By Ejaz Naqvi
December 21, 2018
As we approach Christmas, Muslims are often asked if they celebrate Christmas. Some Muslims even question themselves whether they are allowed to wish “Merry Christmas” to their Christian friends and colleagues. Some equate the secular celebrations with Christianity.
Several years ago, as I was hanging Christmas lights over my garage, one of my relatives baffled me when she asked, “Are you a Christian now?”
To start off, Muslims believe Jesus did exist! This may be somewhat reassuring to the Christians who are getting tired of people questioning the existence of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Jesus, or Isa Peace be upon him, is a Prophet of the highest order in Islam. Moreover his birth is mentioned in various places in the Qur’an extremely cordially- some accounts are not found even in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke- the two canonized Gospels with the most detailed accounts of nativity of Jesus, which I will go over shortly.
It’s also a good reminder that some Muslims even debate whether we should celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, let alone the birth of Jesus, peace be upon them.
Like their Christian counterparts, many Muslims in the west, do ‘celebrate’ Christmas, if you count lighting the Christmas tree, decorating the house with lights and other ornaments as ‘celebrating Christmas.
Like their Christian counterparts, many Muslims rush to the malls in a ‘shop till your drop’ mode.
Like their Christian counterparts, they exchange Christmas cards and gifts.
But few, if any, Muslims go to the Church for Christmas services.
Christmas has become commercialized- many Christians agree and object to that. They point out that Christmas is more about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ- the savior. They believe that the birth of Jesus is fulfillment of the divine will of God, to save the world from the original sin. This is where Christians and Muslims (and all Non-Christians) diverge widely.
The Qur’an regards the nativity of jesus very highly.
So peace [salaam] is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)! The Qur’an 19:33
Nativity of Jesus in the Qur’an: Jesus Speaks from the Cradle!
In fact the birth of Jesus is described perhaps in more detail in the Qur’an than in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, e.g. when Jesus speaks from the cradle. After describing the annunciation of the birth of a child by an angel in a manner very similar to the annunciation in Luke, the Qur’an goes on to narrate the nativity of Jesus.
So she conceived him; then withdrew herself with him to a remote place.
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She cried (in her anguish): “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!” Then (the child) called out to her from beneath her: “Grieve not, surely your Lord has made a stream to flow beneath you; And shake towards you the trunk of the palm tree, it will drop on you fresh ripe dates. So eat and drink and refresh the eye. Then if you see any mortal, say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Most Gracious Allah, so I shall not speak to any man today.”
And she came to her people with him, carrying him (with her). They said: O Marium (Mary’s Arabic name)! surely you have done a strange thing. O sister of Aaron! [As a reminder of Mary’s ancestry], not that she was a biological sister of Aaron]: your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother a woman unchaste! But she pointed to the baby. They said: How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He (Jesus) said: I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has given me revelation and made me a Prophet; And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing (or hard to deal with). So peace [salaam] is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. 19: 22-34
If Christmas is to celebrate the birth of an elite, highly revered Prophet, most Muslims have no problem observing the occasion. If Christmas is to celebrate his message of social justice and reforms, most Muslims have no problem observing the occasion. If Christmas is to celebrate his message to feed the hungry, welcome the immigrants, and love thy neighbor, then the Muslims have no issues celebrating the Christmas.
Some argue that they do not celebrate Christmas because December 25 is not his “real” birthday and point out that January 7 is more likely. Still others point out to a day in spring as his ‘real” birthday. I would buy that argument if they picked that other “real” day consistently and honored Jesus’ birth.
And if Christmas gives them an excuse for bargain shopping and spending way above their means and accumulating deep credit card debt, many secular Muslims have no problem celebrating the Christmas. In that sense, it seems Muslims and modern Christians stand shoulder to shoulder during Christmas season.
Christmas is a great opportunity for Muslims and Christians to come together and start a meaningful dialogue. It would be nice if Muslims and Christians honored Jesus and celebrated together the values taught by Jesus-those pertaining to social justice, rights of others, loving thy neighbor, kindness, and loving thy enemy, ‘giving from the left hand so the right hand does not know about it’. And to be humble and remembering that “ those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Wajahat Ali, a Muslim playwright, in his piece on NY Times titled, What a Muslim Could Teach Trump Supporters About Jesus took a different, more socio-political route to the occasion of Christmas, wondering how 75% of the evangelicals can support Donald Trump’s agenda and still claim to be fighting for the values taught by Jesus. A wonderful piece that prompted me to write this addendum.