Under the guise of intercultural dialogue, Dar Assalam proselytizes in heart of Israel
On a particularly muggy midsummer’s evening, dozens of men and women slowly filter into the courtyard of an old mosque in the central Israeli city of Jaffa. On this night, however, it is not only Muslims who are filing in, but several Jews as well.
A handful of Jewish men and women have come for a special event taking place that evening. Though promoted on a Facebook group as Jaffa’s first-ever “meeting to get acquainted with Islam in the Hebrew language,” and as a rare opportunity to promote “interfaith and intercultural dialogue,” the vast majority of attendees are visibly Muslim. Most of the women wear hijabs and one sits in a full-length black niqab—a rare sight on the outskirts of secular Tel Aviv.
Flags hanging in the courtyard are inscribed with the Shahadah, which declares in Arabic the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet. The pledge is recited in front of witnesses by those converting to Islam.
To the uninformed, the event appeared innocent; however, it was organized by Dar Assalam For Introducing Islam, a center based in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Kafr Kara that targets Jews and other Westerners in the Holy Land for conversion. What makes Dar Assalam particularly unique, however, is that much of its missionary activities specifically target Jewish-Hebrew speakers, under an initiative titled “Islam4Jews.”
Founded in 2013, Dar Assalam describes itself as an advocacy group that “prints and distributes the Koran in all languages and hosts new Muslims by providing them with housing, food and instruction on Islam.” The center also dispatches representatives across Israel to speak to Jewish Israelis and tourists on the street in a bid to teach them about Islam, handing out Korans and other religious materials. The group’s Facebook page features numerous videos of people from all over the world standing outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and reciting the Shahadah, the only formal step necessary to becoming a Muslim.
Near the front of the courtyard were stacks of books on Islam for non-Arabic speakers: “Welcome to Da’wah Center Jaffa. Get your English version of the Koran for free,” one pamphlet proclaimed.
In Arabic, the word ‘Da’wah’ means to preach the Islamic religion.
“I’m happy because I found Islam,” a religious woman named Amar professed as people were still filing into the mosque. She explained that not only does she speak Hebrew, but also knows Russian as her family immigrated to Israel in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Though her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, Amar chose to convert to Islam after meeting a devout Muslim who is now her husband.
“We want you [Jewish Israelis] to hear about Islam from us—from Muslims themselves,” asserted Sheikh Ramsay as he formally started the event. “We don’t want you to hear about Muslims from other people. We hope that there will be several meetings in the near future.”
Sheikh Ramsay then introduced his colleague, Sheikh Khader, who stepped up to the podium clad in a white robe. For most of the two-hour-long proceeding, he recited verses from the Koran in Arabic and translated them into Hebrew, before providing lengthy interpretations.
“The word ‘Islam’ mainly means devotion,” Khader explained. “Islam requires submission to Allah.”
Though promoted as an intercultural dialogue, it was soon clear that Dar Assalam was, by contrast, offering unwitting Hebrew speakers an introduction to Islam.
“In addition to learning Sharia, I also studied at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center where I learned about biology and embryology,” he continued, as a picture of a human embryo was projected onto the wall. “Embryology demonstrates the level of accuracy with which the Koran describes man’s creation so that we would not doubt Allah’s word.
“About 1,400 years ago there was no ultrasound technology, but Allah describes exactly what an embryo looks like in the uterus. Allah knew people would read the Koran and would need proof of its truth.”
Suddenly, a nearby muezzin sounded the call to prayer and the lecture was interrupted so that all the Muslims in the courtyard could enter the mosque for evening prayers.
When everyone returned for the remainder of the meeting, Khader attempted to prove the veracity of Islamic scripture using scientific principles, alleging that such know-how was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad centuries before modern researchers discovered it. He connected Koranic verses to the Laws of Thermodynamics and claimed other passages disprove Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, of which he said, “I cannot personally accept that man came from monkeys.”
Following the lengthy lecture, Sheikhs Khader and Ramsay opened the floor to questions. One Muslim woman stood up and contended that Islam should have been introduced as a religion of peace, and that the two leaders might have denounced extremism so that non-Muslims would stop associating the religion with violence.
“We are private people; we’re not part of an organization,” Ramsay retorted, even though the event was planned by Dar Assalam. “But in Syria, the people being murdered are Muslims, as is the case in many other countries. The point is, if there are Muslims doing bad things like killing, Islam does not justify it and nor do we. Islam is a huge system of things and we are not perfect. We have a lot of issues, but we want people to understand us.”
At the event’s conclusion, free copies of the Koran and other Islamic texts written in Hebrew were distributed to Jewish attendees, including one titled, “The Path to Happiness.” The booklet includes basic explanations of how to practice Islam, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to pray and dress modestly. There is even a section on relations between Muslims and Jews.
“The Koran demonstrates that the Jews received instruction [and the Torah] from Allah,” a passage in the pamphlet reads, before providing historic examples of Islamic rulers’ tolerance of Jewish subjects throughout the centuries.
“The Holy Koran mentions Jews in several instances, and for this reason Islam also includes the prophets of the Jewish people, like Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David and Solomon; may peace be upon them,” the booklet reads. “The Holy Koran was not only a gift Allah gave to Muslims, but also a gift for the whole world. Because of this, already in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Muslims welcomed Jews as brothers and business partners.”
Co-existence or Conversion?
On the Facebook post for the event, an Israeli commented that Dar Assalam would likely be accused of trying to convert Jews. Notably, one of the organizers responded defensively: “We are absolutely not trying to Islamize Jews!!!!!! This initiative will show what true Islam is. Those who are afraid should not come and should not stop others from understanding the person in front of him. Every religion is respected and no one is trying to convert anyone else.”
Dar Assalam’s website, however, is titled, “Islam4Jews,” and openly expresses its missionary activities, with a slogan at the top of the page reading, “Changing the world through Da’wah.”
“Living in the State of Israel next to Muslim Arabs does not allow for one to live in complete isolation from other religions,” a statement on the site reads. “There is an understandable need for co-existence and security, which has increased daily contact [between Muslims and non-Muslims] in educational institutions, commercial centers, workplaces and places of leisure.
“But while co-existence is a welcome goal, we are also witnessing a phenomenon that comes as a result of it: conversion to Islam.”
Just below the missive, the center lists a number of Israeli Jews who recently converted to Islam. Videos purporting to show the conversions of Jews from Jaffa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, among other places outside of Israel, can be viewed throughout the website.
“One of the Jewish women who converted to Islam changed her name to Aisha,” the website explains underneath one such video. “After six months of intensive study with the Dar Assalam center, she went on to convert at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
It is unclear exactly how successful Dar Assalam’s missionary activities have been, with Israeli government figures showing that, on average, roughly 100 Jewish Israelis convert to Islam each year.
In 2014, 81 Jews made official requests to the Justice Ministry to convert to Islam.
The Dar Assalam website and the organization’s religious paraphernalia repeatedly note that this process is “very simple.”
The event in Jaffa was but the first of many such religious sessions by Dar Assalam targeting Jews for conversion. The second session took place earlier this month in the tiny Arab village of Kfar Bara in central Israel, while the most recent meeting was held in the central Israeli city of Ramle.
The location of the next meeting has yet to be announced.