Christian-Moslem Harmony in Jerusalem

By: Issam Mufid Nashashibi

(West Coast director of DNR Associate, a Public Counseling Firm)

How would you like to celebrate Christmas and Easter twice each year? Impossible you say? Not really, my family did this when we lived in Jerusalem.

As a child and early teen in Jerusalem, I grew up in a family who celebrated Christmas, Easter,and the two Moslem Holidays, Eid el-Fitr and Eid el-Adha. The family got together on those occasions. We, as children, had the greatest time.

During the Moslem feasts we would get new clothes and go visiting family and friends who in turn would visit us.

When we celebrated Easter at uncle Emil's, colored eggs were my favorites. Choosing and combining the colors with my mother and siblings were the most fun followed by looking for the eggs around the house and garden later. At Christmas, everyone in the family would congregate at uncle Atallah's; parents, uncles, aunts and the children, of course. Waiting for us under the tree when we arrived at uncle Atallah's home were our much anticipated gifts - yellow lined pads, yellow pencils and books.

If you are still wondering how we had it so good, I will explain. Uncles Atallah and Emil are my mother's maternal uncles. That is how we, as a Moslem family, shared in celebrating Christmas and Easter. My grandmother, Farideh Abu-Dayyeh, was a Lutheran, who married another working professional who was a Moslem. The rest, as they say, is history.

I never felt any difference between me and my cousins, the Abu-Dayyehs. We are one family; we shared the good and the bad times then, as we do now. I did not hear of differences between Christians and Moslems, until I left Jerusalem. I know there are no differences. The proof is my formative years in Jerusalem.

An integral part of my Jerusalem life was school. I was one of the many students who went through the rigorous education at Jerusalem's Jesuit-run school. However, eight of us in the class were Moslem. We received a special kind of education on the topic of religion. We were asked to leave the classroom. Rather than feeling bad, we, as children, thought it great to be out of the classroom. We went on walking tours of Jerusalem's old city with the brother responsible for the school bookstore. We visited various churches and mosques. Whenever we came back early from our trip, we would be allowed inside the bookstore to read the books on the shelves. My favorite was reading the various Arabic and English children's stories.

Looking back at it as an adult, I realize now that while most of the class learnt about God in a room, we were learning about geography and God in the open air.

These Jerusalem experiences make it difficult for me to believe anyone who mentions differences between Moslems and Christians. To me, people who talk about these differences do not know what I know. In reality, the differences are imaginary. These alien images were planted by parties who want to keep us apart so they can remain in charge of our destiny.

Think about it. To control the vast empire, Turks favored the Moslem Arabs and antagonized the Christian Arabs. The British and French favored Christians to control the Moslems. In Palestine, Israelis use this divisiveness every day to keep Palestinians apart. For example, Israeli army officers used to stop buses and ask the passengers to state their religion. Moslems were ordered off the bus and the Christians were allowed to complete the bus trip to Jerusalem. This divisive tactic came to an end one day, when an elderly passenger refused to state his religion. "I am a Palestinian" he responded and remained seated. Much to the officer's surprise, everyone gave the same answer and the bus left with everyone on board. That passenger was my great uncle, the late Issa Bayouk, a church elder and the volunteer organist at Ramallah's Lutheran Church of Hope. You see, I know that Christian-Moslem differences are imaginary. Reality is contrary.