Isa ibn Maryam (عِيسَى ٱبْنُ مَرْيَمَ)
In the Name of Allah, the Most Kind, the Kindest
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“And remember Mary in the Book,” declares the Quran before relating her story and the birth of her son Jesus. When she first appeared in public with her newborn, everyone was shocked. How could a chaste woman from a good family have a baby? Since she had taken a vow of silence, the Christ child spoke, “Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and has made me dutiful toward my mother” (Quran, 19:30-32).
Christmas is a holy day of remembrance, merry-making, and light. It’s a celebration of the birth of the anointed one, who is the penultimate prophet of Islam and heart and soul of the Christian tradition. Muslims, like Christians, consider Christ to be God’s word and the Messiah. Allah bestowed upon Jesus the son of Mary “clear proofs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit” (Quran, 2:87). “Truly God is my Lord and your Lord;” Jesus asserts, “so worship Him” (Quran, 19:36).
Around the world, Christian families are jubilantly attending church, singing carols, exchanging gifts, and breaking bread. I still fondly remember attending the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my grandparent’s church. All of us in our finest clothes, my grandparent’s four daughters and their families crammed into one long pew. My brother, sister, and I would reshape the wax candles during the minister’s recounting of the birth of Christ (upon him peace) then the bell choir would begin ringing out beloved hymns. It was heavenly. Of course, the spiritual was wed with the frivolity of Santa Claus, milk and cookies, and family stories the night before Christmas. Not to mention lovely decorations and presents around the Christmas tree.
Is there any religion on earth that doesn’t celebrate its high holy days in style with a happy blend of solemnity and levity? Sacred holidays bring people together for a higher purpose. They also teach us how to live reverentially in the world, as the Biblical prayer of Jesus for his disciples makes clear: “My prayer is not that you [O Lord] take them out of the world but that you protect them from evil” (John 17:15).
We always put up a Christmas tree and usually visit my family for Christmas. I read The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi, The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, and Amar Chitra Katha’s Jesus Christ to the girls when they were small. Now that they’re older, we’ve enjoyed listening to Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. She has a chapter entitled “Me and Bob Hope,” which explores what it’s like to live in America and not celebrate Christmas, how some non-Christians celebrate Christmas (so their kids don’t feel left out), and how the religious holiday has morphed into a shopping extravaganza. Firoozeh hilariously shares how her family made plans for the after Christmas sales, “a celebration that unites all religions.”
Christmas is a season of love and light. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and don our gay apparel! Mostly, it is a time to remember Jesus the son of Mary and to aspire to be more Christ-like, as the Persian poet Rumi said:
Each of us is a messiah in a world of people.
In our hands is a medicine for every pain.
May the Lord be with you, may peace be upon Isa and his mother Mary, and may we be a light unto the world.
From one needy of your dua,