Arabic speakers extend Jehovah’s Witnesses’ reach
BURLINGAME — A quote from the Book of Exodus is scrawled in Arabic: “Stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah.”
The message is truth to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who attended service at Our Kingdom Hall on Sunday morning.
They all speak Arabic. Many are fluent, as it is their native tongue, while others are learning the Semitic language.
The small congregation — established in 1997 — has a large reach.
From Marin County to Monterey, its 55 members focus on converting Arabs with ties to the Muslim or Christian faiths.
“In our belief, not all Christians do God’s will,” said Emad Salih of Menlo Park, a former Muslim. “There is only one true religion doing God’s will, and that’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Salih was born and raised in Iraq. He moved to the United States in 1993. While living in Los Angeles, Salih was approached by a Jehovah’s Witness from Egypt.
After studying with him for four months, Salih said he found something in the faith. He was baptized three years later.
In July, members are expected to attend the annual Arabic District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norco. Some have already attended the 2008 district convention at the Cow Palace, which meets every weekend from now until Aug. 17.
Lamar Bingham of South San Francisco was one of the founding members of the Burlingame congregation at 2828 Trousdale Drive.
The 78-year-old and his wife were missionaries in Lebanon from 1951 to 1985. Their mission became difficult in 1975 when civil war broke out — but it didn’t stop them.Even today, their need to reach out and share the Bible with people has not dimmed.
“People need comfort from God’s word now,” Bingham said. “We’re not interested in bringing them a new religion. We present what the Bible said, then they’ll be in the position to decide.”
For the last 15 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have reached out to communities where there are large concentrations of ethnic groups.
Witnesses learn Portuguese, Russian, French, Mandarin, Punjabi, and American Sign Language.
And in Burlingame, the congregation offers Arabic classes.
“We reach out to people,” said Bingham, who cited a passage in the Book of Matthew. “Good news of the kingdom will be preached. Everybody should hear what God says he’s going to do.”
Bingham said similarities between the Muslim and Jehovah’s Witness faith include the belief that God is the supreme creator; that there are no religious images; and that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.
Anthony Smith and his wife LoRain of San Mateo were Witnesses who attended the English-speaking congregation.
When they heard Arabic classes were going to be offered, they jumped at the chance.
The Smiths have taken three classes and gone through informal training.
“We had a desire to want people to come to know the God of the Bible whose name is Jehovah,” said Anthony Smith, 49.
Bingham — who grew up Mormon — is heartened that some people in the Arabic community of about 150,000 in the Bay Area are open to a conversation.
Samir Dahbour of South San Francisco agrees.
Dahbour was born and raised a Roman Catholic in Jerusalem. The 62-year-old was baptized as a Witness in 1984.
He helped Bingham start the Arabic group, which was originally a part of the English-speaking Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Dahbour said he devotes his weekends to going to people’s homes. Often, he makes return visits.
“It takes a lot of time and effort,” Dahbour said. “Hopefully, in the future, they will strengthen their faith, and come to the point where they can dedicate themselves in baptism.”