Sunday, September 02, 2007

Praying to Allah in Bethlehem

On Friday night, 31 August, I had the honour of joining around 100 persons of all ethnic and religious backgrounds witnessing the signing of a sister-city agreement between the Cities of Bethlehem and Marrickville.

Attendees included prominent politicians (including both State and Federal Members for the local seat), clergy of all denominations, journalists, academics and other invited guests. Among the people I spoke to was Father Amjad Sabbara, the Catholic parish priest of Bethlehem.

I don’t want to give away too much as my interview with him is (hopefully) going to be podcasted on the website. One thing I couldn’t help asking him was the name used by people in his church (the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christ was born) when addressing God in prayers, hymns and liturgy. Here was his response ...

We address God as Allah. For us, of course, Allah is Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

So there you have it. The descendants of Christ’s extended family and neighbours in Christ’s home town address God as “Allah”.

Father Amjad also tells me he will be leaving Bethlehem soon to take up a position at a church in Nazareth. No prizes for guessing what name they use to address God there.

The Church of the Nativity was under Israeli siege in 2002 (as shown in the photo). Numerous Palestinians (including the church bellringer) were killed in the siege at one of Christianity's holiest sites.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Babak said...

Interesting .. let us know when the interview is published

be blessed

LDU said...

There is this sense of denial amongst many non Arab Christians and many Jews that they wont come to terms with the fact that the Islamic and Christian God is the same one God. The term Allah is the Arabic term for God. There is nothing complex about it.

It's funny how right wing Christians give out all this bullshit such as 'Fuck Allah' and 'Allah is a pedo' and other nasty curses not realising they're cursing the God they themselves believe in.

I know Arab Christians who wear 'Allah' pendants in Arabic calligraphy around their necks, something which I had always associated with Muslims.

Blogger said...

You forgot to mention that the Church of the Nativity was placed 'under seige' after wanted Muslim terrorists entered the church and took various Christian workers there hostage. How many violations of international laws this makes up I have no idea...

Irfan Yusuf said...

Blogger, this isn't what the Catholic parish priest of Bethlehem told me. He was in the church during the entire seige. Were you there? Should I believe him? or should i believe someone who has just read a few AIPAC and AIJAC pamphlets?

Blogger said...

I'd LOVE to know what the parish priest told you. Does he deny that the Muslim fighters were in the church? Does he deny they desecrated Bibles? And so on. Far from reading AIPAC pamphlets, I've read interviews with hostages from that particular episode.

Why on earth would Israel beseige a church with no good reason? To gain points with the Muslim world?!

I'd suggest your parish priest is rightly scared of the ongoing militant Muslim presence in Bethlehem. Crimes against the Christian community there continue, and the church leadership does nothing, because of favours it gets from the PA leadership and fear of violence should they speak out. Basically the only Christians to speak out about the anti-Christian violence in and around Bethlehem have been foreign Christian workers who have no family that might be killed once they do so.

The Vatican, knowing that some of its holy sites will one day be under full Palestinian control, doesn't speak up, because it saw what happenedd to Joseph's tomb in Nablus. What the Church is doing (or, rather, not doing) in Bethlehem is absolutely shameful.

Anonymous said...

Blogger, you say you read hostage interviews. What did they say? Who were the hostages?

And which foreign Christian workers have spoken out? Are they in Bethlehem? or are they just hiding in your imagination?

What else do the voices in your head tell you?

Irfan Yusuf said...

Blogger, I understand some of the alleged terrorists who took over the church were from the PFLP. This is a Marxist organisation with a Christian leader (Dr George Habash).

I understand the PFLP gets much of its inspiration from earlier Zionist terrorist groups like the Stern Gang. Are you claiming that the PFLP and/or the Stern Gang are 'Muslim terrorists'?

Blogger said...

Irfan, in your last comment you effectively denied terrorists had taken over the church ("this isn't what the Catholic parish priest of Bethlehem told me"), and now you're saying there were "alleged terrorists who took over the church." Which is it? Did your Catholic parish priest come to you with his confession?

As for the PFLP sheltering in the church - they may well have been. But since there were over a hundred terrorists (oh, sorry, alleged terrorists) in there, it's safe to say that there were other groups as well. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald cites an al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade terrorist from inside the church. They're not Christian.

