An Arab Christian Perspective
Abdu Murray is not only an Arab for Jesus; he is a former Muslim for Jesus. Aaron Abramson interviewed this brother to see how he deals with tensions and struggles similar to the ones we face over loyalty, conflicts, and maintaining a godly perspective concerning the Middle East.
Aaron: Tell us a little bit about your own upbringing and how you came to faith.
Abdu: I was born into a very devout Shiite Muslim family. My father was from southern Lebanon. My mother is Polish and was originally Roman Catholic, but converted to Islam when she met my dad. She is a very devout Muslim. We were raised in Lebanese culture, so I have had virtually no Polish cultural influence.
My parents encouraged my brothers and me to be very serious about our faith, and I was. I read through the Koran numerous times, and by the time I was 18, people would come to me with questions about Islamic history, doctrine and theology. I took every opportunity to preach Islam to non-Muslims, whether Jews, Christians, atheists or Buddhists.
The strongest opposition that I faced in my attempts to preach Islam came from Christians. I began to read the Bible and study Christianity for the purpose of finding a weakness to use against them. Consequently, I came across a passage in Luke 3, where John the Baptist wrote, Do not to say to yourself that you have Abraham as your father. For God is able to rise up sons for Abraham from the stones.” This struck me very powerfully. Even though he was talking to the Jewish leaders of his day about their sense of ethnic pride, I recognized that same pride in myself. This challenged me.
I began to study the evidences for all worldviews, but mostly Christianity. I realized that the Resurrection of Jesus is the one issue which, if false, proves Christianity false and, if true, proves Christianity true and Islam false. I took it upon myself to study this issue. When I was convinced that the Resurrection truly happened and was historically verifiable, I began to see Jesus as my Savior and Messiah. This whole process took about nine years, and I was 27 when I came to faith in Jesus. It was the emotional issues that took the nine years, not the intellectual.
One of those emotional issues was my parents’ reaction. I told them on a Friday night at 7:30pm. We didn’t get done with the screaming and the yelling and the crying until 9:30am Saturday morning. That 14-hour discussion stretched into a year. It was extremely draining and difficult every single day.
We tried to make our discussions intellectual and theological; we tried to reason our way around certain issues, but the words “betrayal” and “traitor” came up frequently. At times I felt that way about myself; my religious identity had been synonymous with my ethnic identity. Being Lebanese was a subset of being a Shiite Muslim. Being a Muslim overarched everything else—you were a Muslim doctor, a Muslim Lebanese…Muslim came first.
Aaron: In what way do you feel your Lebanese background shaped your view and feelings regarding the recent conflict in Lebanon?
Abdu: The first thing that came to my mind was my own internal conflict. I saw the situation with mixed feelings of sadness and anger—and I was worried. The widespread destruction in Lebanon naturally pulled on my heartstrings. I made a conscious decision to seek out Lebanese people, both Christians and Muslims. Many were critical of both Israel and Hezbollah. On the other hand, many in my family were completely pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israel. They see this in black and white. I have Jewish friends who also see this in black and white. And I see a whole lot of gray.
Aaron: What would your response have been prior to your faith?
Abdu: Before, I would have been less conflicted. That may sound strange, because I know I’m supposed to say that now that I have found Jesus I have a clear stance on these issues. That isn’t necessarily true. The conflicts quickly polarize people into an “us versus them” on national, ethic or religious grounds. As a Muslim, I reacted to these issues in a knee jerk fashion. I automatically condemned Israel for its actions and positions. I automatically supported Hezbollah. There was no conflict within me because my identity required very little critical thinking on these issues. Now I find myself having to weigh events and issues with more responsibility. My allegiances now are to God, truth and justice—not to my heritage alone. Yet when people become believers in Jesus, their sense of ethnic pride or national heritage does not just fall away.
The perspective of believers shouldn’t be to focus only on if, or how, events in the news affect them directly. I don’t think our faith warrants that. I think that the perspective should be global. Arabs and Jews in our very own backyard [in the U.S.] are affected by this, as well as those overseas.
My family certainly has been affected by it, and it seemed to me that they thought or talked about it all the time.
Aaron: Did they expect you to have a different perspective from them, or have some type of insight that they could interact with?
Abdu: They were apprehensive. They suspected that I would react with a certain theological bent that would be all about God’s plans for Israel, without regard for anyone else in the region. I think they worried that if I talked like that, it would create a rift a million miles wide between them and me.
Aaron: What was the most difficult aspect for you to deal with during the most recent crisis in Lebanon? Did it provide any witnessing opportunities?
Abdu: Emotionally, the most difficult aspect was relating to my family, dealing with the real questions they had about the issues of justice and fairness and love. I couldn’t give off-hand, formulaic answers. The Jews I talked to felt the same things as my family did, but from a different perspective. They felt sorrowful, the need for justice and the lack of love. This is not a one-sided issue. We have all suffered throughout this entire conflict.
Like many Arabs as well as Jews, my family determines their attitudes toward Christian beliefs based on how they see Christians responding to these conflicts. I surprised my family by using the topic as an opportunity to describe what both Israelis and Lebanese Muslims are missing. They are missing the Messiah. That was an opportunity to discuss biblical truths rather than political situations.
But it is very difficult to stick to a biblical agenda. I recall a conversation where we weren’t even talking about the Palestinian/Israeli or Lebanese/Israeli conflict. We were discussing theological issues. Yet in the middle of the conversation a family member asked me, completely out of the blue, “Do you believe that everything Israel does is okay? Is that what you’re telling me?” I wondered, “Where did that come from?” But it taught me something. This question underlies every discussion about Jesus, Islam, Judaism and ethnic issues.
