The Muslim story of Christmas
by Hesham A. Hassaballa
Source: Washington Post
Malaysian Muslim women take souvenir picture next to Christmas decoration at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. (Vincent Thian - AP)
She was alone, as she was wont to do, worshiping in the eastern section of the temple. Suddenly, she was startled by a strange presence: a man with whom she was not familiar. “I seek refuge from thee with the Most Gracious,” she said, “(Approach me not) if you are conscious of Him!” He sought to calm her by saying, “I am but a messenger of your Lord, (who says,) `I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.’”
This startled her most of all. She replied, in shock: “How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me? – for, never have I been an unchaste woman!” The presence replied: “Thus it is; (but) your Lord says, `This is easy for Me; and (thou shalt have a son,) so that We might make him a symbol unto humanity and an act of grace from Us. And it was a thing decreed (by God).”
And so she conceived the child, withdrawing to a far-off place. And when the pangs of childbirth overtook her, she was driven to sit under the trunk of palm tree, and she exclaimed in anguish: “Oh, would that I had died before this, and had become a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” Yet, she had the child, and she then came back to her people carrying him, who were clearly shocked.
They exclaimed, “Thou hast indeed done an amazing thing!” They continued: “O Sister of Aaron,” an honorific title for this heretofore pious woman, “Your father was not a wicked man, nor was thy mother an unchaste woman!” She pointed to her newborn child, whereupon they said: “How can we talk to one who (as yet) is a little boy in the cradle?”
The child then said:
Behold, I am a servant of God. He has vouchsafed unto me revelation and made me a prophet, and made me blessed wherever I may be; and He has enjoined upon me prayer and charity as long as I live, and (has endowed me with) piety towards my mother; and He has not made me haughty or bereft of grace. Hence, peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and (will be upon me) on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life (again)!
This story, that of the birth of Christ, was culled, not from my copy of the Bible, but rather from the nineteenth chapter of the Koran. It is the second mention, in fact, of this story, the first being in the third chapter. This should come as no surprise, really, for Jesus (and his mother) are very prominent in Muslim belief and reverence.
The Koran is full of passages about Jesus and Mary. The Muslim holy book describes Jesus as being “honored in the world and the hereafter, and one of the intimates of God” (3:45). Christ is also “in the ranks of the righteous” (6:85), described as “a word from God which He send down to Mary (and) and a spirit from Him” (4:171). The Koran even says that Jesus Christ “was strengthened with the Holy Spirit” (2:253, 5:110), although classical exegesis notes that “Holy Spirit” means either divine inspiration or the Angel Gabriel. Jesus, in fact, is mentioned more by name in the Koran than the Prophet Muhammad himself.
That’s why it perplexes me to hear some Christians talk about Muslims “not having Jesus.” We have Jesus all over our faith and belief, we just don’t believe he is the son of God or part of a triune deity. Muslims maintain that Christ was a prophet. It is a major difference in belief, to be sure, but it is not something over which Christians and Muslims should have any enmity or animosity.
Yes, some Muslims claim that Christians and Jews are “enemies,” but I pay no heed to such rabble. It is the product of a criminal, twisted mind, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not subscribe to such beliefs. And sadly, there are some Christians who say the same about Muslims and Islam: that we are “enemies,” not to be trusted or accepted into the fabric of society, and our faith is “evil.” Such voices, in both communities, must be ignored and marginalized.
No, Muslims may not adorn their houses with lights during this season, but it does not mean that Jesus does not light their hearts with love and reverence. Muslims may not take Christmas Day off as a religious holiday, but that does not mean that Jesus means nothing to them at all. Yes, it may be that the only businesses open on Christmas Day may be the Muslim-owned ones, but that does not mean that Jesus is not near and dear to those business owners’ hearts.
This common love for Jesus – and all the prophets of God – should be the force to bring American Muslims and Christians together. As we all think about Jesus this holiday season, it is my hope and prayer that the forces of hatred and division are no longer paid heed, and Americans of all faiths and creeds come together in peace. I know that it would be what Jesus would want for us; I know that it is what God wants as well.