, I was surprised to see the police asking Jews for their identification cards at Damascus Gate. The first time I saw this, I had arrived on the scene after the event was already in motion, so I thought I was reading something into the officers’ actions. I decided to hang around for a few minutes to see if the police would ask another Jew to present his identification card. After a couple of minutes, they did exactly that.

Here’s a photo of the police doing to a Jew what many people think is reserved only for Arabs.

Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium

Many of my readers may not have heard of Teddy Stadium or it’s namesake, Teddy Kollek. Teddy, as both he and the stadium are affectionately called by locals, was a likable six-term mayor of Jerusalem (1965-1993) who led the city through the post June ’67 reunification into a modern city.

The horseshoe-shaped Teddy Stadium first opened in 1992 with seating for 12,000 fans. However, the final stage (north end enclosure) wasn’t completed until 1997, bringing seating up to 21,000.  It is surrounded by 5,000 parking spaces, which isn’t sufficient and causes the nearby roadways to be lined with double parked cars during soccer games.

Now, some of you will be surprised that you have actually heard of this stadium, but in a place you might not expect: Left Behind. The best-selling Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins end-times series uses Teddy Stadium as the location of at least one critical scene. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details very clearly, but what I seem to remember is that (Anti-Christ?) Nicolae Carpathia gave a speech to the masses from Teddy. If you remember more, please add details in the comments.

Life Above the Streets

Most tourists in Jerusalem’s Old City, seem to be so captivated by the offerings of the various souvenir shops or the ancient stones that they never look above their heads. Thus, they don’t realize there is life above the streets.

The majority of the shops lining the streets of the Old City have apartments above, which is where most of the residents live – i.e. above street level.

In this photo the woman is hanging her laundry in the midst of a cobweb of electric wires – some old, some new, some legal, some illegal. 

Temple Mount Tensions – Pt 1

“A Jewish bride and her father were arrested on the Temple Mount the day before her wedding, after an Arab policeman claimed he saw the father muttering prayers and the bride nodding her head.”

That is the opening paragraph of an Arutz 7 report that details the arrest in more detail. (The Jerusalem Post version can be found here.) No doubt, there will be some dispute regarding the accuracy of some of the specific details in the Arutz 7 report, but the story itself is indicative of the growing tensions that I’ve witnessed on the Temple Mount in recent months.

Muslims claim the 34-acre Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) is their third holiest place, while Jews call it Har HaBayt (The Temple Mount) and claim that it is their holiest place. Currently, the location is under the political and military control of the Israeli government. However, it is religiously overseen by the Islamic WAQF, which keeps a close eye on all the activities in the area to make sure they are consistent with Islamic religious sensitivities. And deference to religious sensitivities – any real or perceived sensitivities – seems to be a de facto concession of control.

Since my Arabic class is in the neighborhood, I have been up on the Temple Mount several times in the last few months. I enter the only place I can, the tourist gate, and exit the gate that is only about 100 yards from my school. And during my visits, I watch to see what’s going on: who’s visiting, where they go, what the soldiers are doing, how the monitors monitor, etc.

This will be the first of a series of blogs – mostly a photo essay – relating what I’ve seen and learned during my visits.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to visit with Muslims who have an interest – personal or professional – in what is happening on the Mount. They have told me of their fears that Jews will pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque or elsewhere, that the soldiers are an unnecessary desecration of the place, and that Ariel Sharon ruined it for everybody (i.e. non-Muslims) who would like to go inside the mosques or the Dome of the Rock when he visited (i.e. desecrated) the holy place. 

Here are some of the things I’ve seen:

The presence of Israeli soldiers on the Temple Mount – for many reasons – is offensive to Muslims, and in this photo you can see that they are eating, which multiplies the offense because it is forbidden for non-Muslims to eat in the Haram al-Sharif.

I find it interesting that non-Muslims are forbidden to eat in the Noble Sanctuary, but it is common to see Muslims having picnics and birthday parties there. Why would it be a desecration for one group to eat there, but not for the other? It’s not like Jews and Christians are offering their food to idols before they partake. And one would think the trash often left behind by Muslim diners would be a desecration of their own third-holiest location. (More on this in the near future.)

It has become common for groups of Jewish men to go up on the Temple Mount to walk around, and some suggest, to pray there. My guess is that some do, some don’t.
You should notice that they are being escorted (some would say monitored) by the policeman that is following them. It is also common for one of the WAQF monitors to be nearby to make sure that they don’t pray.
Before ascending, these men go through the ritual bath to purify themselves. Also, they generally have been schooled in where they can and can not go (from the Jewish perspective), so that they don’t accidentally enter into a holy area. Not all Jews agree that it is appropriate to ascend the Temple Mount in its current condition; and it goes without saying, that among those who believe it is permissible to go up, there isn’t complete agreement as to the “go, no go” areas.
In the above photo, the guys appear to be lining themselves up with the eastern side of the Dome of the Rock, which many people believe to be built over the location of Herod’s Temple. And by lining themselves up in this way, some may conclude they are intending to pray toward the Holy of Holies. While I did not witness their entire visit, I did not see them pray. But, I was drawn to this particular scene because the WAQF monitor was giving the Israeli policeman an earful for allowing them to drift too far away from him “so that they could pray.”
Question: If Jews and Muslims believe in the same deity – as many Muslims and Jews claim – why should it be a problem for Jews to pray to him in the Noble Sanctuary?  

I’m fully aware that there is a game of cat and mouse going on here: On occasion(s), some of the Jews who ascend the Temple Mount are trying to be provocative. At the same time, the Muslims sometimes overstate the infraction. So much so, that it has become a maxim that to determine if a Jew is praying on the Temple Mount, one only need to see if his lips are moving. According to the article mentioned above, the maxim is no longer just a colorful story told by tour guides.

I personally know people on both sides of this issue, and I expect that tensions are only going to increase.