The Christmas season is upon us. The streets and shop-fronts are filled with colored lights, tinsel stars and decorated trees. Carols and hymns fill the air. “‘Tis the season to be merry…tra la la la la!”.
Then come the New Year celebrations: the big party on the 31st bringing this “merry season” to an end.
People then get back to their jobs; shops slowly return to their everyday colors and the decorations are taken off. What remains? Only half-price sales and after-Christmas reductions.
Christmas and all the festivity surrounding it got me thinking about how all of this mattered. I wondered what it means to be Muslim during this Christmas season.
Does the merriness bypass us altogether? Does the Christmas spirit completely elude us? Hmmm… Good question. Finding the answer to this one is not that easy, but it has to be figured out.
One of my favorite Muslim scholars repeatedly declares, “No Muslim is a Muslim unless he believes in Jesus Christ.”
So as Muslims, we definitely love and respect Jesus Christ. In fact, as Muslims, we are supposed to respect all prophets equally. And so, as part of our Islamic faith, belief in Jesus is incumbent upon us.
Christians and Muslims share a few beliefs about Jesus. However as a whole, the Muslim perspective about him is quite different from the Christian one.
We know him as Jesus (peace be upon him), a Prophet sent to the Children of Israel to preach to them the word of God Almighty.
The Quran many times quite fondly refers to him as “Jesus the son of Mary”. Muslims believe in the prophethood of Jesus just as we fully accept his miraculous birth.
But Muslims don’t believe that he was the son of God. Muslims believe that God Almighty clearly begets no children. Jesus was thus a mighty prophet of God, but he was no more than that and he was definitely not the son of God.
The second thing that Muslims differ in their belief about Jesus from Christians is that Jesus was not crucified to expiate for human sins. Muslims believe that no soul shall bear the burden of another’s sins.
So our sins are our own to avoid or to commit and our own to pay for. Jesus Christ could not and did not pay for all of mankind’s sins, it would simply be unfair. Rather, as Muslims we believe that someone else, from among Jesus’ enemies, was crucified in his place.
Muslims believe that Jesus performed miracles, that, by the will of God, he gave life to the dead, and that he healed lepers. We go a step ahead of our Christian brothers and say that he spoke from his crib as an infant to defend his mother from those Jews who accused her of having an illegitimate child, which is something not mentioned in the Bible.
We also know that by the will of Allah he breathed life into clay birds.
Muslims love and respect Jesus a lot, they await Jesus’ return to this world, when he will lead the struggle to establish righteousness and truth. Muslims believe that he will bring victory to the good and defeat evil. He will complete his term on the earth and will then die.
We know that Jesus was as righteous as any other prophet of Allah and that he stood for all that is good. He was generous and kind, and taught people to love their neighbors as themselves.
He was peaceful, yet firm in upholding the truth and rejecting falsehood. He was pleased at good deeds but angry when he witnessed deeds of corruption or greed. He condemned these bad acts just as he condemned the people who did them. Yet he spoke about a forgiving God who always forgave the true repentant.
What Jesus bought to this world was the same message that all the prophets before him bought to their followers. All the prophets were sent to their people with the same divine commission to teach the people to be upright, kind, and to worship their Creator, the very same message that Prophet Muhammad preached to his people 600 years after Jesus Christ.
Prophet Muhammad was quite clear in stating that he did not bring a new faith but that he was the successor to Jesus Christ and to all the other prophets, confirming and completing the teachings they brought (peace be upon them all).
Allah sent prophets to the world to guide people to the true path and in the QuranAllah perfected this message. With the Quran, the message was complete and it was clear. It was now up to the people to henceforth maintain their beliefs and remain on the truth.
So as Muslims, though we may not realize it, we already practice the true teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ worshiped a single Creator, was steadfast in prayer, he fasted, donated to charity and cared for the poor.
Don’t we Muslims do the same when we declare monotheism, offer Prayers, fastRamadan and pay zakah? We definitely do, We follow the example practices and ways of all the Prophets including Jesus Christ, because this was also taught to us by Prophet Muhammad.
As Jesus loved and respected his mother, we Muslims uphold family values. As Jesus was modest and humble, we too try to bring humility into our lives. As Jesus was steadfast in upholding the truth, so too should we Muslims strive to establish the truth.
Now coming to Christmas, What really does it signify? How many people regularly practice what Jesus taught? Sadly, it seems that to a whole generation Christmas has come to mean no more than extravagant shopping, a week off from work and multi-colored lights, the simplicity and modesty of Jesus conveniently forgotten, lost in the packed aisles of the closest shopping-mall.
The message that Jesus bought to this world was much more than this. It was about worshipping the Creator; it was about piety and generosity.
As Muslims we love and respect Jesus but refuse to limit the spirit of Jesus’ teachings to a single day whose historical significance may have no connection to Jesus at all.
Rather we should try to spread goodwill to every man, woman, and child throughout the year in all our actions and deeds. We need to uphold the truth and be fair in all our dealings. We need to offer our seat to the old and guide the blind across the street. And yes, we need to do this every time we possibly can.
Peacefully we can usher in a revolution of goodwill, love, truth, and honor for all men and women.
This is the spirit of Jesus’ teachings.