Irfan Yusuf said...

blogger/anon, do you know how to read English? Who are the Bethlehemites in the SMH article blaming? Are they blaming the Fatah martyrs brigade? Or are they part of some nasty Palestinian conspiracy that you have just dreamed up?

The article does mention an eyewitness saying some of the AMB people shooting at the church's front doors. But who did more damage to the church?

What sense does it make to leave a mosque in flames and attack a church? Where is the sense? Where is the proportionate response? Or do you think bombarding churches makes good sense?

Or do you suggest Palestinians deserve to have their places of worship treated like this?

This may come as a shock to you. Israel is regarded by the overwhelming number of Palestinians from Bethlehem as being responsible for creating the conditions that lead young men and women to desperation.

There is 70% unemployment in Bethlehem. 70%. Are you saying that the Israelis are completely innocent by-standers in all of this?

Blogger said...

Anonymous, one of the 'voices in my head' is Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who is (or, at least, was in 2005) the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land (a position which, for seven centuries, the Vatican has entrusted with the care of Church property in the 'Holy Land.')

On September 4, 2005, he said in a conversation with the Jerusalem correspondent of Corriere della Sera, "What do you mean by difficulties between Israel and the Vatican? We Christians in the Holy Land have other problems. Almost every day – I repeat, almost every day – our communities are harassed by the Islamic extremists in these regions. And if it's not the members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, there are clashes with the 'rubber wall' of the Palestinian Authority, which does little or nothing to punish those responsible. On occasion, we have even discovered among our attackers the police agents of Mahmoud Abbas or the militants of Fatah, his political party, who are supposed to be defending us."

And so on.

Irfan Yusuf said...

Speaking of Father Pizzaballa:

"Israel wishes to defend itself from terrorist attacks, but the reality of the wall divides the villages from the lands, the children from the schools, the hospital from the sick. All this is difficult to understand."

I guess blogger will only cite Catholic sources when they suit his/her heads-in-the-sand argument.

Blogger said...


Of course Israel isn't a completely innocent bystander! Most of the suicide bombers that have blown themselves up in Jerusalem have entered that city from Bethlehem.

Funny, then, that Israel enforces such strident security measures for Palestinians in that city wanting to enter Jerusalem! Is Israel to be blamed for doing all it can to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from blowing themselves up in Israel?

Yeah, for ages Jerusalem has been the centre of an economic hub for cities such as Bethany and Bethlehem, and it sucks that reality has changed. But guess what? Reality has changed. The path to a peace agreement (or even, less people dying on both sides) is for Palestinians to become economically independent.

For as long as Palestinians rely, for a large part of their collective income, on jobs inside Israel, there will be no chance for peace. Why? Because there will always be terrorists who want to derail any chance for peace. And whenever Israel is worried about security, it will close its borders. And whenever Israel closes its borders, innocent Palestinians don't get to work, can't take wages home, and grudges build.

I might add that even if Israel removes every settlement, withdraws to the June 5, 1967 lines and grovels an apology about the refugees, there will still be some Palestinians that want to destroy Israel. As such, even if Israel complies with every Palestinian demand and doesn't gain a single Palestinian concession in return, Israel will still be faced with a terrorist threat. As such, Palestinians will still be locked out of Israel when intelligence reveals that such a terrorist threat materialises. We can whinge about reality all we like, but if we're pragmatic, we have to acknowledge it.

If and when the PA is economically viable (how about when Jordan is pressured into allowing Palestinian produce from entering that country?!), then normal Palestinians won't be hurt when Israel closes the borders. That is the only way to peace.

If the various powers - including the EU and the rich Arab countries - actually wanted peace, they would put in a plan to create Palestinian industries run by Palestinians in the PA. Foreign aid would fund these industries until they became economically viable. The raw material for these industries would be imported through Jordan.

That way, Israel is taken out of the equation and, that way, Palestinian livelihoods aren't dependent on Israel reacting to Palestinian terrorists wanting to kill Israelis. (Of course, Hamas and the rest of them would be attacking the new Palestinian industries, describing them as a Zionist-Crusader plot designed to lift Palestinians out of their misery - oops, designed to make Palestinian subjugated, or whatever term they'd like to use.)

When the Palestinians reach economic independence, they'll find that actual independence follows shortly thereafter.

Blogger said...

I've got no problem with that quote, and would happily quote it should it have been relevant to my argument. I was discussing how Muslims in the Palestinian Authority are oppressing Christians. How does the security fence relate to that?

qweaq said...
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