This can be an important time for the Muslims to engage about Islam’s position on Isaa, the message and mission of Prophet (saw) in a clear, comprehensive and uncompromising way
In Britain Christmas is a time of the year when Muslims are under great pressure participate in the festivities. Whether its Muslim children joining in at their school nativity play or their parents attending the customary Christmas dinner at work it appears easier to go with the flow then to be the odd one out.
In multicultural Britain where nativity plays are deliberately internationalised to be inclusive of other faiths the dangers are subtle and not obvious. Yet celebrating the trinity and singing hymns that praise Issa (alayhi salam) or Jesus Christ as Lord or the son of God is clearly forbidden in Islam. The pressure to participate to impress the boss at work Christmas dinners is intense yet these have the added problem of free-mixing between the sexes and alcohol.
While integrating in such events is forbidden for Muslims isolating ourselves is counterproductive.
Muslims therefore need to engage. Talk to colleagues, friends, neighbours, school teachers to explain Islam’s position on celebrating Christmas; clarify the place of Issa (alayhi salam) and the high status his mother Maryam or Mary in Islam. In contrast to what many non-Muslims think, Muslims believe in Issa (alahi Salam) and regard him highly as a prophet and a servant of Allah (swt). Meanwhile, Maryam, Issa’s (alahi salam) mother, has a very high status with a whole Surah or Chapter named after her in the Quran – unlike Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) and Khatijah (may Allah be pleased with her), wives of Prophet Mohammad (saw).
The example of lucidly communicating with Christians was given in the seerah (life of the Prophet (saw)) by the companion, Jafar Ibn Abi Talib, in the court of Negus or Najasshi, the Christian Abyssinian King. In the fourth year of the Prophet’s mission the few Muslims in Mecca faced incredible oppression and torture by the Quraish. The Prophet gave permission to some Muslims, especially those who had no protection in Mecca, to emigrate to Abyssinia, where a Christian King was known to be honest and fair.
Known as the first Hijra (emigration) these Muslims including Jafar Ibn Abi Talib set off for Abyssinian pursued by Amr Ibn Al-Aas and Abd Allah Ibn Abi Rabii’ah sent by the Quraish with the objective of fetching them back to Mecca.
When the Muslims arrived in the court of Negus, Jafar Ibn Abi Talib made his now renowned speech. Jafar (r.a.) said:
“O King, we were a people in a state of ignorance and immorality, worshipping idols and eating the flesh of dead animals, committing all sorts of abomination and shameful deeds. breaking the ties of kinship, treating guests badly and the strong among us exploited the weak. “We remained in this state until Allah sent us a Prophet, one of our own people whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness and integrity were well-known to us. “He called us to worship Allah alone and to renounce the stones and the idols which we and our ancestors used to worship besides Allah.
“He commanded us to speak the truth, to honor our promises, to be kind to our relations, to be helpful to our neighbours, to cease all forbidden acts, to abstain from bloodshed. to avoid obscenities and false witness, not to appropriate an orphan’s property nor slander chaste women.
“He ordered us to worship Allah alone and not to associate anything with him, to uphold Salat, to give Zakat and fast in the month of Ramadan.
“We believed in him and what he brought to us from Allah and we follow him in what he has asked us to do and we keep away from what he forbade us from doing.
“Thereupon, O King, our people attacked us, visited the severest punishment on us to make us renounce our religion and take us back to the old immorality and the worship of idols.
“They oppressed us, made life intolerable for us and obstructed us from observing our religion. So we left for your country, choosing you before anyone else, desiring your protection and hoping to live in Justice and in peace m your midst.”
The King, Negus, was impressed and was eager to hear more. He asked Jafar: “Do you have with you something of what your Prophet brought concerning God?” “Yes,” replied Jafar alayhis ‘salam. Jafar did not choose a random verse from the Quran but selected to read from Surah Maryam because its words would touch the thoughts and emotions of the Christian King.
Jafar (r.a) read from the early part of Surah Maryam where Allah said:
And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east.
And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man.
She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah .”
He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.”
She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”
He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ “
So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.”
But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.
And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.
So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.’ “
Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented.
O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.”
So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?”
[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah . He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.
And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive
And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.”
That is Jesus, the son of Mary – the word of truth about which they are in dispute.
On hearing the words of the Quran, the Negus was moved to tears. To the Muslims, he said: “The message of your Prophet and that of Jesus came from the same source”
Amr Ibn Al-Ass did not give up and went back to An-Najasshi and said these Muslims call Isa slave of Allah just like all of Allah’s slaves as he thought that this would anger An-Najaashi.
Then came the firm reply from Ja’far: We say what has descended to our Prophet (saw): he (Isaa) is Allah’s slave, Messenger, His word which He bestowed, and a sprit created by Him (Allah swt).
An Najasshi returned the gifts Amr Ibn Al-Ass had brought to try and persuade the King to give over the Muslims and allowed Muslims to remain in his Kingdom.
Quoting directly from the Quran and the example of the Prophet (saw) the Muslims were very clear in their presentation of Islam and did not try to sugar-coat the message to placate the King even though they knew if had rejected them oppression and torture waited them back in Mecca.
Today some isolate themselves not interacting with the wider non-Muslim community while others mix without a sense of halal and haram, bending over backwards to be seen to be fully integrated into society.
However, this can be an important time for the Muslims to engage with their community and wider society about Islam’s position on Isaa, the message and mission of Prophet (saw) in a clear, comprehensive and uncompromising way – as the example from the seerah suggests.