After finally getting through the checkpoint, both groups rendezvoused at the An-Najah National University (Old Campus) in Nablus. An-Najah is the 2nd largest university in the West Bank, and about 16,000 students attend school there on one of their two campuses. We were met by some of the students and they gave us a tour around the campus, and then we had breakfast there. The campus is beautiful, and because their summer program was beginning this week, the students were there in full-force and many of the campus groups, including student political groups were there with booths ready to recruit students, like any other orientation week of any other university campus I’ve ever been to. The students at An-Najah are primarily Muslim, with a small minority of Christians, but from the students I talked to, all of the students get along very well, including the Muslims and Christians.
After getting a tour of the university and having breakfast, we went on a walk of the Old City of Nablus. On the way there, I had a very interesting conversation with one of the Muslim girls, but I wasn’t sure if she was Muslim at first because she wasn’t wearing the hijab (the head covering). She said that some girls put it on, and then take it off, and then put it back on, but she was going to wait until she was ready to put it on and keep it on. I asked her how she knew when she’d be ready to wear it, and she said she’d just know, she’d feel it and she’d know she was ready.
We continued to talk about Islam & Christianity, some of the similarities and the differences. Talking with her made me realize just how little I actually knew about Islam, particularly their beliefs concerning who Jesus was and what they thought about him. It was a very enlightening conversation. I was talking to someone else in our group about Islam and Christianity a few weeks ago, and their remark was: “It really only takes one trip to the Middle East, and one time meeting Muslim after Muslim and knowing that millions of Muslims take their faith very seriously, to cause one to begin to question the traditional Christian interpretation of the Great Commission, and to begin to wonder about the Christians who believe that anyone without a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ will end up in hell.”
This girl and I talked about Muslims who convert to Christianity – I asked her what happens when they do, and she said, “Well, it just doesn’t happen – they would be killed.” I was telling her about various Christian mission organizations in the West who believe that it is their job to go out and convert as many Muslims as they can to Christianity and she didn’t really know what to say. She said, “But that just doesn’t happen – they don’t convert.” I replied with, “Well, *some* of them must, because these groups must come back with some statistics about the amount of them who converted at a rally or something” and she said, “Yes, but how many of them were being honest do you think?” Anyway, it was very interesting. It really DOES make you question the traditional idea of ‘spreading the Gospel’ to include trying to convert everyone to Christianity. Converting from Islam to Christianity causes so many problems for people in this culture – their families will ostracize them (perhaps they will be killed?), they will possibly be shunned, etc. And one has to ask, “Is all of that to be simply taken as the ‘cost of following Jesus’?” or are we potentially messing with the society and family structure by trying to convert people to Christianity. Just some thoughts I had after our conversation.
In the Old City, we passed by many homes and buildings (one soap factory) that had been bombed by the Israeli troops. It’s kind of a haunting experience to be walking down these incredibly old streets and to think of all those who have walked down them before, including soldiers with M-16s on raids and missions to destroy a factory, home or a person.
After the Old City, we took a trip to the New Askar Refugee Camp, met with some people doing community development work in the camp and met with an elderly man who was a refugee from Haifa. When we got around to asking the so-what-do-you-think-is-going-to-happen question, his response was “peace is nonsense.” He saw no hope for anything good in his lifetime, or in the lifetimes of his children or grandchildren. He said that “it is our destiny to live like this” – there was no hope for him. I asked him, “If peace is nonsense, and even though you said there is no hope, is there *anything* in your life that gives you hope, whether it’s your family, your friends, your religion – anything at all – is there any glimmer of hope in your life right now?” And his response was a simple, “No. There is no hope.”
It’s hard to know what to do with that.