Must be all that Muslim inbreeding, for in an unprecedented endeavor, a few Muslims are crossing the Holy Land’s volatile boundaries of culture, faith and politics to bring Islam to Israel’s Jews — hoping, improbably, that some will be willing to renounce their religion for a new one.
CNS NEWS The bearded men approach Jews in and around the Old City of Jerusalem and try, in polite and fluent Hebrew, to convert them.
“I must tell you about the true faith,” said one missionary in a cobblestone plaza outside Jerusalem’s Old City. He carried a knapsack full of pamphlets about Islam in several languages, including Hebrew. “You can do with it what you want. But telling you is our duty.” Most people, he said, brush him off and keep walking.
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Yitzhak Reiter, a professor at the Jerusalem Center for Israel Studies, said he had not seen anything similar in 30 years of studying local Islam. “This is the first time that someone has tried to convert Jews to Islam in the state of Israel,” he said.
The efforts seem to have attracted no public notice so far. But the missionaries are treading on a potentially explosive taboo. Centuries of persecution and aggressive conversion attempts by Christian and Muslim majorities have made Jews, numbering 13 million people worldwide, deeply hostile to proselytizing. Israeli law places some restrictions on missionary activity, forbidding targeting minors or offering financial incentives, but does not outlaw it altogether.
Most of those Abu Hassan engages ignore him, he said. Many are derisive, some verbally abusive. At one point Israeli intelligence agents questioned him about his funding, he said. He told them it came from donations in mosques.
“People curse me. But I do my job, and this is my job as a Muslim. I must explain gently, and in a nice way, about Allah,” he said. He dodged questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying only that historically the “best times” for Jews came under Islamic rule and suggesting peace would come if Jews accepted Islam.
Israel’s Justice Ministry, which registers converts, could not say how many Jews become Muslims. It said 400 and 500 of Israel’s nearly 8 million people change their faith every year — many of them Christians joining different Christian sects. Reiter, the professor, said his research suggested about 20 converts a year to Islam, almost all women marrying Muslim men.