Teaching & Learning
This Christmas, here are seven things Palestinian Christians need you to know
No, they aren’t recent converts and, yes, they worship Allah too
Christianity was born in Palestine and developed in the wider Levant region in the first century (AFP)
22 December 2020 10:20 GMT | Last update: 2 years 11 months ago
Christmas is a delightful season, the most wonderful time of the year indeed. And yet, as Palestinian Christians living in North America and Australia, we experience a strange disconnect during the festive season.
We watch as shopping malls become inundated with Christmas trees, jolly Santas, candy canes, reindeer and sleighs. We are accustomed to the usual nativity display of three - usually white - wise men approaching a white Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Issa, Mariam and Yousef in Arabic).
You, our neighbors and friends, send us cards hailing the birth of a savior born in Bethlehem, and carolers arrive at our doors singing O Little Town of Bethlehem.
It feels strange because, for many of us, Bethlehem is the town we visited on summer holidays or where our families are rooted. And those memories are distant from the imagined landscape found on a Christmas card.
Furthermore, while we enjoy the traditional Hollywood Christmas classics that grace our screens, we watch with curious amusement as a white actor portrays a Middle Eastern Jesus.
We are Palestinians who grew up in the diaspora, in Christian families; we visited and even lived in Palestine at points in our lives. And here is what we want other Christians around the world to know about our ancient community.
1. Yes, Palestinian Christians exist
Some of you may put up signs on your lawn that say “Jesus: the Reason for the Season”, but our signs say “Palestine: the Region of the Season”.
Thank you for the Christmas trees, but the actual religious component of this whole holiday emanated from our culture.
The Judeo-Christian Western gaze often portrays all Palestinians as Muslims, misrepresenting the Palestinian struggle as an "Islamic struggle". It is not.
While Christians might be considered a "Minority" within Palestine, this centuries-old community is an integral part of Palestinian society.
Westerners, however, cannot fathom the diversity that exists within Palestinian society. The comical consequence of this simplistic understanding is that many of us, growing up, living and working in non-Arab countries, are not only mistaken as Muslims but are asked, in all sincerity, when it was that we or our families converted.
2. We aren’t converts. In fact, you are
That question - “When did you convert?” - is a running joke among our community, just so you know.
We have generated lots of answers to this question, including “around 33AD” and “you’re the one who, in fact, converted”.
In reality, some of us hail from the same holy cities that are talked about in churches and Sunday schools across the Western world: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and more.
So the next time you watch a white Mary and Joseph get turned away from an inn and end up in a stable (it was actually a cave), remember that Palestinians lived (and continue to live) there.
Christian pilgrims pray at the Church of the Nativity, the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, in the West Bank holy city of Bethlehem (AFP)
3. We keep Christian traditions alive
Europe started to adopt Christianity while it was part of the Roman Empire, in the 4th century AD. Before that, it was kept alive by Christians in Palestine and the wider Levant region, where ancient traditions still thrive today. One of the most beautiful is the Easter tradition, when thousands of devotees flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church carries out a flame from the crypt - the space where Christians believe Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. Bells ring out, announcing that Christ is risen, and that flame, the Holy Fire, is used to light other candles, which are then dispersed to Christian villages and towns.
The whole town awaits, with their own candles, and then cheers when the person entrusted with protecting the flame rides in on a horse (or in recent years, in a car). They flock to the flame to light their own candles.
This is a beautiful, heartwarming custom, which symbolises unity.
4. Your pilgrimages tend to ignore our existence
We often hear you describe your Christian pilgrimages to the holy land, and we see your Facebook posts about visiting different “holy sites in Israel”.
Were you even made aware, during your once-in-a-lifetime trip, that your fellow Christians are restricted from visiting many of those very sites? For example, Israel banned Christians in Gaza from going to Bethlehem for Christmas in 2019.
5. We worship Allah too
You’ll hear us say “inshallah” all the time. It means “God willing” and it is also a polite way to say: “Maybe I’ll come to your party, but don’t count on it.”
Let us once again explain that in Arabic "Allah" means "God".
Palestinian Christians use these words and expressions because… Arabic is our language.
Our greeting is “assalamu alaykum”. We call celebrations such as Christmas, Easter and even birthdays “Eid”.
Yes, Muslims around the world know these expressions because they appear in Islamic texts and Arabic is also the language of Islam.
It’s worth noting that the great Palestinian scholar Edward Said once described himself as a Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture.
The occupied West Bank is home to Bethlehem, the ancient Palestinian town where Jesus was born (AFP)
6. Like Muslims, we also experience Islamophobia
Hollywood loves to tell our stories but rarely in a favourable way. You do not have to look far for TV shows and movies that stereotype Arabs and Muslims as aggressive, barbaric men and submissive and oppressed, yet dangerous, women.
These stereotypes are linked to anti-Arab racism, which affects all Arabs, irrespective of their faith.
Many of you, as viewers, feel no discomfort around images of a white Jesus from Bethlehem, but the presence of a Palestinian man from Bethlehem today can be a source of fear and hatred - and that bothers us.
7. Stop using us to rationalise Zionism and Orientalism
Being a Palestinian Christian in the diaspora is especially difficult because we cannot go and visit our homeland easily.
We grow up learning how to counter people who try to use our existence to rationalise Zionism or ideas rooted in Orientalist thought.
