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Just as I leave the courtyard in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, walking through a small gate, there are two Muslim men waiting. One of them is wearing a white jalabiya, the long and wide-cut gown, and the type of beard brought into disrepute by Salafists. The other one is clothed casually, but also with beard and prayer cap.
They approach me in a friendly way. Of course I know what their end-goal is, but for curiosity’s sake, I play along. “Do you hear this sound?”, he asks, pointing upward with the finger. And, before I can even reply: “This is the call of God. God is calling for you, my brother, to follow him.” I point out that it’s probably the muezzin or maybe a recorded tape that is filling the Old City with its charming chants.
He laughs, extends his hand and introduces himself as Musa, the Arabic name for Moses and not dissimilar to my own name. I better keep this to myself, because I don’t want them to consider me a prophet. In the end, they might even ask me to deliver the sermon this Friday.
What follows is a back and forth of religious and atheist arguments and questions. I have gone through this with the Jehovah’s Witnesses a dozen times. It’s no longer intellectually challenging. These conversation all run so similar that I am getting the suspicion that both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Muslim Brothers have taken the same correspondence course in converting non-believers. They should both ask for their money back.
Musa’s sidekick hands me a small box of tasty strawberries, which he just bought at the nearby market, visibly excited that a bearded brother is sticking around for a longer discussion. But after ten minutes – the muezzin is still singing -, they are becoming restless. They hand me an English translation of the Quran, apologize for their hasty departure – “It’s the call for prayer.” – and then run off towards the Temple Mount.
They also gave me a business card, which asks “What is the religion of Jesus?” on one side and “?מהי דת הנביא משה” (“What is the religion of the prophet Moses?”) on the other. For me, this symbolizes the allure of Jerusalem: two Muslims waiting in front of Christianity’s holiest church in the capital of the Jewish State, trying to convert Christians and Jews to Islam. In the evening, at the appropriately named Abraham Hostel, I discover several identical copies of the Quran in the bookshelf as I place mine there.
The next morning at breakfast, Jessy from Tennessee wants to convert me to Christianity, claiming that chariots of Moses had been found in the Red Sea, which was proof of the parting of the sea. He apologizes to me and to God each time a “damn”, “bloody” or even “fuck” comes across his lips, which happens quite often. I don’t really mind, I am bothered much more by the Bible quotes.
After a few days in Jerusalem, all those religious nutters are becoming too much for me. I take my backpack and jump on the bus north, where I want to go hiking for a few days. From Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. The hiking trail is called Jesus Trail. In Israel, it’s hard to escape religion altogether.
- More encounters with religion.
- More stories from Israel.
- And if enough readers seriously request it, then I will finally write the article about the four days of hiking the Jesus Trail. Actually, that will probably be a series of four articles.
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I have experienced that first-hand myself. But in India, one community that is rampant in coaxing people a similar way as your experience is ISKCON. These Krishna devotees are often seen in crowded, regular commute places, handing out the Bhagvad Gita, and preaching about Vaishnavism (the practice of following Krishna), trying to convert non-vaishnavs to join the ISKCON cult. It tends to get real annoying when they would ask for a minute of your time, and you oblige because you don’t want to be rude, but what’s supposed to be a quick talk turns out to be long sermons, and finally being forced to either buy the religious epic or sign up for one of their conversion workshops.
I can run out of patience quite quickly, and I don’t even think we are rude if we want to decide how to spend our time. And usually, the book we have with us is more interesting than some religious talk.
But since I began writing, I sometimes pause and think “maybe there is a story in it”, and I challenge myself to remember as much as possible after the conversation to quickly jot it down while still on the train. But even that gets boring if they always say the same.
I guess the next level for us bloggers/writers would be to feign interest and join them to the shrine/palace/synagogue/church/temple/mosque/basement/spaceship and report from the inside.
“In Israel it’s hard to escape religion altogether.” Dude, it’s impossible.
Except for Tel Aviv of course.
I was hoping for some secular kibbutz.
One of the old-school, socialist ones.
I’d love to visit Jerusalem for the history. Even religious HISTORY would be interesting. No thanks to the conversion conversations. They are all the same. Different religions, same spiel…yawn!
As a long-time reader, you probably know that I am a die-hard atheist, but I have to say, Jerusalem is really the most fascinating city I know. There, I don’t even mind all the religion because I cannot imagine the city without it.
I haven’t written an article specifically about Jerusalem because I never stayed there long enough, so I don’t yet feel that I have a great understanding of it.
But here is an article about a road trip around much of Israel: https://andreasmoser.blog/2013/04/25/a-road-trip-around-israel/
And one day, I have to translate this article about the Austrian Hospice in the Old City: https://andreas-moser.blog/2017/04/05/das-oesterreichische-hospiz-in-jerusalem/
There is a lot of history in that article.
It’s weird, but I’ve been in Israel three times, and not once anyone ever try to convert me – but maybe it was because I almost always was with a bunch of people, and almost never alone.
That could be it.
Or you already look like a prophet yourself.
Maybe look like the kind of prophet that only brings bad news.
Just wanted to point out that when when two Muslims went for prayer, they have gone to Al-Aqsa Mosque and not Temple Mount
Please consider reading this:
I guess they went to one of the mosques there, but these are on Temple Mount (Haram Esh-Sharif), aren’t they?
For Muslims, “Haram Esh-Sherif” is called on only two places: Haram Mosque in Mecca and Madani Mosque in Madina (both located in Saudi Arabia)
“Al-Aqsa Mosque” is the one in Jerusalem and is the third holiest place, and Zionists call it “Temple Mount”, even though there was never a temple at any time in that place
Now you’re making a fool of yourself.