For Gaza resident Mahmud Khalaf, it was a bizarre new experience, prostrating himself for his daily Muslim prayers beneath the gaze of an icon of Jesus Christ.
But since the war in Gaza began, he has had no choice but to worship in a Christian house of God, where he took refuge after Israeli air strikes pummelled his neighbourhood in the north of the Palestinian territory.
“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” said Khalaf, 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church.
“We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown.”
Walking into the St Porphyrius Church courtyard in Gaza City, visitors are greeted with a “marhaban” by Christian helpers, but with a decidedly more Islamic “peace be upon you” (Arabic: al-salamu aleikum) by most of its current residents — displaced Gazans who have made it their shelter for almost two weeks.
Khalaf, who fled his home in Shaaf after the area became a target for Israeli warplanes, twirls his prayer beads anxiously, but is relieved to have found sanctuary alongside some 500 other displaced Muslims.
“The Christians took us in. We thank them for that, for standing by our side,” he said.
Khalaf has now grown accustomed to worshipping on the premises of an alien religion — a particularly acute contrast during the fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Jesus said, love your neighbour, not just your family but your colleague, your classmate — Muslim, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish,” said Christian volunteer Tawfiq Khader.
“We open our doors to all people.“