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Crusaders

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Lastly, he says, vocal support for Israel by evangelical Christian leaders in the United States has helped Muslims paint the religion as "pro-Israel and therefore not pro-Islam."


Early one recent Tuesday, Shahid stood before about a dozen students in a second-floor classroom in the domed hall that dominates the 80-year-old seminary. With its classical architecture and well-shaded grounds, the Baptist school reminds one a bit of an elite institution in the East, save for the students, who are all conservatively dressed and excessively polite.

Shahid, lecturing in his basic survey course, is going over the sectarian differences among Muslims. The students have open on their desks a mainstream textbook, Islam, by Caesar Farah of the University of Minnesota. "Nobody can say we are teaching things that aren't supported and accepted by Muslim scholars," he says.

In his breezy presentation, Shahid likens Sunni Muslims to Baptists because of the autonomy of their mosques. Shiite Muslims, who dominate Iran, are more like Catholics, he says, with the Ayatollah functioning much like the pope.

For a while, Shahid goes along in this strictly academic tone. But he veers wildly as he comes to discuss the annual Shiite celebration of the death of al-Hussein, a seventh-century martyr. "Every year, they re-enact the story of al-Hussein, and I'm going to show you a video," Shahid tells the class. "At this celebration, they hit themselves. They bruise themselves. They cut themselves. Even children do that.

"When you see this video, you will think as many other students have, 'It's impossible to reach out to these people. Impossible!' Well, let me tell you, I know of a country...I don't want to mention names...where the head of a tribe that had been Shiite has come to Christianity. They have a school, and many Christian doctors and teachers go there."

Later, after the class, Shahid declined to name the country or the tribe, saying publicity would only bring trouble.

The existence of such a place no doubt filled Shahid's students with hope. Thus far, some have never seen such a place.

Beyond her recent trip to Lebanon, Sarah Logan says she has met three Muslim families, all recent immigrants, living in the area. In the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth, whole apartment houses have been filled in recent years with women shrouded in veils, their hands painted with henna. "I've gotten to know a Jordanian man and a Sudanese family. I'm also working with two ladies from Syria, teaching them English," Logan says.

She has not changed anyone's religion, she says, but she talks warmly about the cross-cultural experience of waiting for the husband of the Sudanese household, dressed in full Muslim garb, to finish his prayers before dinner. From the Syrian women who insist on her sharing grapes and conversation before the English lessons, she has learned a lot about the Middle Eastern concept of hospitality.

"After September 11, another woman and I brought the Sudanese family an Arabic Bible," she says. "The next time we were there, they gave us Korans. They were very nice Korans."

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec