Habib Ali Al Jifri on the glorious birth of Jesus (peace be upon him).
“We are more deserving of Moses than them”
This was the response of the Prophet when he was told that the Jews of Madina fast on the day of Ashura in celebration of Moses’ deliverance from Pharaoh and his people. The Prophet used to fast this day while he was in Makka prior to the hijra. He did not ask about the link between this event and its Arabic date, despite the Hebrew calendar being different to the Arabic. Madina’s Jewish community was naturalised in Arab lands and thus adopted the Arabic calendar. This was sufficient for the Prophet as a reason and he did not ask, “How can we ensure the authenticity of the date? The Jews have corrupted their books so it is not permissible for us to rely on them to determine the correct date for Moses’ deliverance!” The issue of acknowledging this event is not related to the time of its happening as much as it is related to its meaning, which is joy for Allah’s sake and love for His righteous.
Maintaing a connectedness to religious occasions that mark God’s favour upon His righteous servants is authorised in Islam and deeply connected to it. Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, is the fifth pillar of Islam and replete with these meanings. For example, the circumambulation of a House built by Ibrahim and his son Ismail; the walking between Safa and Marwa where Hajar went on her search for water for her infant child; the throwing of stones at the jamarat in Mina where the devil tried to tempt Ibrahim away from sacrificing his son; and the ritual slaughter that marks the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son for God. This is the greatness of our religious rituals; that they are connected to profound meanings and not simply a mere outward performance of the act.
Allah says in the Quran: “And remind them of the days of Allah; indeed, in them are signs for those who are forbearing and grateful”. On the occasion of Jesus Christ’s birth, we feel that we are present in front of a day from among the days of Allah. This day was distinguished by an immense miracle related to his birth. This birth was connected to meanings of peace that we are in dire need of today. Yes, Allah made Jesus Christ a symbol of peace for this world. Did Allah not say upon the tongue of Christ, “Peace was upon me the day I was born, and will be on me the day I shall die, and the day I am raised to life again.”? This alone is sufficient as a reason for our joy on this noble occasion, irrespective of what the exact date is according to us or others and the difference of opinion that exists between the Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and other denominations. The issue is not about the precise date but the meaning which is indicated by this occasion.
I remind my brothers from among the students of sacred knowledge that the scholars who forbid congratulating non-Muslims on their religious celebrations tied their judgement to the assumption that congratulating affirms certain tenets of belief (held by non-Muslims) that are diametrically opposed to Islam. They anchored their judgement on a widespread understanding and custom particular to their time that congratulating others on their religious occasions is considered an affirmation of their beliefs, hence their edicts made mention of proofs regarding the impermissibility of affirming and esteeming false tenets of belief and not clear and unambiguous proofs that forbid congratulating in and of itself.
Today we can not imagine that congratulating others on their religious occasions affirms their tenets of belief. Islam is well established and knowledge of its core aspects of belief and the points of divergence with other religions are well known. Human beings in general have also matured enough to accommodate co-existence that respects the boundaries of each others’faiths. A Muslim who congratulates Christians on Christmas does not come close to thinking that this affirms the divinity of Christ or that he is the son of God. Likewise, a Christian who receives the season’s greetings from a Muslim will not be mislead to think that this Muslim has affirmed Christian theology. Similarly, a Christian who congratulates a Muslim neighbour on Eid, or Ramadan or the birth of the Prophet Muhammad knows well that this does not mean he is affirming Islamic belief, nor does a Muslim think that about a Christian who congratulates him/her. Contemporary custom surrounding the Christmas season no longer links congratulating one (by saying ‘merry Christmas’for example) with an affirmation of the belief that Jesus is the son of God. Rather, it is considered a general custom that indicates good inter-human dealing.
A legal principle (qa’ida fiqhiyya) states: “A judgement depends on its cause”(al-hukmu yaduru ma’a ‘ilatihi wujudan wa ‘adaman). The cause which led to some scholars judging the impermissibility of congratulating (the cause was affirmation of the others’religious beliefs) no longer remains and thus its impermissibility also no longer remains. It is important to note here too that Ibn al-Qayyim’s position that the scholars were in agreement over the impermissibility of congratulating others on their religious occasions in not accurate. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah has mentioned that Imam Ahmad had three opinions on this issue: impermissible, disliked, and permissable. Ibn Taymiyyah adopted its permissibility as was related by Ibn al-Mardawi in ‘Al-Insaf.’
It is the right of one who does not wish to congratulate others on their religious occasions to not do so, but wrong for them to impose their view upon others as though it is obligatory. To condemn those who do it and doubt their belief (iman) is to reduce the sharia’s greatness and play frivolously with the religion! I urge you: please stop your misuse of this great religion!
In closing, I offer my greetings to our master Muhammad on the birth of Jesus Christ. Yes, I greet the Prophet. Was he not the one who said, “I am more deserving of Jesus son of Mary in this world and the next”
Likewise, I offer my greetings to Muslims, Christians and mankind in general on the birth of Jesus. God granted him a manifestation of His name “Peace”on the day of his birth and made him a symbol for peace.
And I say to our master Jesus Christ: my master the spirit of Allah and His word, peace be upon you the day you were born, the day you die and the day you will be raised to life again.