K. Rizwan Kadir
Greetings, or mubarak in Urdu. While Christians throughout the world will be celebrating Christmas tomorrow with traditional festivities, Muslims like me are celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad today, Christmas eve.
A similar convergence happened in 2000, when Christmas fell on the same day (in the lunar calendar) that Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed. However, this year’s coincidence has greater meaning as Christians and Muslims celebrate the respective birthday of the one they venerate most.
While I don’t draw any cosmic meaning per se from such fortuitousness, it does present the two religions with a chance to get to know each other as global neighbors. In the U.S. a lack of understanding provides ready fodder for an extremist view that Christianity and Islam are at war.
In the midst of the cacophony of diatribes about the differences in our beliefs about God, it falls on us Muslims, because we are the proverbial new kids on the (religious) block, to teach our Christian friends about Islamic beliefs about Jesus (Peace be upon him). Let’s see what the Qur’an tells us about Jesus and his blessed mother Mary and what it means for all of us today.
The Qur’an holds Mary as a model of perfection for humanity not because of her social status or whose mother she was to become; but rather, because of her piety. It is written (Qur’an 3:42) that “The angels said to Mary: God has chosen you and made you pure. He has truly chosen you above all women.” (For most Qur’an scholars, “all women” implies for all times and all nations.)
For Muslims it is an article of faith to believe in the Biblical prophets, from Adam, Noah, Moses, Solomon, Abraham, to Jesus and then Muhammad. In other words, one is not considered a Muslim unless s/he believes in Jesus (Peace be upon him) as one of the messengers of God, and in that sense, Islam is the only religion that confirms the truth of Christianity.
The virgin birth of Jesus is viewed as a sign of God’s creative powers. The Qur’an thus states: "Remember the one who guarded her [Mary’s] chastity. We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for all people" (21:91).
Whereas the lack of divinity in Jesus is the major difference between Muslims and Christians, the Qur’an exhorts its readers to say: "We believe in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to you. Our God and your God is one [and the same]; and we are devoted to Him" (29:46).
Though Islam does not attach divinity to Jesus’s human life – a life which did not end on Earth ("No, God raised him up to Himself." (Qur’an 4:158)), Muslims also believe that Jesus will return to this earthly life.
Given the reverence of Muslims for Jesus as prophet, why should we not join our Christian brethren in celebrating his blessed birthday? Let’s use this happenstance to synergize collaboration between our faiths.
Today, Christians and Muslims make up almost half of the world’s population, and that numerical weight can be a force against prevalent hate and ignorance. The inter-faith communities’ collective colloquy needs to be a part of a wider discourse on what it means to be a Christian and a Muslim in the U.S. Today’s convergence of dates provides the perfect impetus to do so.
On a lighter note, the culinary possibilities of Muslims celebrating Christmas run the gamut from Christmas Falafel to Mango Lassi (instead of eggnog).
Abraham, Heather. "Is the Virgin Mary A Bridge Between Christianity and Islam?" Religion Nerd blog, April 6, 2010.
Alexander, Scott. “Muslim Perspectives on 'Remembering God' at Christmas.” Sightings, December 26, 2013.
Haleem, Abdul M. A. S., translator. The Qur'an. Reissue edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Sacirbey, Omar. “Muslim Christmas celebrations gain a toehold.” Washington Post, December 23, 2013, Religion.
Schneider, Joanna. “American Muslims: New Kids on the Block.” Niles-Morton Grove Patch, June 28, 2012.
Tumblr image: Jesus (Isa) written in contemporary Arabic script by calligrapher Eduard Dimasov.
Author, K. Rizwan Kadir, (M.B.A. University of Chicago) has been an interfaith activist and presenter since 2002. He is the President of The Pakistan Club of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and has served on the boards of several U.S. Islamic organizations. A consultant to Fortune 100 firms, he specializes in strategic planning, governance, and financial management. Kadir is currently working on a project entitled Business and Financial Leadership from the Life of Muhammad.
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