The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 21, 2017 1:00 am

A Muslim's wish for Christmas

Ahmed Abdelmageed

Yes, you read that headline correctly. And yes, you're right, Muslims, myself included, do not celebrate Christmas. I do, however, appreciate what my Christian friends have taught me about this time of year. The way they cherish their family a little extra, give a little more and the way in which broken ties are mended (or at least the effort is there) are sentiments that mirror Muslim holidays. I also share a special bond with Jesus (peace be upon him) as my family hails from a Palestinian town called Yebna, just a little more than 30 miles from Bethlehem.

My wish, as a Muslim, is that we do put Christ back in Christmas – and beyond.

No, this is not an article about the overcommercialization of Christmas, nor is it a rant on Christmas music booming through shops and malls hallways in September (although both deserve an article of their own). Rather, this is a call to study, learn and reflect upon one of the most beloved, most influential figures in history and, most importantly, to put his teachings in practice.

If you are a Christian reading this, please know that I am not here to proselytize your faith to you nor patronize you. I just simply wish to share with you my reflections on a figure who is loved and revered in Islam. A figure whose teachings have influenced the lives of many people I call friends. Teachings that resonate so much and in so many ways with the teachings of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Muslims know Jesus (peace be upon him) as the fatherless son of the Virgin Mary (to whom is dedicated Chapter 19 of the Quran). He is revered as a great prophet who was endowed with miracles by God that enabled him, among many things, to cure the leper and the blind and create birds from clay.

Much in the same way Muhammad (peace be upon him) was endowed by God to, among many other things, ascend to the heavens and visit with prophets who came before him, Jesus and Moses among them. God (or Allah, as you'd find him referenced in an Arabic bible) has chosen these messengers for us to learn how to get nearer to him, to be in his favor and to have, through their example, a personal compass that would guide us in our life's journey.

Let's put the teachings of Christ back in our lives. Jesus (peace be upon him) was a rebel. A disruptor of callous societal norms. A challenger of an unjust status quo. He taught us the story of the good Samaritan not for it to be recited as a fascinating fable from the olden days but as a directive on what to do when we find someone downtrodden and beat, even if they were a stranger. Much in the same way Muhammad taught, through many revealed verses of the Quran, to care for the poor and needy and lend support to the weakest among us.

When Jesus commanded “love your neighbor as yourself,” he did so without conditions. He didn't say, “Love the neighbor who looks like you, acts like you, worships like you.” Much in the same way, prophet Muhammad tells of the angel Gabriel repeating to him how much he should care for his neighbors that he, peace be upon him, thought angel Gabriel was going to ask him to include them in his will.

And when he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we should have no fear of what may come when we stand up for the oppressed, no matter how powerful the oppressor may seem. An empowering statement echoed by the prophet Muhammad 700 years later when he said, “The truest form of struggle is a just word before an unjust ruler.”

My wish for Christmas is that, during these times of faith, family and friends, we reflect on Jesus and appreciate how he has brought you a compass to help you find your way and not a stick with which to beat others – just as Muhammad has done for Muslims.

Ahmed Abdelmageed is assistant dean of experiential education and community engagement at the Manchester University College of Pharmacy and an associate professor of pharmacy practice.

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