Op-Ed: "Christian in a Muslim World," by Julia Duin

November 12, 2001

Author: Julia Duin

Source: National Review Online


I first met Imad Shehadeh at a press conference — and an uncomfortable press conference at that. Several of us in the media, along with some Christian clergy, were sitting in a hotel room in Amman earlier this year listening to a Catholic and three evangelical Protestants talk about being Christian in overwhelmingly Muslim Jordan.

Shehadeh, a tall man who would fit in on any American college campus, was describing his work as president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, which has had a rough row to hoe getting accreditation from the Jordanian government. Shehadeh got the idea for the school after noticing how few resources there were available for Christian theological study in the Arabic-speaking Middle East. After getting his bachelor's degree at the University of California at San Diego, and his master's and doctorate at Dallas Theological Seminary, he returned to Jordan to found JETS in 1990.

Just getting government approval for the institution took him five years. He tried operating under the auspices of a registered church, but that was shut down. Then financial backers, impatient at the long wait, began dropping out.

Finally, he took a position as principal of an 800-student Christian elementary and secondary school, which brought him into contact with influential people who showed him the inside track on how to obtain approval for the seminary. Through them, he learned the necessary administrative, financial, and academic procedures for setting up such an institution under Jordanian laws.

Thus armed, JETS was finally launched in 1995, in rented facilities, as an educational institution under the Ministry of Culture. At first, Muslims were allowed to attend for the purpose of studying Christianity, but when it became obvious some of them were converting, the government clamped down. In 1999, the government imprisoned three such converts (an Iraqi, a Sudanese, and an Egyptian) under wretched conditions — then deported them. The incident was so egregious, it even got mention in the State Department's 2000 Human Rights Report.