A friend and I may have had our lives saved by Muhammed in a place where people believe Jesus once bullied demons. I don’t know if we would have died in the storm that night had Muhammed not invited us into his home, but it is possible.
We were on top of a mountain. Syria and Palestine filled the horizons with olive orchards and rocky peaks that rolled before us through a twilight haze. We were preparing to walk the other direction, several hundred miles south through the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Surrounding us on the mountain top were Roman ruins. Solitary pillars, crumbling temples, and old roads were bathed in a crimson light, reminders of the transience of human enterprise and the approaching dusk. We needed to begin hiking soon to find a place to camp before dark, but we could not pull ourselves from the empty city.
I thought we were alone until my friend noticed a dark figure moving towards us through the ruins.
As the shape grew nearer, we saw that it was a man dressed in jeans and a dark shirt. He greeted us and, through his smattering of English and my friend’s scant knowledge of Arabic, communicated that he was the security guard and that he wanted to show us around.
Normally, I would hesitate to accept a tour from a stranger, expecting him to name a price afterwards. But, for whatever reason, we accepted Muhammed’s offer and walked with him.
Muhammed shared that the ruins we walked through were originally Greek but were renovated during Roman rule in 63 B.C. and were passed to the biblically infamous King Herod. He showed us the bathhouses and barracks before ducking down stairs that led underground. He managed to relate that we had entered ancient crypts.
With cell-phone lighting, we saw slabs of rock lining either side of a subterranean passage. Muhammed told us that, when Jesus roamed the earth, several men lived in this crypt and were tormented by demons. Jesus visited the them, banished the demons from their bodies, drove the demons into a nearby herd of pigs, and drove the unfortunate pigs into water, where they drowned with the demons.
“Alhamdulillah,” my friend said. Praise Allah.
“Alhamdulillah,” replied our guide, nodding seriously. Praise Allah. We left the crypt. It was really getting dark. Storm clouds gathered on the horizon.
“Now,” asked Muhammed, “where will you sleep?”
“We will walk, then we will sleep.”
“We have tents.”
“No! It is dangerous. It is almost dark. It is cold. It is wet. It will storm. It is dangerous! You will stay with me.”
The matter was settled.
That night, as thunder boomed, lightning crashed, and rain swept the barren mountains, we drank tea with Muhammed, his wife, and his sister in a cushioned room. They shared a large meal with us- soup, hummus, and bread warmed on a space heater- while Muhammed’s four-year old son investigated us with curiosity.
“Blah! Blah!” the son yelled, every time that I spoke. “Blah!” was his interpretation of my language.
We drifted to sleep warm and safe in Muhammed’s home. In the morning, the family bid us farewell with words that paralleled my thoughts.
We are good people here, they told us. We need the world to know that we love everyone.