By Amer Aziz
The Christmas season is upon us: piles of snow, houses festooned with decorations, families and friends uniting and malls filled with anxious shoppers scurrying for gifts. Whether you’re a Christian or not, Christmas has a way of pulling you in and taking you along for the ride.
As a Muslim who has grown up and lived among Christians for a good part of my life, Christmas always fascinated me, especially because it is a celebration of Jesus Christ – a profoundly holy figure to Christians and Muslims. In the spirit of Christmas, this is a time to set aside our doctrinal squabbles and celebrate that which binds us.
As tensions appear to be rising around the world, here’s some common ground to celebrate this Christmas season.
Islam is the only religion outside of Christianity to affirm the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Verses 3:46-48 of the Quran say the angels brought Mary the good news of a son – the Messiah Jesus, honored in this life and the next. When Mary replied how that can be since no man has touched me, the angel said it is a matter decreed by the Lord.
When Muslims began proselytizing Islam in Mecca, they faced bitter persecution from a largely polytheist society. Some Muslims migrated to the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia ruled by King Negus.
When Meccan authorities learned about this they sent an ambassador to the court of King Negus, who demanded the Muslim migrants were rebels and they be arrested and sent back. The king summoned the Muslims, who pleaded they were being persecuted for their beliefs.
Reportedly, after the king heard the Quran verses on Jesus and Mary, he dismissed the Meccan ambassador with the words: they hold Jesus to be God’s servant, His prophet, His Spirit, and His word, which He cast upon the Virgin Mary. The king allowed the Muslims sanctuary and freedom in his country.
Roughly a decade later, as Muslim rule began to expand around Arabia, the Christian monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai sought Muhammad’s assistance and security. Muhammad himself authored a document and signed it with his handprint which survives to this day at the monastery. It declares that “Christians are my citizens and I hold fast against all that displeases them.” He instructed Muslims to never cause harm to Christians on account of their religion – a key human right and freedom that is sadly forgotten in some Muslim countries today.
As an Ahmadi-Muslim, my community suffers terrible persecution in some countries for our belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) was the allegorical second coming of Christ. I feel truly blessed for the freedom of religion and interfaith dialogue I enjoy here and wish all my Christian fellows a very merry Christmas.
Amer Aziz is vice president of the Buffalo Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.