My relationship with Jesus, as a Muslim

The sign in front of The Grove Presbyterian church in Charlotte, NC, read “We love our Muslim Neighbors”.

Sign in front of The Grove Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC

I was so touched by Pastor Kate Murphy and her congregation that I contacted them to see if the Muslim community could show our appreciation by sponsoring one of their monthly community dinners. The next dinner ended up being on Maundy Thursday, a time when the church has a special service/dinner in memory of The Last Supper.

The Charlotte Observer told the story on how we got together.

The thing that really grabbed my attention was that for their Maundy Thursday meal the church serves things from the region where Jesus lived. Since my father and husband are from Palestine, it was a perfect fit that I coordinate the food for the dinner.

Pastor Kate let me know that they typically have things from the region like, honey, figs, olives, hummus, etc. I wanted to provide them with authentic foods from the region. Coincidentally I was going to be in Amman, Jordan visiting my daughter the week before the dinner. Being that my brother in law is a bee keeper in Palestine, I made arrangements to get honey from Palestine to use at the church dinner.

Some food from Palestine: Top left – spice mix used for chicken. Plate – dried figs, sesame and and honey sweets, olive oil (from my husband’s family olive trees) and zatar, an herbal mix used to dip bread into. Top right, honey from my brother in law’s bee hives in Palestine.

The evening was really special, something I know God would be pleased with.

The Muslim community, representing Muslims from around the world, was eager to cook and serve food for the church in appreciation of their loving sign

The Maundy Thursday dinner at The Grove Church

Lina Sanjak getting her feet washed by a member of the church

While contemplating the things that Jesus might have eaten during his lifetime, I felt a kinship with him because he is from the same place my father is from. My first connection with Jesus was in my childhood, while growing up in the Catholic Church. Although I left the church when I was 12 (for a variety of reasons), I never felt that I left Jesus or God. I had a strong belief in God, but I’d developed a mistrust of organized religion. It seemed to me that religion was being used by those in power to pit people against each other.

I went to Palestine for the first time when I was 13, in 1973. I felt such a connection to the land of my father (his town, El Bireh, is near Jerusalem) and to Jesus. I remember walking around Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Galilee, imagining Jesus walking on that land. I was really annoyed by how cavalier the tourists were, they didn’t seem to relish the land they were standing on and the significance of its history.

My husband has a lot of family in Palestine (the West Bank), and I have been blessed to be able to visit there frequently. When my daughter and I visited Jerusalem last year we stopped by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where the tomb of Jesus is located.

There is a impressive story of what happened when when Omar Ibn Al Khattab, the second caliph after Prophet Muhammad, accepted the surrender of Jerusalem from the Byzantines, in 638CE. He was invited to pray in the church, he refused because he didn’t want to set a precedence that would turn the church into a mosque. Instead he prayed outside and eventually there was a small mosque built on that spot known as the Mosque of Omar.

The Mosque of Omar adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem

Omar’s actions were in keeping with the covenant Prophet Muhammad made to the Monks at Mt Sinai guaranteeing the protection of Christians and churches while under Islamic rule.

Muslims and Christians have very different beliefs about Jesus. Although Muslims don’t believe he is the son of God or God in the flesh, we believe in the virgin birth and that Jesus will return again. He is a revered prophet who was sent by God with revelation. The Quran says:

“The Messenger believes in what his Lord revealed, as do the faithful. Each of them believes in God, His angels, His Books, and His Messengers, saying, “We don’t consider one of His messengers as being better than another.” Quran 2:285

With that in mind, I, as a Muslim, and as a Palestinian feel a special bond with Jesus.

Originally published in the Huffington Post April 20, 2017