Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Muslim Greeting on Christmas Day

December 25th is just a few days away. And for Muslims, this day of Christmas celebration is
a time for deep reflection.

For some of us, of course, this Christian holiday is one that underscores our religious alienation from the majority Christian culture in America. We have no trees, no Santas and little elves, no reindeer, and certainly no ham or spiked egg nog on our dinner tables. Our children receive no special gifts on this day, as do their Christian ( and secular) schoolmates and friends.

And, more important, we do not revere Jesus as a deity or celebrate this time as his authentic birthday. Muslims are incorrigibly monotheistic, and we dismiss the trinitarian understanding as our primary, and irreconcilable, difference with Christianity.

But for Muslims like me who were born into Christian families, the day is far from painful or strange.

We remember the gatherings of mothers, fathers and grandparents and friends in a spirit of holiday sharing. The Christmas gifts that we exchanged were reminders of the legendary gifts presented to the baby Jesus by the wise men from the East. And even though the Nordic mythology of Santa and yule logs is conflated into Christian religious symbolism, there was, and is, an undeniable feeling of joy in the holiday celebration.

For me, as a Muslim born into a Christian family, Christmas is a time for contemplating the gift that God Almighty gave to humankind in the form of the birth of Isa (Jesus). And even if, in our tradition, this event did not happen at this time of year, it is worthy of our respect as a time when much of the world celebrates the arrival of this blessed child.

Perhaps Christmas, if not a time of religious celebration for Muslims, can be a time for building bridges of solidarity, and even mutual forgiveness, with our Christian neighbors, friends, and family members. It can also be an occasion to share our different, and parallel, scriptural understandings of Jesus; Many of my Christian friends, for example, are startled to discover that the 19th Book of the Holy Qur'an is the Book of Mary (Suratul Maryum), which, from the Quran'ic perspective, narrates the wonderful story of Mary's visitation by the Holy Spirit and the virgin birth of this most wondrous child, whom Muslims revere as the Messiah, and a mighty Apostle of God.

There are, to be sure, theological and cultural divides between the global Islamic community and the Christian world. As Muslims, we do not worship Jesus, and we certainly remove ourselves from the deity of commercialism that feeds on the this particular holiday celebration.

But despite our theological differences with the Christian world, , Muslims can, and do, honor a pervasive social spirit of charity, caring, and good will that can do enormous good in our world as it helps bind wounds of religious conflict and create new possibilities for genuine interfaith cooperation and respect.

Perhaps this day, more than any day on the calendar, might also evolve as an opportunity for Muslims to consider the evocation from the Qur'an that there is no compulsion in religion-and certainly, no tolerance in our text for religious discrimination or oppression by any community, including our own.

My late Christian mother, who loved her Christmas trees and decorations, gave love and charity to all of her neighbors, without any regard for their faith or religiosity. December 25th was a special day for her, and for her family.

And for all Christian families, and for Muslims as well, I pray that it will be a day that symbolizes the renewal of love, tolerance, and caring for humankind in the name of God, and in the spirit of Jesus the Messiah.

Salaaam Aleikum to all. And Merry Christmas.

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