First of all, Christmas greetings in advance to those of you who celebrate it.
I hope you're all warm (or cold, depending on where you are) and in loving company right now, whether virtually, or in person, or in thoughts.
As you already know, to your detriment, I gush and I go on and on for ages and don't stop talking. I wanted to share my experience of this particular day in the year, even though I've only been present at Christmas celebrations once or twice in my life.
Even though Christmas today has, to a certain extent, become more of a cultural holiday, and only a few devoted and practicing people care to go beyond the X-Box-es and the iPads to actually pause and reflect upon the birth and life of the figure that it seeks to celebrate, let me share my own unique experience of this, because it's something you might've not heard often, and let me gush all of my fondness, as I always do, because I never withhold anything, and I love reflecting on religious similarities and differences in particular, and I feel like stories and insights like this are important because of the aura of bitterness that has often surrounded media conversation regarding Muslims, which misses out on so much detail of real lives lived.
I'm addressing this essay to my imaginary Christian reader, or even the general athiest or agnostic Christmas-celebrating reader, who may (or may not) have some negative or misinformed feelings about me, or my faith. In understanding each other, I feel like it's important to acknowledge our shared humanity first and foremost, and then proceed to truthful understandings of our similiarities and differences so that, even in our points of confluence and departure, we can be fair to each other, rather than enter as unaware hostiles into each other's lives, with false assumptions and preconceived notions, and create harm for each other in places where there could've been simple and clear understanding.
I hope you're all cozy and not tired of my narrative already, don't worry. On the 25th of this month, many of you will be celebrating the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him), so it's your time of the year, and it's not my right to really walk up to the podium and speak. But still, if you're interested in listening to an outsider's experience of the whole thing, feel free to keep reading. I won't keep you for long, so let me just begin my piece now:
As Muslims, we honor Jesus (peace be upon him) because honoring him is part of the Islamic faith. We honor him because Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also honored him, even though he preached to a community that wasn't really familiar with Jesus (peace be upon him) in any meaningful way. The polytheist communities of 6th Century Arabia didn't really have any good reason to be aware of Jesus (peace be upon him), or his message of monotheism, despite the debates regarding Christology that were going on around these times in the faraway Byzantium.
Muslims all around the world for more than a millenium and a half have shared, read into, and reflected over the life of Jesus (peace be upon him) because our Prophet (peace be upon him) spoke highly of him, and referred to him, in a hadith, as the one 'closest' to him in prophetic brotherhood, referring not only to their shared lineal ties through Abraham (peace be upon him) (the Arab people being Ishmaelites, and the Jewish people being Israelites) but also to the Islamic idea that all messengers of God came with the same message of monotheism and morality, and were hence, brothers.
You'll find Jesus (peace be upon him) in the poems of Rumi as a metaphor for spring, in a couplet of Ghalib as a healer of ills, some of the most famous compendiums of Islamic tradition, narrate many sayings of Jesus (peace be upon him) with varying levels of authencity.
A reader of the Qur'an finds Jesus' story come up throughout the scripture, not just in the entire chapter dedicated to Mary (peace be upon her). You'll hear the biography of Mary (peace be upon her) in her own right in the occasional Friday khutbah in literally any mosque in the world. You'll find Muslim boys named Eesa (the name phonally more closer to Jesus' actual name in Hebrew: Yeshua). You'll find Muslim girls named Maria and Mariam. As you may have already noticed in my writing, never once is the name of Jesus mentioned in a Muslim home but that it is followed by alayhi salam - which means "peace be upon him".
Jesus is also fondly called roohullah - "spirit from God" - Allah being the Arabic-Abrahamic word for God, just as Dios is the Spanish word for God, and Gott - the German word, just as Eloah is the generic Hebrew word for God, and Elah or Alaha the Syriac-Aramaic words for God, the latter being the language Jesus (peace be upon him) spoke in.
Obviously, since it's not part of our tradition, I don't celebrate Christmas. But, I do celebrate Jesus (peace be upon him) — in a different way — as a divinely-inspired messenger, as the messiah to the bani isra'il - the Children of Israel, the messenger who taught and clarified the spirit of the Mosaic law in a time when its leaders and custodians had forgotten what it essentially meant and were caught up in its minutiae, he worked miracles, performed healing, and preached mercy in a time of hard-heartedness in the midst of an overbearing Roman occupation, he was rejected by the establishment, but found a number of dedicated companions, to whom he continued his teaching. This is, of course, not the entireity of how the life of Jesus (peace be upon him) is understood in the mainstream Christian tradition, or how it is celebrated on Christmas by those (admirable) people who like to stay in touch with the religious side of the holiday rather than only its festivity (and I respect and acknowledge those important and evident differences), but all of this is, for me, nevertheless, a remembrance, and a fondness, and a lightness in the heart, so when I see my Christian counterparts decorate their homes, and put on all kinds of decorative lights - I understand, and I relate, and I know that even in our distinctions, we share a lot in common. And sometimes some of this fondness is reciprocated by others towards me and my faith as well (even though that's kind of rare) but is, nevertheless, something I deeply treasure whenever, and in whatever form I receive it.
I hope reading this lettery, informal essay makes you more aware of me, and hopefully, less assumptive.
Merry Christmas in advance to all those celebrating.