One of the hardest things for a Muslim parent in America is to raise children who don’t believe in Christmas. I say specifically “a Muslim parent” because once I reached beyond the childhood stage of my kids it no longer mattered whether we celebrated Christmas or not. But when my kids were in elementary school, it used to behoove me to preach to them the theology of Jesus the way Muslims believe it while their classmates bragged about their Christmas wish lists, presents, trees, and santas!
Muslim Americans are not the only non-Christian group feeling challenged by the theology of Christmas. Many intellectuals call this theology as part of the Christian privilege that Christian Americans enjoy in this land that also enjoys a diverse religious landscape. From Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, to Hindus, Buddhists, to atheists and agnostics, many Americans complain about how they have to go through Christmas every year, including receiving Christmas wishes, without feeling alienated.
However, I don’t feel alienated in America. That’s because I believe in religious pluralism that preaches respect of all faith traditions and their followers. I actually enjoy the holiday season with its decorations, lights, festivities, and joyful atmosphere (including shopping deals)! Once I taught my children that Christmas was not part of our Muslim theology we became at ease enjoying the cultural aspect of the season. Moreover, Muslims don’t feel “left behind” simply because they don’t celebrate Christmas, for we do celebrate someone who is greater than this holiday: We celebrate Jesus.
Jesus, peace be upon him and his mother Mary, is mentioned several times in the Qur’an. The virgin Mary has a whole chapter in the Qur’an dedicated to her name. The Qur’an teaches that Jesus is the word of God, the spirit of God, and the messenger of God. He was miraculously born without a father, he miraculously spoke to people while in his cradle, and he performed several miracles like healing and giving life to the dead through the will and permission of God. Like all the biblical prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, each Muslim is obligated to believe in Jesus as truth. Without the belief in Jesus Christ a Muslim’s belief is incomplete according to the Qur’an.
The mission of Jesus, the son of Mary, according to the Qur’an, was to bring ease to the children of Israel (the Jews) by reducing some of the commandments that were difficult for them while affirming the truth in the Torah. The Qur’an then narrates that at some point, Jesus felt betrayal from his brethren, so he asked around, “who are my helpers in the way of God?” A group called Hawariyyoun (the Helpers of Jesus) replied that they were his helpers and declared submission to the will of God. Then the Qur’an continues with God talking to Jesus and telling him that He would be caused to die and be exalted unto God. (Qur’an, 3:55) (For the beginning of the story of Mary, John the Baptist and Jesus refer to 3:35 onward).
Even though Muslims believe in Jesus and celebrate him they faced disagreement with Christians. Issues like the trinity, Jesus’ crucifixion which Muslims don’t believe in, and theological matters about the nature of Jesus put the two faith traditions in discord. However, the Qur’an forewarned about this discord and advised Muslims about the way they should do “interfaith” with their Christian brethren. “Interfaith” is interaction between different faith groups, a phenomenon that was born in the twentieth century. Yet, the Qur’an fourteen hundred years ago instructed its followers on the way to interact with Christians:
“Say ‘O, followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God. ‘ And if they turn away, then say, ‘Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him.'” (Qur’an 3: 64).
The Qur’an doesn’t tell Muslims to kill, mock, or wage wars against Christians because of their theological differences. Those who misunderstand it are betraying God.