Sunday, January 02, 2011

REFLECTION: Why Christmas is an Islamic Time of Year ...

From the Aussie Mossie blog first published 05 December 2005.

Christmas is hardly a fortnight away, and already some people feel affronted. What puzzles me is that some of these people claim to feel this way because of their Muslim faith.

Yet anyone who understands what Christmas is about will see nothing in it offensive to Muslim sensibilities.

Muslims believe the Jesus Christ is the Messiah. They believe his birth occurred by immaculate conception to the Virgin Mary, an miraculous act of direct Divine intervention. Muslims do not dispute that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, presently a Palestinian town in the West Bank.

You cannot be regarded as a Muslim if you do not believe in these key events of Christmas. The nativity scene is as much part of the Qur’an (the Muslim scripture) as it is of the New Testament.

I have the benefit of being exposed to both Christian and Muslim religious traditions. I attended Sydney’s only Anglican Cathedral School. I studied the New Testament in Divinity classes and attended weekly chapel services. My Indian Muslim parents insisted I be part of all Christian activities of the school.

At the same time, as a child, I grew up with the Qur’an. I learnt about the chapter of the Qur’an named after Mary which describes the nativity scene in great detail. In that chapter, it states that Mary chosen above the women of all nations and ages for the sacred task of giving birth to God’s Messiah.

Today, Bethlehem is a city where Muslims and Christians celebrate Christ’s birth together. It is not uncommon to see Muslims seated in the pews of the Church of the Nativity. During the most recent Israeli incursion into Bethlehem, both Muslims and Christians sought refuge in the Church.

Both ancient and modern realities of Bethlehem bring the two communities of Christ together. It makes no sense for Muslims to oppose the celebration of Christmas. In this regard, comments attributed to the Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR) in the Sunday Mail on 4 December are cause for concern.

In a press release dated 5 September 2005, FAIR director Kuranda Seyit denied suggesting that Christmas should be phased out of Australian life. The comments attributed to FAIR are certainly not echoed by Muslim leaders in other parts of Australia.

Of course, some will argue against Christmas being used to sell products. Even some Christians feel that Christmas is becoming too commercial, with more emphasis being placed on storewide sales than church services.

I personally feel that the sales themselves are a reflection of a broader Christmas spirit. Christmas is about celebrating Christ’s mass, the birth of Christ. It is a time when God showed His divine generosity by sending His Messiah to spread a message of love and compassion.

The New Testament Christ is a man who made time for the most marginalised members of society – tax collectors, sex workers and lepers. The Christ of the Qur’an was a man who brought the message of God’s mercy and love. Both versions involve celebrating a man whose life was itself a celebration of human kindness and generosity.

It therefore makes sense that people exchange gifts during this time. Retailers who choose to cash in on people’s generosity by offering incentives and sales for people are hardly doing society a disservice.

Islamic teachings state that money should continue to circulate through the economy. Money grows when it is in motion. Like still water stagnates, hoarded wealth is a source of many diseases of the heart. The cure for such diseases is generosity.

So this year, as in every other year, I will be sending Christmas cards to all my clients, Muslim and non-Muslim. I will also be sending a package to a close Muslim female friend for Christmas consisting of books of poems by the Muslim mystic Rumi.

The message of the Muslim saint Rumi, like that of the Muslim Messiah Jesus, was one of Divine love. I hope my fellow Aussie Muslims show traces of that love to their fellow countrymen and women of all faiths and of no faith in particular.
Words © 2005-11 Irfan Yusuf

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