By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
25 December 2019
Few Muslims celebrate the Merry Christmas today, especially in the contemporary Indian Muslim society plagued with Wahhabism, but nearly all Muslims believe Hazrat Eisa Alaihis Salaam (Jesus Christ PBUH) not only as a Prophet (Nabi) but also an Apostle of God (Rasool Allah). Most of them also know of the numerous holy verses of Qur'an and authentic Hadith texts which speak so highly of Jesus' sanctity and his message's historicity. One of such significant and, yet, most forgotten verses of the Qur'an are the one which mentions Jesus, son of Mary (as) and quotes him as saying:
“And Peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!” (Qur’an 19:33).
Notably, the Qur'an mentions Jesus Christ 25 times with great exaltation and high epithets such as the Messiah, Sign of Allah (Ayat min Allah), Spirit of Allah (Rooh min Allah), Word of Allah (Kalima min Allah), a servant of Allah (Abdullah), the son of Mary (Isa bin Maryam), a prophet of Allah (Nabiyullah) and as the last apostle to the children of Israel. More to the point, it reminds us of the birth of Jesus Christ as a great divine miracle (Mu'jizah min Allah) as he was born only to a mother. Thus, the birth of Jesus is also spoken of as “a sign of Allah” in the Qur'an which says:
“And make mention of Mary in the Scripture. When she withdrew from her people to an eastern chamber, and choose seclusion from thine, and we sent Our Spirit unto her, and it assumed for her the form of a perfect man. She said: Behold! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee if thou art God fearing (begone from me!). He said: I am only a messenger of your Lord that I may bestow upon you a holy son. She said: How shall I have a son when no mortal has touched me, and I am not unchaste. He said: So (shall it be). The Lord sayeth: It is easy for Me, and We shall make him a sign unto mankind, and a Mercy from us. And it is a thing decreed. And she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place. (10: 16-22).
In other verses, the Qur'an highlights the attributes and miracles of Jesus Christ such as:
When God said, "Jesus, son of Mary, recall My favours to you and your mother. (Recall) how I supported you by the Holy Spirit, made you speak to people from your cradle and when you grew up, taught you the Book, gave you wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel. (Recall) when, by My will, you made a sculpture of a bird out of clay, blew into it, and it turned into a real bird by My Will. (Recall) how, by My will, you healed the deaf, the lepers, and raised the dead. (Recall) when you came to the Israelites in the house with clear miracles and I saved you from their mischief, even though the disbelievers among them said, "This is obviously magic"(5:110)
Several verses like the above give us a distinct portrayal of Jesus Christ (pbuh) and exhort that Muslims should have no issue in celebrating the Christmas as birthday or Milad of Hazrat Eisa Alaihis-Salam. But surprisingly even those who unfailingly celebrate and legitimise the holy birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as 'Milad' or 'Mawlid un Nabi' find the Christmas unlawful within their purview of Islamic Shariah. Only a handful of Sufi divines like Shaikh Hisham Kabbani or for that matter, Islamic scholars like Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri who are a little open to interfaith dialogue instruct their followers to celebrate the Christmas as an 'occasion of festivity that marks the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ'. They emphasize that by celebrating the festivals like Christmas, Muslims can reinforce their position as harbingers of universal message of peace, love and harmony espoused by Jesus Christ and thus they can steadily and patiently tackle the challenge of Islamophobia particularly in the western world, notwithstanding the theological and doctrinal conflicts between Muslims and Christians.
But the common Muslims are largely unaware of the true spirit of reverence which the Qur'an displays towards Jesus (a.s) and his holy mother Mary or Maryam Alaihas Salam. Our local clerics and imams in India hardly tell the masses in their Friday sermons or on other occasions that there are authentic Hadiths (Prophetic sayings) in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) reportedly said that in his Prophethood (Risalat), he was the closest of all prophets to Jesus Christ (pbuh). Significantly, this Hadith report is narrated by both Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, whose compilation of Hadiths is considered the two most authentic of all, as the following: "Both in this world and in the hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Marry. The prophets are paternal brothers, their mothers are different but their religion is one." Even the Prophet’s companion Hazrat Abu Hurayrah reported him as saying that "I am akin to the son of Mary among the whole of mankind and though prophets are of different mothers, they all are of one religion, and no prophet was raised between me and him (Jesus Christ)".
Thus, on the occasion of Merry Christmas, the aforementioned Hadiths remind us of the eternal divine instruction that all messengers of Allah, regardless of their messages being kept intact today or not, are worthy of the equal veneration and their birthdays are of the same paramount importance. Since the Almighty sent them all to mankind to disseminate the same sacred message of God's oneness (Tawhid), they all share a strong bond of prophetic fraternity. The difference, if any, as expounded in the Qur'anic exegesis, was not in their core teachings and socio-ethical and moral values, but in the offshoots termed as Shari`ah in Islamic terminology.
The common grounds enshrined in the Qur'an and Biblical scriptures highlight the essence of Jesus Christ's core teachings as peace, tolerance, inclusiveness and love for all humanity. Thus, Muslims should attach equal amount of importance to the Christmas much like the Milad un Nabi (Prophet Muhammad's birthday) in terms of their basic teachings and universal messages. Just as the Qur'an honours all prophets and messengers of Allah on the same footing, Muslims should retain this basic Islamic tenet on the occasions like the Christmas to rejuvenate the Qur'anic message of mutual and amicable esteem towards different faith traditions.
One way forward is that our Ulema and imams embark upon this noble task systematically and enumerate the moving stories from Prophet Muhammad’s life in which he is reported to have shown abundant respect towards people of other faiths, especially Christians of Najran and Habsha. For instance, one of those reports goes like this: “The holy Prophet was sitting with a group of his companions and a Jewish funeral passed by, and the Prophet stood up to show his respect for the deceased. When some of his companions (Sahaba) asked him as to why he stood up for the funeral of a Jew, the Prophet replied: “Was he not a human soul?” Though this Hadith is very inspiring to tell and preach, one wonders why many Muslims, for instance in India, do not show respect to non-Muslim funerals like Arthi and funeral rites like Antyesthi (the last rituals of the dead in Hinduism) when the Prophet himself showed it towards the Arab non-Muslims--Jews and Christians.
In India, Christian-Muslim relations have been, by and large, peaceful and non-confrontational throughout the post-colonial decades. But now, Muslims need to open more opportunities and avenues for more genuine scriptural dialogue and mutual understanding on the grassroots level. From Madrasas to schools and colleges, educational centres should be gateways to this dialogue to ensure that Muslim children and youths build brotherly bonds with their non-Muslim peers and develop more amicable feelings for people of other faiths and creeds.
Muslim countries, especially the Gulf region which in recent years has been wracked by grave gender injustice besides religious radicalism, violent extremism and sectarian strife, are now striving to ensure gender equality— fair representation of men and women. Significantly, gender equality is gaining ground in the Gulf countries where there used to be a plethora of reports on violence and abuse against women. The GCC has traditionally been behind other regions in terms of gender disparity. But that’s dramatically changing now, with countries like the UAE leading the way. A strong case in point is the recent consensus of a group of international experts who participated the SALT Conference in Abu Dhabi that the Gulf countries are likely to boost women’s empowerment and employment to reap economic rewards. The prognosis is that by 2025, almost every Gulf country will be brought up to the best regional standard for women’s workforce participation, that would roughly add $180 billion to the size of the bloc’s combined economy , while full gender parity would add $830 billion. This is going to be a tangible and unprecedented push towards gender-equality in the Islamic world.
Regular Columnist with Newageislam.com, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi