By Kashif N. Chaudhry
Christmas is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. Granted it has largely been turned into a commercial holiday, but many Christians still celebrate the religious significance of this day. Houses are decorated, gifts are exchanged, masses are held and songs celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ frequent the airwaves.
As a Muslim American, I share the joy and celebration of my Christian friends and neighbors. And this interfaith harmony between the world's two largest faiths is not a new phenomenon. It was exemplified by the founder of Islam himself.
When Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation in Mecca in around 610 AD, one of the first persons he trusted to disclose and discuss his experience with was his wife's cousin Waraqa Bin Nawfal. Waraqa was a scholar of Jewish and Christian scripture. On learning about Prophet Muhammad's encounter with Gabriel, he acknowledged his divine mission and foretold that he would be driven out of his city, similar to most other prophets before him.
Waraqa was right. As soon as Prophet Muhammad announced his prophetic mission of reform, opposition started to mount.
When the persecution got out of hand in Mecca, Prophet Muhammad asked his followers to migrate to Abyssinia, where the righteous Christian King Negus "would not tolerate any injustice," he said. When the Muslims were presented before the king, he asked them about their beliefs in general, but particularly about Jesus Christ. The leader of the Muslim delegation recited a whole chapter from the Quran that is dedicated to Mother Mary. The king started weeping, then turned to the Meccan emissary who had come to ask for the Muslims to be handed over, and said,
"Verily, this (Quran) and what Jesus brought has come from the same source of light... You may go, for by God I will not deliver them unto you; they shall not be betrayed."
He thus allowed the Muslims to live in his country with complete freedom.
After a few years, Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina and was anointed the head of state. Many Christian delegations would come to visit him at his mosque. He was very welcoming of them. When one such envoy asked him for a place to pray, he did not send them out into the open. Instead, he presented his own mosque for them to pray, saying, "Conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a place consecrated to God."
In the Charter of Medina, he guaranteed equal rights and freedoms to Christians and Jews. He also promised protection to a number of Christian monasteries. In one such covenant, he commanded Muslims to ensure the religious liberties of Christians for all times to come. He said:
"Christians are my citizens, and by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.
The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. No one of the Muslims is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day."
The vast majority of Muslims world over hold this covenant very dear. Unfortunately, there are those in the 'Muslim world' who break it by persecuting Christians and preventing them from building Churches, or from celebrating Christmas. These people rebel against the example of Prophet Muhammad, and the clear teachings of the Quran, which instruct Muslims to protect Churches and Synagogues (22:41) and uphold freedom of religion.
Fellow Christian friends, I wish you well and share your joy this day, and I hope you accept my heart-felt warm wishes and prayers.
Merry Christmas America!