Arabic Baptist Church pastor comes under fire, prepares for debate with local imam
November 18th, 2020 / By: Rob Collingsworth / comments
SAN ANTONIO—As pastor of the Arabic Baptist Church in San Antonio, Ra’id al Safadi has encountered his share of resistance as he has sought to share the gospel in a city with a Muslim population of more than 70,000.
Most recently, the Safadis have found themselves facing significant criticism and threats from the local Islamic community as a result of a Facebook post written by his wife, Lana.
In the post, Lana expressed sorrow after the public beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by a Muslim teenager in October. She commented on the ongoing crisis happening within the Islamic world as peace-loving factions clash with those bent on violence.
Lana pointed out the verses in the Koran that encourage violence or radicalism, which she said is the underlying ideology of groups like ISIS, and encouraged Muslims to not take those passages literally. She also said that it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Muslims who do take the time to read and analyze the Koran find those passages and become radicalized.
“A Muslim is not guaranteed paradise unless he dies as a martyr for the sake of Allah and becomes a victim of this thought,” she wrote in her post. “Isn't this a crisis?”
According to Safadi, his wife’s post brought swift criticism from area Muslims, including a local imam whom he has previously debated.
“Muslim people from different places in San Antonio and the Middle East were angry because of Macron’s speech against Islam,” Safadi said. “We started to receive comments, posts and phone calls attacking us and asking us to delete our writings and to apologize to the Muslims and to declare Muhammad is a prophet of God and peace.”
One day after Lana published her post, Safadi received a phone call from a local woman whom they had served in the past and who considered herself to be an open-minded Muslim.
According to Safadi, the woman told him there was a problem with his wife’s post because she insinuated that those who actually apply the verses in the Koran related to violence and jihad can end up with an ISIS-like ideology.
“I told her to calm down, and what my wife was said was right,” he said. “This is what we understand from the Koran. We understand it in Arabic, we can read it in Arabic, and this is exactly what those in ISIS apply.
“We are talking about the teaching of Islam, not about you personally,” he told her.
“She said, ‘No. If you touch the Koran, you touch me. If you talk about the Koran, you talk about all the Muslim people. And this is not allowed,’” Safadi recounted.
The woman went on to demand that the post be removed, saying that if it wasn’t, she would tell “all the Muslim people about you and your wife” and that “everyone will take action for Muslim people,” Safadi said.
Before long, Lana’s post provoked many comments. Strangers posted negative reviews calling for boycotts of the Safadis’ family business, Jerusalem Restaurant. One of their primary suppliers was pressured into backing out of a business relationship with them.
The local imam, Said Atef, challenged Safadi to a debate to discuss Christianity and Islam, which is scheduled for November 21. A Facebook group for the Muslim community in San Antonio got wind of the post and began attacking the Safadis and the church.
“Listen you are nothing but a puppet of the Mossad and a Zionist. You put your people to shame. Jesus taught kindness not hatred. But again, you are not a true Christian. You are a fraud,” one message read. “Furthermore, leave and go back to your own country. We don’t need nasty immigrants like you who hate.”
As the threats ramped up, Safadi was forced to contact the police out of a legitimate concern for his family’s safety.
“If anyone criticizes me or hurts me or talks bad about my God, about Jesus, about the church, I have two choices. To clarify myself and tell about what I believe and how I believe in it, to let people know how I believe,” he said. “The second thing is just to pray, to pray for them and show kindness to them and not take revenge. I don’t have that choice.”
But the Safadis are no stranger to persecution.
In 2018, they were forced to flee Jordan after coming under government scrutiny when the governor of Amman, Safadi’s home state, demanded that he stop sharing the gospel or talking about Christianity with any Muslim. After Safedi refused, the government began dismantling his ministry, including shutting down two schools for refugees that he had opened. The persecution became so fierce that the Safadis had to leave most of their belongings and, with little money, seek refuge in the U.S.
“This is like the first chapter of Philippians. The privilege is not only to believe in him, but to suffer also. It’s both—two faces of one coin. There is a privilege to believe, and to suffer,” he said.
And although the pressure from the local Muslim community has been disheartening, Safadi said he is looking forward to the opportunity to debate Atef, the imam, on November 21.
“I understand the Koran in a way and they understand it in a different way,” he said. “Let the people of San Antonio understand the Koran in the right way.”
Safadi said he has reached out for prayer and support for the upcoming debate and for his family’s safety as they endure this difficult season, but he emphasized the value of suffering on behalf of the gospel.
“God is faithful, always. Always he has grace, more than we can imagine,” he said. “Persecution and suffering are channels of blessing. It’s part of the Christian life, to take the blessing from it. As you read the Bible, to take the blessing, to grow in your faith, the same way with the persecution. It’s one of the ways God uses to grow our faith and to bless us through it.”