Israel and Middle East

Today I was asked a question which I have been asked a good number of times. So, I thought I would give a simple answer here. A young man wrote and asked: “Can you please tell me whether the descendants of Ismael are Muslims?”

Because I have been asked this question a good number of times I thought I would answer it simply here.

downloadNo. The descendants of Ishmael are the Arabs but not all Arabs are Muslims. In the Middle East from 200-650 AD, most Arabs were Christians, not Muslims. Islam did not get started until the mid-7th century. Mohammad conquered Mecca in 629 and subsequently, the Muslims swept through Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa with their armies and conquered these once Christian lands.

So Arabs are descendants of Ismael (Gen 25:12-18). Mohammed was an Arab. He started a new religion called Islam but not all Arabs followed him. Not all Arabs are Muslims. The largest Muslim nation is Indonesia and they are not Arabs. In fact, the three largest Muslim countries are not Arab.

According to Wikipedia, “Around 62% of the world’s Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region (from Turkey to Indonesia), with over 1 billion adherents. The largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia, a nation home to 12.7% of the world’s Muslims, followed by Pakistan (11.0%), and India (10.9%).

Arab is ethnic, Muslim is a religion. Ishmael is not the father of the Muslims, only of the Arabs.

{ 1 comment }

You may not realize how often plants and trees play a part in Scripture! To understand the land and culture of the Bible is to open your eyes to the whole story of salvation.

Recently I did a fun show on Relevant Radio about the Trees & Plants in the Bible. Hope you enjoy it. Starts at 1:00 minute into the show.

{ 0 comments }

Behind the Headlines: Facts and Figures – Islam in Israel

“The State of Israel…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” –Israel’s Declaration of Independence, 1948 (Statistics from 2017).

Freedom of religion is a core value of the Israeli democracy

•    Israel is home to 1,454,000 Muslim citizens who enjoy full civil liberty and political freedom.

•    Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of the State of Israel.

•    Most Arab citizens of Israel are Muslims, mainly Sunnis. Other branches of Islam in Israel include: Shia, Alawite, Ahmadiyeh, Sufi and Shazaliyeh. Islam is the second biggest religion in Israel after Judaism.

•    Jews account for 75.4 percent of the population, Muslims make up 16.9 percent, Christians 2.10 percent, Druze 1.70 percent and the rest of the population identifies otherwise, including a small Baha’i community.

Religious affiliation in Israel

•    The Muslim population of Israel has increased about ten-fold since the State was established; from some 156,000 in 1949 to over 1,454,000 today.

Muslim Population Growth

•    There are over 400 mosques in Israel, of which some 73 are located in Jerusalem. The number of mosques in Israel has increased about five-fold since 1988, when there were 80 mosques.

•    Approximately 300 imams and muezzins receive their salaries from the Israeli government. Israel provides the Korans used in mosques and funds Arab schools and many Islamic schools and colleges. Such schools teach Islamic studies and Arabic, as well as the Israel Ministry of Education’s general curriculum.

•    In 2015, the Israeli government approved a 10-15 billion NIS budget (about 2.6-4 billion USD) for a five-year plan to develop the Arab sector in Israel.

•    The Muslim community regulates its own unique court system and handles marriage and divorce under Islamic law. Eight regional Islamic law courts and one national appeals court operate in Israel, under the supervision of Israel’s Ministry of Justice.

•    Muslims are highly involved in Israeli academia, with some 26,000 Muslim students enrolled in Israeli academic institutions. In 2014, about 21 percent of the undergraduate students at the prestigious Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa were Arabs, up from 11 percent in 2001. This is roughly the same proportion of Arabs as in Israel’s overall population of 8.3 million.

•    Some Muslims also serve in the Israel Defense Forces; approximately 1,700 Muslims served in 2015, mostly from Bedouin tribes.

•    Most of Israel’s Muslim citizens, some 69 percent, live in the northern part of the country, i.e. the Galilee and Haifa. About 20 percent live in and around Jerusalem and 11 percent of Israel’s Muslims are Bedouins that live mostly in the south of Israel, near Be’er Sheva in the Negev.

•    Each year the Jerusalem municipality decorates the streets of the city in celebration of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and hosts dozens of festivities and events for the public.

•    The municipality also marks the holiday with a traditional ceremony in which a shot is fired from a historical cannon in East Jerusalem each day at sunrise and sunset to mark the beginning and end of the daily fast.

•    Muslim employees can take days off work during Ramadan, and working conditions are tailored to their needs while fasting during the month. The Israel Defense Forces also adjust Muslim soldiers’ training regimes during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan Lights in Jerusalem, 2016

•    The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem contains one of the most impressive archives of Islamic art in the world, while the Islamic Museum on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem boasts 600 copies of the Koran from various periods.

The Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem

•    The umbrella organization Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, or ICCI, has for nearly three decades run programs that foster dialogue, education and mutual understanding among various members of the religious communities in Israel. It is comprised of over 70 Muslim, Christian, and Jewish institutions, including Jewish-Arab coexistence organizations, universities, museums, and various ecumenical organizations.

{ 1 comment }

Israel Independence Day May 9 – Interesting Facts & Population Figures

May 8, 2019

We just arrived in Jerusalem last evening (Wednesday, May 8) and we pick up our sold-out group of excited pilgrims at the airport in Tel Aviv tomorrow which is Israel’s Independence Day. Celebrations have already begun. These are a tough bunch of people and I consider their existence and regaining of their land (Genesis 17) […]

Read the full article →

Interesting Facts About Israel which Will Amaze You

January 3, 2019

We are in Israel today and thought you might like to see this impressive list. I found this list several years ago but it still applies today. Geography: 1. Israel is only 1/6 of 1% of the landmass of the Middle East. 2. Israel is roughly half the size of Lake Michigan. 3. The Sea […]

Read the full article →

Pilgrimage with Steve Ray 100 Years Ago – Imagine with Real Photos

December 28, 2018

Step into a Time Machine and imagine what it would be like going back in time on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Steve and Janet Ray 100 years ago! I have used actual pictures from over a century ago to re-create what it may have been like. I hope you enjoy! And, I […]

Read the full article →

“Rabbi, I can see the coastline!”

December 27, 2018

I cannot describe the sensation I feel every time we look out the window and see the coastline of Israel from the window of the plane. Yeah, we are exhausted — 8 hours from Detroit to Amsterdam, 3 hours layover, and 4.5 hours from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv. Some who travel with us come from […]

Read the full article →

We Leave for Israel Today – Joining a Record Number of Tourists

December 26, 2018

ANOTHER RECORD FOR ISRAEL AS TOURISTS FILL HOTELS In October, approximately 1.36 million tourist stays were recorded, an increase of 12% compared with last year. Economic Research Department of the Israel Hotel Association published data for October 2018 for tourist stays in hotels compared to the same period in the past two years. (Pictures: Our Ron […]

Read the full article →

Update on the Opening of the Holy Sepulchre but Warning it is Not Over

February 28, 2018

Statement on Municipal threats and the discriminatory “Church Lands Bill” The heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulcher and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem, are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of […]

Read the full article →

Holy Sepulchre Church Closed over Taxation Dispute with Israel

February 27, 2018

As many of you already know, last week the major Christian groups within the Holy Sepulchre and the Patriarch of Jerusalem decided to close the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a protest against the punitive taxes and confiscatory collection process being imposed by Israel through the municipality of Jerusalem. Closing the Church is a great burden […]

Read the full article →

History of Middle East in 90 Seconds

February 11, 2018

Fascinating moving map. Click the image below to see biblical and modern history of the volatile and ever-changing Middle East.

Read the full article →

How Do We Know the Holy Sites are Authentic (Protestant Skeptic)?

February 7, 2018

Since today we are at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, I thought I share an e-mail I received from a man whose Protestant friend just returned from the Holy Land a bit disillusioned and skeptical. Here is the e-mail I received: Hi Steve, Here’s the question in brief (read more if you have time). How […]

Read the full article →

3,000 Years in 90 Seconds

February 3, 2018

Very cool map animation. Watch the history of the Middle East (and beyond) unfold with an interactive map showing the various civilizations that have ruled the region from ancient Egypt to modern times.

Read the full article →

Security in Israel: Safe to Travel with Steve & Janet?

December 26, 2017

UPDATE 12/11/17:  Watching the mainstream media today and making a few observations. 1) The images they keep showing are not current events but are pulled from stock video footage from the past. I doubt that any of the images of rock throwing and tear gas is current video. 2) They are making this violence, which is very small at […]

Read the full article →

Was Jesus Really Born at THAT Place in Bethlehem?

December 18, 2017

In a few days we are leaving for Bethlehem. We will have Mass next week at a lot of holy sites with our group of Catholic families. To the left is a picture of Gethsemane on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. How do we know this is really Gethsemane? In a few days […]

Read the full article →

My EWTN TV Show with Dr. Scott Hahn, Michael Hernon and Dr. Regis Martin

November 30, 2017

Here is the show aired a few weeks ago on EWTN. It was my appearance on the Franciscan University Presents with Dr. Scott Hahn, Michael Hernon and Dr. Regis Martin. It was a fun show about “Abraham: Father of Faith and Works” and the whole story of salvation. Enjoy!

Read the full article →