Islam and Pluralism
Muslims can well celebrate Christmas in a spirit similar to Milad-un-Nabi
By Mustafa Akyol
Sunday, December 20, 2009
A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit Antakya, the southern Turkish city whose name derives from the ancient city of Antioch. The latter, as New Testament readers would know, was a chief center of early Christianity. Evangelized by both Peter and Paul, the two main founding fathers of the new faith, Antioch was actually the place where the very word “Christian” was born.Yet I was not expecting to come face to face with this Christian heritage of the city when I walked into the historic mosque in the very heart of Antakya’s downtown. I was wrong. The first thing I realized was the unusual name of the mosque: “Habib-i Neccar,” which literally meant, “the lover of the carpenter.”The lovers of the carpenterThen I had a little chat with the imam of the mosque, and he confirmed my guess. The “carpenter” here was none other than the Jesus of Nazareth, and the “lover” in question was one of the earliest Christians of the city. The latter, like many other early followers of Christ, was executed by the pagan inhabitants of the town for “heresy.” The place of the mosque, the imam explained, was the very location that this “lover of the carpenter” was beheaded.Then the old man surprised me even more. “Have you not seen our tomb?” he asked.“No,” I replied. “What tomb?”“Oh, the tomb of John and Paul.”Then he led me to a little building adjacent to the mosque.