Jesus–a savior to Christians and a prophet to Muslims–plays an often-uncredited role in Islam.
There were a number of Christian tribes in Arabia at the time of the revelation of the Quran, and the still-standing ruins of a 4th century Church outside the town of Jubail [a city in the Eastern province on the Arab Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia] –a Church older than anything we have in Europe–shows that even the pagan tribe of Quraysh, a branch of which Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) belonged, was influenced by Christianity.
One of the Christians that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encountered was a man named Waraqa bin Nawfal. Originally a pagan, he converted to Christianity (1).
He also happened to be the uncle of Khadija, Prophet Muhammad’s first wife. And so when the message of Islam came to Prophet Muhammad, and Khadija took him to Waraqa, they both realized that he was indeed a foretold Prophet.
Fast forward to 1915, the infancy of Islam in the UK, where the January edition of the Islamic Review, published in the UK ,includes an account of a gathering of the British Muslim Society at Woking Mosque.
There, Professor H Mustafa Leon PhD LLD PSP pointed out that “he belonged to the ‘Faith most excellent (Islam)’ for thirty-one years and gave an account of the meeting in Morocco at the table of a Jew, a Muslim and as a Christian (as he was then), where, in a friendly way, they commenced to investigate those points upon which they agreed. One learned brother pointed out that all consented to the belief in the One Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Provider of everything.” (2)
Fast forward again to 2017, with now 3 million Muslims in the UK, the supermarket Tesco comes under fire for broadcasting an advert which shows British Muslims shopping for and celebrating Christmas. (3)
Who Owns Jesus?
Who ‘owns’ Jesus? Who can celebrate the historic personality of Jesus? How are Muslims and Christians (and others) meant to interact with one another? Are Muslims stealing the identity of Christianity? Are Muslims even allowed to celebrate Christmas? And if so, to what capacity? The answer to all of these questions can be understood in the context of the ever-evolving British Muslim identity.
Holistically, Islam was never about removing cultural traditions. After all, Muslims believe that God created all of us in different communities with different customs and traditions, to enrich our lives, to provide diversity and to give humanity something to explore.
What Islam does do is discourage practices which contradict its teachings.
British Muslim charities have taken the lead. Muslim Aid UK is running a program to help the homeless during Christmas. (5)
Human Appeal ran a Christmas-themed fundraiser, complete with a Pakistani Qawali band, British Muslim comedians, a traditional Turkey meal, and a Christmas tree. And the charity Penny Appeal ran a Halal Pantomime: a traditional comedic British theatrical performance.
When asked what she thought guests would get out of it, Anisa Kisson, one of the actresses, said, “We’re hoping they can have fun, they can learn something, but that they can also do something great for other people out there.”
Aamer Naeem, a representative of the charity added, “We’re a confidently Muslim-led organization with a comfortably British culture.
“We’re always looking for ways to do the work that we do, based on that identity. There’s nothing more British than panto at this time of year. We’re here having fun, and raising money for orphans around the world.” (6)
In a climate of fear and suspicion, our government recently ran an All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims in which they wrote, “British Muslim charities haven’t received the kind of attention they deserve.”
“At this time of year, when Muslim charities are working alongside many other faith-based charities to spread good cheer, peace on earth and goodwill to all we hope our preliminary findings highlights and celebrates their work. A very Merry Muslim Christmas to all!” (7)
Earlier this year, British Muslim Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, who was a second place runner up in the Roadhouse Poetry Slam, used her poetry to ask why British Muslims are under so much pressure to present themselves as outstanding members of society.
Part of her poem reads, ‘Because if you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one that’s not human.’ (8)
The harsh reality is that in a climate of fear, suspicion, and doubt, a Muslim needs to do more than just follow the Prophetic example of sharing the food you have just made with your non-Muslim neighbor. Nor it is about standing up out of respect for the funeral procession of a non-Muslim.
It is about being firm in belief, confident, compassionate, kind, loving and being involved as a positive member in society.
As a recent poster Christmas campaign by the Muslim Council of Britain read, ‘Don’t Panic, Christmas is not Banned’. (9)
Earlier this year, The Guardian newspaper reported a story where a Muslim foster couple were raising Christian children.
The wife, Riffat, said, “We are Muslims and we’d never had a Christmas tree in our home. But these children were Christian and we wanted them to feel connected to their culture. I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and excitement on a child’s face.” (10)
Muslims & Christmas
Sadly, the hysteria in some quarters has led to fake news implying that Muslims have banned Christmas which really is nonsense.
This is evidenced by the fact that almost every shopping mall across the Middle East and Southeast Asia is full of Christmas trees, and the fact that most British Muslims, in varying capacities, celebrate Christmas.
The 2015 winner of the Great British Bake Off, Nadiya Hussain for example, spoke to The Big Issue, answering a number of questions, my favorite being, “For me, it’s about eating roast potatoes. I love them any time of year, but especially Christmas. I roast them in butter, so they are yummy: crisp around the edges, fluffy in the middle, really well-seasoned.” (11) Who wouldn’t love the tradition of roast potatoes on Christmas?
In a video that has been viewed more than 200,000 times, British Muslim Tez Ilyas, comments on whether Muslims are trying to ban Christmas. While at times his language is rude, the substance of his message is spot on:
Are Muslims trying to ban Christmas? We asked comedian Tez Ilyas, because he’s Muslim init
Posted by Double Down News on Thursday, 21 December 2017
From the earliest groups of British Muslims who would play the piano and sing Hymns (12) to today, we have always been involved in celebrating Christmas in one capacity or another. Why? Because underneath what has become a very commercial celebration, this time of year reflects the birth of a person many of us hold dear: Jesus, peace be upon him.
In the spirit of British Muslim heritage, the January 1915 edition of the Islamic Review published a prayer: “O God, we pray for Thy Almighty protection and assistance in our present struggle for freedom and honor. May we continue to tread with confidence the difficult and thorny path – directed by Thee alone – and may we endeavor to learn the lesson Thou has set before us with humility and patience, and with the full assurance that Thy All-Merciful care will ultimately guide our feet into the way of peace.
“Following in the footsteps of Thy Holy Prophets, may we endeavor to forgive our cruel enemies, but, mindful of the teachings and example of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may we be firm in the suppression of all that is unjust, unmanly, and cruel.” (13)
Islam came to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) because of his personality and character, and Muslims should be willing to acknowledge the Prophet’s respect towards Christians, their traditions, and their customs, that helped shape his wife, Khadija, in which he found comfort and strength, before she became the first convert to Islam, enabling him to become the Prophet we all know today.
This is why it is important for us to recognize, honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Merry Christmas.
(1) ‘Corrie Block, The Quran in Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Historical and Modern Interpretations, p25’