Maureen Jack serving for three months as an Ecumenical Accompanier in Jayyus with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel…
The Church of Scotland, quite rightly, is concerned about persecuted religious minorities. Often the accounts we hear are of Christians being persecuted by Muslims. But it’s important to remember that Christian minorities can and do live safely and happily in largely Muslim communities.
In the occupied West Bank, as a Christian spending time in largely or entirely Muslim communities, I have always experienced respect from Muslims for my religion and my beliefs. On public transport it’s not uncommon to meet Muslims who are keen to discuss religion. I remember one young university lecturer, who told me that his belief in God became stronger as he learned more about science. He cited the example of the fig. Apparently, figs are very rich in calcium, and birds, given a choice of fruit, will choose to eat a fig, the fruit that is particularly beneficial in producing eggshells. My young companion saw God’s hand in this, for otherwise how would the birds know that figs were good for them.
I have sometimes been asked about where I pray. Saying that I pray on the hillsides or in my home as easily as in church always brings a positive response. When I was in the village of At Tuwani in the south Hebron hills the children would cheerfully interrupt us when we were having a meeting, but always sat quietly while we were worshipping outside, though our worship was very different from theirs.
Sometimes Palestinian Muslims are keen to point out how much Islam and Christianity share. They speak openly of their respect for Issa, Jesus, as a prophet. A few days ago in Nablus we met a local Muslim tour guide who quoted to us from the New Testament. And a Muslim teacher in Jayyus has encouraged us to worship in the village mosque on the grounds that for our three months here we are part of the community.
The Muslims I have met know and accept that we do not share all of their beliefs and customs. I remember visiting a Muslim family in Hebron during Ramadan. The teenage girls in the family served us tea. When we protested that it was Ramadan they said gently but firmly, ‘But you’re not Muslim,’ and looked on happily as we drank the tea and they took nothing.
I have had two encounters in the last week or two which indicate that Palestinian Muslims also respect Palestinian Christians. Buthaina, a Muslim lawyer who is from Jayyus but lives in Ramallah told me that her daughters all attend the Catholic school in Ramallah, and that as a family they celebrate Christmas as well as Eid. I recently visited a Christian woman, Afaf Shatara, in her home in Azzun, a village close to Jayyus; she is the only Christian in her village. She has now retired, but was formerly the headteacher of a secondary school for girls, where all of her pupils and fellow-teachers were Muslim. She told me that the fact that she was a Christian had not hampered her career in any way. And at Christmas, her Muslim friends and neighbours all come to her house to bring her their greetings.
So, when we are celebrating Christmas, let’s think of Buthaina and her family and Afaf and her neighbours celebrating too. And let’s think, too, about what we do when our Muslim brothers and sisters are celebrating Eid. Do we celebrate with them?
I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt email@example.com for permission.