By Dr Bilal Hassam
25 December 2018
It’s Christmas time and so it hasn’t taken
long for a national newspaper to run a feature implying British Muslims are
poorly integrated for “refusing to celebrate a Christian holiday”. The irony of
this pernicious Islamophobia, feebly hiding behind the banner of defending the
Judeo-Christian values of our country, is that it is bereft of any meaningful
understanding of Islam.
You see, the thing is, Muslims love Jesus.
In fact, the Prophet Muhammad said: “The
dearest person to me in friendship and in love, in this world and the next is
Jesus, the son of Mary.”
It may come as a surprise to many to learn
that Jesus is mentioned in the Quran over 100 times, while the Prophet
Muhammad, by contrast, is mentioned just five times. Described as the best
woman ever to have set foot on earth, there is a whole chapter in the Quran
named “Mary” and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the holy book.
It’s not just that Muslims love Jesus – we
believe him to be one of the greatest messengers of god. We believe in his
miraculous birth. We believe that god gifted him with the ability to bring the
dead back to life, heal the leper and bring sight back to the blind and, like
Christians, we believe in his second coming back to this world.
Just as Muslims have a deep love and
respect for Jesus, so too are we taught to love and respect our Christian
friends who have a different view of who Jesus was. Unfortunately, thanks to a
handful of extremist nutters, coupled with an all too often Islamophobic media
industry, people tend to have this erroneous notion that all Muslims want to do
is convert everyone, and violently at that. Well, the Quran emphatically states
that “there is no compulsion in religion”, meaning you can’t force anyone to
Across the globe, notably in the heart of
Muslim lands, Muslims and Christians have lived side by side for over a 1000
years. Whilst under threat, this spirit of peaceful coexistence can still be
found throughout the world today, and it is this spirit of cooperation and
sharing that we need to revive in our communities across the country.
Despite the deep theological difference
between Christianity and Islam, the two great religious traditions have a lot
more in common than people think. Analogous stories of wisdom and wit from the
great prophets like Abraham, Moses, David and Noah are found in both
traditions, as are descriptions of angels, the after-life and so much more.
However, it is the radical message of Jesus that we all; Muslims, Christians,
people of all faiths and none, could do well to remember in these confusing
Jesus was known for his profound humility,
his fighting against injustice and his giving up of his own desires in
preference for others. His radical love of the most vulnerable and neglected in
society was rooted in his deep connection to the divine. Reflecting on the life
of Jesus, we see a dynamic message that seeks to direct our focus away from the
vacuous glitter of this world and towards a life of meaning, purpose and
Rather than berating Muslims for their lack
of “tinsel, balloons and Santa hats”, if Christmas should be about anything, it
should be about Jesus, and how his teachings can impact and transform the world
for the better. In this spirit, this festive season, as temperatures plummet
and we cosy up in our warm homes, multi-award winning British Muslim charity,
Penny Appeal, has launched a sobering winter appeal, asking the question and
launching the hashtag #WhatWouldJesusDo?
The campaign began last week with the
unveiling of five life size ice sculptures of homeless people at Canary Wharf
tube station, highlighting the profound financial inequalities in our nation
and the plight of the homeless on our streets. Thousands every night will be
sleeping rough in freezing cold temperatures, a number that has been increasing
year on year. In response, Penny Appeal is recruiting volunteers who will help
distribute winter kits as well as host tea parties for the elderly who might be
cold and lonely during the winter period.
With more than half of the UK now professing
no faith at all it's inevitable that how we as a country celebrate religious
holidays will change in the coming years and decades. However, as Christmas
becomes more and more about the empty consumerism that Jesus warned us against,
perhaps it is no surprise that the festive period also sees a sharp rise in
loneliness, depression and overwhelming financial stress amongst a large
proportion of the British public.
While most British Muslims might be
indifferent to the celebrations underway this season, perhaps we can play a
small part in reviving a little of that true Christmas spirit, after all, there
is nothing more Christ-like than giving up a little of our pleasures and
comforts in service of our neighbours in need.
Dr Bilal Hassam is a writer, broadcaster and creative director at British