For instance, we have to put up with the Zionist and Orientalist mantra that the State of Israel is the only democracy in the region and that it is protecting us from Muslim Palestinians.
We like the way you celebrate the holiday season. We see you. See us as well, and listen to our stories
Zionists also put forward the claim that the dwindling number of Christians in Palestine is due to Muslim oppression.
Palestinian Christians do indeed suffer; we were dispossessed from our homes in 1948, a colonial entity built an apartheid wall on our land and bombs are dropped on our cities and towns.
However, the culprits here are not Palestinian Muslims but the Israeli government.
Lest you think we dislike your Christmas decor, we should let you know that Christmas trees stand tall, right at this moment, in Palestinian towns such as Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Palestinian grandfathers are getting ready to dress up in red suits, red hats and fake white beards to take pictures with children in their neighbourhoods.
Palestinian children are practising songs with their choirs for the Christmas day mass.
We like the way you celebrate the holiday season. We see you. See us as well, and listen to our stories.
Also, you’re welcome for Christmas.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition. Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
Sami Abu Shehadeh
NOTE: Imam Michael Saahir is a board member of UM,
and his article was published in the Indianapolis Recorder.
Israel and Hamas
– Innocent blood on guilty hands
By IMAM MICHAEL SAAHIR
November 09, 2023
O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice (bil-qis`ṭi), as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do. (Yusuf Ali translation)
On October 5th I had a friendly lunch with a very popular and highly respected Indianapolis Rabbi. Over the years he and I have met occasionally to keep in contact as friends and faith leaders. Within 48 hours of this cordial interfaith lunch, all hell broke loose. Reports of an attack by Hamas – an acronym for “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya” (Islamic Resistance Movement) – had taken place upon innocent Jewish citizens who were celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a major festival in Judaism.
It must be emphatically stated that according to the Qur’an and the life example of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, attacks upon innocent civilians is totally un-Islamic. Hamas, the charged aggressor, is totally wrong for committing the October 7th attacks. As Muslims we should be outspoken against anyone attacking unarmed civilians. There can be no ambiguity from Muslims in our public denunciation of such violations against any human lives. Allah has made it quite clear that we are to tell the whole truth even if bearing witness against our own selves, our parents or against the rich or the poor. Hamas has innocent Jewish blood on their guilty hands!
As my soul wrestled with the unfolding news of the attacks upon Israeli citizens, I sent a text to a total of four Indianapolis Rabbis. An excerpt reads, “…The protected sovereignty of Israel must be maintained. However, and I’m sure you can agree, before my mind can come to grips with the current pains of Israel my mind is flooded with the many, many decades of unjust suffering endured by Palestinians at the hands of Israel…” Israel too has innocent Palestinian blood their guilty hands!
The Qur’an is very clear, 5:8 “…let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice…” No Muslim can excuse their unjust mistreatment to others simply because they previously suffered injustice. According to this Qur’an injunction Muslims cannot say Hamas was justified in killing the innocent. So, where are the balanced sober-minded thinkers with the courage to confront and address gross injustices?
Too often, on both sides, we only hear divisive, one-sided rhetoric being broadcasted by bias news sources that radiates half-truths around the world; therefore, creating camps of “either you’re with us or against us.” To the dismay of many our president, Joe Biden, (an avowed “Christian Zionist”) unnecessarily exacerbated the tension by initially only acknowledging Israel’s pain while saying nothing about the loss of innocent Palestinian babies and the elderly by the hands of Israel. It was only after protest in support of Palestinians that President Biden finally – and seemingly with reluctance – began to acknowledge the loss of innocent Palestinians. Even most American media outlets seemed to stress less importance on Palestinian lives, comparative to Jewish lives. We need sober-minded, unbiased leaders who have the moral courage to address these grave injustices upon the innocent.
We can find no Islamic support for the atrocities committed upon the innocent Jewish community. Is there any Jewish religious support for the atrocities committed by Jews against the Palestinians? Since the 1948 creation of the State of Israel even the difficult Jewish law of an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” in Leviticus 24:20, is ignored by some Jews when they seek vengeance, thus resulting in innocent blood of Palestinians on their guilty hands.
Can Hamas use the Qur’an to defend the evil actions of October 7, 2023? NO! Can Israelis use the Torah to defend the seventy-five years of abusing and killing Palestinians? No! For centuries errant Christians intentionally misinterpreted the Bible to justify their killing and mistreatment of Native Americans and the evil enslavement Africans, not to mention the suppression of women rights. But none of these evils against humanity can be justified if we follow the best of our respective books of revelation. People of faith must lead the way by remaining true to the disciplines of revealed scripture even if our respective scriptures describe us as the guilty party.
Until the good people in all of our respective faith traditions have the courage to stand up tall and speak out loudly against the evils that their own people are committing– directly or indirectly – then we will continue to have innocent blood on our guilty hands.
Despite the imbalance of casualties, the Qur’an and the Old Testament Bible explicitly declares that every human life is special; The Qur’an says, “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
The killing of the innocent rages on daily as close to 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, often by indiscriminating Jewish bombing of Gaza. This is a terrible sin against humanity as was the killing of 1,400 innocent Jewish souls on October. Both sides have innocent blood on their guilty hands.
IMAM MICHAEL SAAHIR
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