Some neo-conservative Muslim leaders exhibit a spiritually stingy outlook when they caution their followers against celebrating Christmas. However, many Muslims celebrate Christmas in some small way. Some do so as they are engaged in an interfaith marriage, whereas for others it is part of their tradition to wish their neighbours "Merry Christmas."
Such Muslims reject totalitarian religious positions. They reject the conduct of insecure Islamist Malaysians who prohibit local Christians from referring to God as Allah and the Islamist Saudis who ban the public celebration of Christmas. They also recognize the zulm (oppression) against Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman in Pakistan, who has been suffering for half a decade in prison on false blasphemy charges.
These Muslims believe that the primordial spirit of Islam is one of religious pluralism. They acknowledge that the Prophet's covenant at St. Catherine's Monastery and the Charter of Medina accorded equal rights to all citizens of the ummah (community), which included Christians, Jews and pagans.
For such Muslims, communal harmony is more important than upholding divisive religious dogma. Indeed, the Prophet is reported as having said that keeping good relations with people is better than the rituals of prayer, fasting and charity.
The 20th century Muslim mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan upheld this spirit when he opined that the Sufi (Muslim mystic) sees truth in every religion and worships the same God in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque.
Muslims, who value religious pluralism, believe that celebrating Christmas is not tantamount to shirk (idolatory), as the neo-conservative Muslim leaders would have one believe. If they celebrate the birthday of the Prophet, they find no religious hurdle in celebrating the birthday of the Messiah.
The Qur'an asserts in verse 19:33 that peace is upon Jesus the day he was born. The 13th century Muslim mystic Ibn Arabi even perceived Jesus as the "seal of universal holiness."
It is true that the conflict between early Muslims and others is captured in Qur'anic verses. But that does not mean that later generations of Muslims, Christians, Jews and others are to be bound by dictates specific to that period. Discounting religious polemics, the 15th century Muslim scholar Al Biqa'i opined that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John represented the injil (Bible) as referred to by the Qur'an.
It is perhaps this plural spirit of Islam that led Sufi singer Yusuf Ganief of the South African group 'Desert Rose' to sing the Arabic portion of their multi-lingual rendition of Ave Maria.
Perhaps, the same spirit is behind Egyptian singer Mohamed Mounir's devotional song that alludes to taking an oath on the virtue of Virgin Mary. Maybe it drove a Muslim stonemason Ahmed Bezinine to spend four decades restoring Churches and Cathedrals in France.
Muslims, who believe that there are many paths to the Divine, recognize that beyond holidays, shopping and movies, the spirit of Christmas, like that of Eid, lies in families getting together and in people caring for one another. They understand that the Christmas spirit is about giving what little one has to afford shelter to those in need. It is about the Prince of Peace, who taught to overcome indifference, false pieties and judgments to "Love one another."
Such Muslims realize that rescuing Aasia Bibi from oppression would not be easy. What chance does she have against the madness perpetrated by frenzied mobs, when even a misogynist preacher has to flee to save his skin?
Yet, they cannot give up. They know that Aasia Bibi might spend Christmas without her family again this year. They know that much needs to be done in uniting her with her daughters.
Such Muslims, like Conservative MP Rehman Chishti in the U.K. and Muslim activists in Pakistan, have to be supported in their efforts to save Aasia Bibi. This is especially so since the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who gave up his life standing up for Aasia Bibi.
We can inform ourselves about her case through online sites and the bookBlasphemy - Sentenced to death over a cup of water. We can raise awareness about her case in our circles, sign online petitions and write to our politicians.
This Christmas, can we do our small part towards realizing peace on earth?
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