By Mustafa Akyol
December 23, 2016
Billions of Christians around the world are
excited to celebrate Christmas this weekend. Those in the world’s
second-largest religious community, Muslims, don’t share quite the same
excitement. In a few Muslim-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei and
Somalia, Christmas celebrations are banned. In Turkey, my country, they are not
illegal, but some Islamist groups still organize annual protests against
Christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, which they consider Western
Meanwhile, many other Muslims around the
world are rightly respectful to their Christian neighbours and even share in
their holy day. They include the owners of a Turkish restaurant in London that
decided to offer a free Christmas meal to the homeless and the elderly, and a
Muslim businessman in Baghdad who erected a Christmas tree in solidarity with
Christians persecuted by the self-declared Islamic State.
These Christmas-friendly Muslims are right,
but not simply because respect for other religions is a virtue. They are also
right because Christmas is the celebration of the miraculous birth of Jesus,
which is a powerful theme not just in the New Testament, but also in the Quran.
Two chapters of the Muslim holy book give
detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus, which partly resemble the account in
the Gospel of Luke.
Both chapters — one is named Maryam or Mary
— feature this admirable Jewish woman whom God has “purified” and “chosen above
all other women.”
There are, of course, ways in which the
Muslim story of Jesus diverges from the Christian version that is celebrated at
Christmas. The New Testament says that Jesus’ birth took place in Bethlehem, in
a manger or at an inn, when Mary was with her husband, Joseph. In the Quran,
Mary gave birth in “a distant place,” all alone and under a palm tree. It’s
worth noting that stories appearing in the eastern apocryphal gospels, as well
as recent archaeological findings, correspond to the Quran’s version of events.
Crucially, the Quran differs with the Bible
on Jesus’ divinity. The Muslim holy book insists that he was a human and a
prophet. It repeatedly defines Jesus as “the Messiah,” but this seems to be a
notion of Messiah as described in Judaism: an extraordinary servant of God, not
God incarnate. The Quran’s Jesus is also sent to the children of Israel, comes
“confirming the Torah” and affirms a strictly unitarian monotheism. The Islamic
Jesus, one could say, is a more Jewish Jesus.
Nonetheless, Islam and Christianity share a
lot in their adoration for Isa and Maryam, Jesus and Mary. Muslims are in fact
the only non-Christians on earth who believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.
For centuries, Muslims have taken this as a
literal truth. Medieval exegetes of the Quran debated details like how God’s
spirit was “breathed” into Mary, taking as truth that the virgin birth was an
act of God. Sayyid Qutb, the 20th-century Egyptian fundamentalist, described
Maryam’s pregnancy as “the strangest event that humanity throughout its history
has ever witnessed.”
In a 2002 book they wrote to criticize
Islam, Emir F. Caner and Ergun M. Caner, two Turkish converts to Christianity
who became Southern Baptist ministers, argued that Muslims are more Christian
on the issue of the virgin birth than the “liberal ‘Christians’ ” who seek
metaphorical interpretations of the amazing miracle.
To add more to Jesus’ extraordinary NATURE,
the Quran even calls him “Word of God.” Muslim scholars have been puzzled by
this term, which the Quran uses for no one else. Christian theologians have
been intrigued, too, for it evokes the Gospel of John, which defines Jesus as
the Word of God who “became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Interpreting these parallels between the
Quran and the earlier Christian sources depends partly on one’s faith.
Christians can think Islam borrowed from their religion. Muslims, on the other
hand, can think that much in Christianity foretold theirs. But we can all agree
that these two great Abrahamic religions, despite the sometimes bitter
conflicts between them, have much in common. This year, with tensions between
many Muslims and Christians in Europe, the United States and elsewhere running
high, that’s worth remembering.
The people in Saudi Arabia and Brunei who
ban Christmas clearly have the wrong idea. Even if this is not a Muslim
holiday, we don’t need to object to Christmas. The miraculous birth of Jesus —
the prophet, the Messiah and the “Word” of God — should not offend any Muslim.
Salaam alaikum, or “peace be upon you,” Muslims should be able to say to their
Christian neighbours on Dec. 25, without hesitating to add, “Merry Christmas!”
Mustafa Akyol, a contributing opinion writer, is the author of the
forthcoming “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of
Will Durant, Historian and philosopher, was
an agnostic. He didn’t believe in the promise of heaven and that as an eternal
hope. Once he confided “At times I had sunken into a mood of despondency. All
those who believe in God should not be unconcerned about the faith and
happiness of others. When we say “Eid Mubarik’ or Happy Deevali” to others we
join in their happiness. That happiness diffuses and eventually overwhelm us.
Our spirit becomes elated too. Except those believers who live in a smaller
circle, we will never feel emptiness in our old age.
If you say- Mabrook Eid milaadun Nabi Isa ibn Maryam- in the holy language, the Arabiansed Muslims cannot object because for them Isa is also a Nabi.
Unfortunately Christ and therefore Christmas is not Arabic.
Muslims and the idol of Arabic language cannot be separated!
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL.
Wonder if it is OK to say so, for I do not know Arabic?
juba-e-yaar mun Turki, mun Turki nami daanum!