This is not limited to my family. I gave a lecture years ago on the meaning of truth and how we can know it. I went into the historical reasons for why we can believe in the Resurrection. The audience was a mix of believers and non-believers, and among them was a Palestinian man. We talked afterwards and we wrestled with some deep theological questions. And suddenly he asked, “Do you believe everything Israel does is okay?”
I wanted to stay on the topic of the Resurrection. I said, “That is an important and interesting question. Let me ask you this question in return. If Jesus really did rise from the dead and you can put your faith in Him, won’t He be able to answer your question in a way that is ultimately satisfying? If there is a God, and this God is who Jesus said He was, and if Jesus also is who He said he was, isn’t His answer concerning every question satisfactory to you?” He agreed, and we had a good conversation.
Jesus resisted attempts to drag Him into political issues. I’m not saying that political issues shouldn’t be discussed; they should be. But Jesus had His reasons for avoiding a spiritually unbalanced focus on external versus internal problems.
Jesus teaches us that the fundamental tension in the “us versus them” mentality comes from the failure to realize that all the wickedness does not reside in “them.” There is wickedness among “us” as well. In fact, the Bible teaches that the heart (of both us and them) is truly wicked, and that out of the heart comes murder, slander, etc. When we fail to see that in ourselves, two things happen: one, we elevate ourselves to the level of heroes, or protagonists who deserve to triumph. And two, we demonize or dehumanize the opposition, and they become the ones who deserve to lose. That is not the biblical perspective.
Aaron: You have worked in a profession with a number of Jewish colleagues. Are they ever curious about your opinion and attitudes?
Abdu: Absolutely. I tell them that I once looked at things from the perspective of a purely cultural allegiance, and that sometimes that is good but sometimes it is blinding. I tell them that I had to get past that culturally generated bias. I tell them this is practically impossible until we are able to look at temporal events with sort of eternal eyes. I find myself saying that the only way I was able to do that was when I was able to ask myself if I had considered the credibility of the opposite position. When I did this, it led me away from the political situation toward the spiritual situation. I was not so much wondering, “Have I looked at the Zionist position carefully and honestly, and have I presented the Islamic position carefully and honestly?” Rather, I began to ask myself, “Have I considered whether or not the Christian claim that people are fundamentally lost is true?”
What I have to say to my Jewish colleagues, as a former Muslim, that is unique is that I believe that Muslims are in need of something and Jews are too; there is something that both lack and need. The same is true of Joe Schmoe, the run of the mill Gentile American guy on the street.
Today it is politically correct to look at what we have in common. In all my discussions with Jewish colleagues they want to discuss what Jews and Arabs have in common. They are surprised to hear me say, “That’s the wrong focus. The important thing is not so much what we both have, but rather what we both lack. And that is an understanding of who the Messiah really is. Until we can see who He is, we are not going to understand each other. When we do see who He is, we are able to see each other, not just as enemies, but either as brothers and sisters who know Him, or as people who don’t know Him and are lost.”
When they realize I am a formerly Muslim Christian, they respond with fascination. They know what it would mean for a Jew to embrace Jesus, and they know what happens when a Muslim does. They understand the emotional, social and family consequences of such a decision. They really want to know what led me to Jesus, considering the consequences.
I remember sitting down with a very intelligent man, a leader in the local Jewish community. He was shaken up by our discussion. He said, “I have to go find out why we don’t believe in Jesus; I have to ask one of the rabbis.” I asked him, “Can you do me a favor when you do that? Will you look at this with a critical perspective, not just looking for reasons to enable you to continue just as you are, but actually looking for real answers to who Jesus is?” We’ve had numerous great discussions since then. And it all started off with me telling him that I am a former Muslim.
Aaron: What unique role do you have in relating to people from Israel?
Abdu: I am able to tell Israelis that not all Arabs are anti-Israel. They can take comfort and hope in the fact that there are Arabs who feel their anguish and pain. Some of us truly understand that this is not a one-sided issue. For every injustice worked upon an Arab, there is an injustice worked upon an Israeli. Jesus teaches me that when Israelis lose their sons and their daughters, this is an affront to God. When a Jew loses his life or home or property, it is just as grievous as any other injustice in the world. My Christian faith informs me of that.
Aaron: What message do you have for us as Jewish believers in Jesus?
Abdu: This is probably one of the more important questions we are discussing today. Jewish believers have a unique and probably an unprecedented opportunity to help other Jews—by helping Muslims to understand the gospel. The irony is that when a former Muslim talks to a Muslim about Jesus, we are looked down upon with shame and derision. We are seen as those who are weak and whose motives are questionable. But when a Jewish believer talks to a Muslim and shares his or her story, the Muslim identifies with it in fascination, much as Jewish people are fascinated when I share my story as a former Muslim. A Muslim listening to a Jewish believer in Jesus says to himself, “Here is somebody who had everything to lose by accepting this position, but did it anyway. I wonder why?” They can relate more easily to a Jew who went against traditional beliefs than to an Arab who did the same. They can listen without feeling themselves to be disloyal for hearing a traitor.
By sharing their stories, Jewish believers can have a tremendous impact on opening a Muslim’s eyes to the fact that Jesus’ true identity is worth exploring. Every Muslim who truly seeks the truth and comes to Christ will be one less Muslim who hates Jews, because he will know that Jewish believers are his brothers and sisters, and that Jewish unbelievers need the gospel, just as he once did.
If you would like to know more about Abdu Murray and his ministry, Aletheia International, go to:
Aaron Abramson is the leader of the New York branch of Jews for Jesus. Aaron brings a global experience to us. He was born in the US but grew up in Israel. He has a bachelor of arts degree in Biblical and Intercultural Studies from All Nations Christian College in England. Aaron is currently in a graduate program at New York University. He is married and has three children.