The New Amer­ica They’re Arab, but Chris­tian, and they ex­pect you to know that

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TIM DE­VANEY

STER­LING HEIGHTS, Mich. | Arab Chris­tians here are try­ing to sep­a­rate them­selves from a bois­ter­ous Mus­lim com­mu­nity that has served as a punch­ing bag for “terrorism” stereo­types since Sept. 11.

Many have moved to Detroit’s north­ern sub­urbs - Ster­ling Heights, Madi­son Heights, Farmington Hills and the Bloomfield ar­eas - to get away from the high con­cen­tra­tion of Mus­lims in Dear­born, said Pas­tor Haytham Abi Hay­dar of Ara­bic Fel­low­ship Al­liance Church. Other Chris­tians, he said, have turned their backs on their Arab her­itage and in­te­grated with Amer­i­can cul­ture.

But just like Mid­dle Eastern­ers of­ten as­sume Amer­ica is a Chris­tian nation, many Amer­i­cans as­sume all Arabs are Mus­lims. That’s made life in a post9/11 world dif­fi­cult for a group of peo­ple that is prov­ing re­li­gion has no borders.

“On many, many, many oc­ca­sions, if you’re an Arab, you might as well be a Mus­lim to many peo­ple here,” Mr. Abi Hay­dar said. “Un­for­tu­nately, the ma­jor­ity don’t see the dy­namic that Chris­tian­ity came from the Mid­dle East, that Je­sus was from the Mid­dle East.”

Mr. Abi Hay­dar said some Amer­i­cans know the dif­fer­ence and do not stereo­type. “You can’t la­bel all Amer­i­cans as ig­no­rant,” he said.

Still, there are many pas­tors and church­go­ers who as­sume that all Arab Chris­tians are con­verts from Is­lam, when, in fact, many have been Chris­tians all their lives.

“I’ve seen a lot of Chris­tians in churches here who don’t even know the dif­fer­ence be­tween Arab Chris­tians and Arab Mus­lims,” Mr. Abi Hay­dar said. “They think, ‘You’re an Arab. That means you’re a Mus­lim, or you con­ver ted from Is­lam.’ ”

Many of these prob­lems were brought on by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, when he started draw­ing at­ten­tion to the Arab com­mu­nity af­ter he mas­ter­minded the 9/11 at­tacks. Arab Chris­tians hope the ten­sion dies now that he’s dead, so they can move on.

Wil­liam Salaita, a Ro­man Ortho­dox Chris­tian who im­mi­grated here from Jor­dan in 1979, knows the depths of Arab stereo­typ­ing all too well. He still re­mem­bers the months fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in

“On many, many, many oc­ca­sions, if you’re an Arab, you might as well be a Mus­lim to many peo­ple here,” said Pas­tor Haytham Abi Hay­dar of Ara­bic Fel­low­ship Al­liance Church. “Un­for­tu­nately, the ma­jor­ity don’t see the dy­namic that Chris­tian­ity came from the Mid­dle East, that Je­sus was from the Mid­dle East.” Mr. Abi Hay­dar said some Amer­i­cans know the dif­fer­ence and do not stereo­type. “You can’t la­bel all Amer­i­cans as ig­no­rant,” he said.

2001, when his daugh­ter, who at­tended a Chr is­tian high school at the time, called him in tears one day be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion from fel­low class­mates of the same faith.

“Al­most ev­ery­one in school is ac­cus­ing me of be­ing Osama bin Laden’s ter­ror­ist,” she told him.

Noora Yousif, from Ster­ling Heights, has no­ticed a sim­i­lar prob­lem. She’s a Chaldean, a term that usu­ally refers to Iraqi Catholics. But many Amer­i­cans as­sume that’s an­other word for Mus­lims.

“I don’t think a lot of peo­ple know what Chaldeans are,” she said. “Au­to­mat­i­cally, they would as­sume you are a Mus­lim, un­til you start ex­plain­ing to them.”

Arab Chris­tians who are in­te­grated into Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, those who speak the lan­guage and dress to fit in, are less likely to face prob­lems, she said.

That’s why many Arab Chris­tians have dis­en­gaged from their Mid­dle East­ern roots, Mr. Abi Hay­dar ex­plained.

Miss Fakhri ad­mits it would be dif­fi­cult to set­tle down in Dear­born, be­cause the Mus­lims cus­toms are so dif­fer­ent from her own and she would feel “weird liv­ing there.”

“I think it’s very hard for a Chris­tian to live there in a Mus­lim com­mu­nity,” she said. “I would feel un­com­fort­able to live there. You feel like the whole com­mu­nity is to­tal dif­fer­ent.”

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