We are in the period of the Christmas that is primarily in celebration of the birth of one of the most influential personalities in human history, ‘Isa/Jesus (peace be upon him). Though the exact date of his birth is contentious, most Christians, following the Gregorian calendar greeted Christmas Eve on Thursday night, 24th of December 2015. This coincided with Thursday the 12th of Rabi’ al-‘Awwal 1437 of the Islamic lunar calendar; coincidentally marking the day of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Exact birth dates aside, how much symbolism is encapsulated in this convergence of celebration?
The World Receives the Messiah and the Final Messenger
The last time Mawlid al-Nabi / the birth day of Prophet Muhammad and Christmas Eve converged was in 1852. This simultaneity of birth anniversaries of the two of the most revered people is a rare astrological occurrence and will recur next only after 457 years in 2472.
The purported followers of these two great personalities (Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad), adherents to Christianity and Islam are followers the two faith traditions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they constitute more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities an important factor in contributing to meaningful peace and goodness around the world.
Jesus is Born to Mary (peace be upon them)
The birth of ‘Isa/Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is described in twice in the Qur’an; chapter 3 (Family of Imran) and chapter 19 (Mary). Reading from the beginning of his birth, we come across the story of Mary, and the esteemed position which she occupies in the House of Islam, before the actual annunciation of the birth of Jesus is given.
قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إذْ
وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ
"Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter, he is of those nearest to Allah"; [Quran 3:45]
Mary, the mother of Jesus is accorded highest respect and there is an entire chapter (19) titled Maryam/Mary in the Qur'an. In another chapter  tiled Ale 'Imran, Allah refers to that family as a "chosen family" [Quran 3: 33] and the to her..
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَى نِسَاء الْعَالَمِينَ
Behold! the angels said: O Mary! Allah has chosen you and purified you, chosen you above the women of all nations." [Quran 3:42] The word اصْطَفَا that Allah uses for Mary is the same root word Muslims use as a title for Prophet Muhammad (Mustafa – chosen). Mary , daughter of Imran is considered…
وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ
chaste, virtuous, receiver of God’s spirit, a testimony to the veracity of God’s message and piously obedient [Quran 66: 11]
Such is the status accorded to Mary that Jesus /'Isa referred to 25 times in the Qur'an and 16 of those times he is referred to as “Isa ibn Maryam" (Jesus son of Mary). Mary is mentioned more times and there is more biographical information about her contained in the Qur’an than in the entire New Testament. The Qur’anic account of Mary includes the pregnancy of her mother, the birth and upbringing of Mary, and the annunciations of the coming birth of Jesus:
وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِن رُّوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
“Remember how she preserved her chastity, into whom We breathed a life from Us, and made her and her son a token for humankind” [Q21:91].
‘Isa/ Jesus, holds an exalted place within Islam. As are evident from the honorable epithets mentioned in the Qur'an: word of Allah / kalimatu-Llah), spirit from God / ruhun mina' Llah, positive sign/symbol for humanity / āyatun lin- nās, mercy from God / rahmatan minna, of the Righteous" / min-as-sālihiin, prophet / nabi, Messenger of God / rasul, Messiah / masih, the son of Mary / ibn Maryam, eminent in this world and the next/ wajihan fid-dunya wal-ākhirah …
The lessons we learn from the lives of Jesus and Mary (peace be upon them) are universal and timeless.
- Mother & Son: In the story of Mary and her son [Quran 19:27-33], Jesus (peace be upon them) is reflected the importance of the dignity of the family; there is an example of the power of relationships, the care of a loving and pious mother and the respect of a righteous and caring son.
- Gentleness: He had a degree of gentleness in him that was most appealing. - All the miracles attributed to him were to help the distressed … fish to feed the hungry, healing those who were sick, visiting those who were ostracized (such as the lepers).
- Compassionate leader: [ Displayed in his dealing with the case of stoning the alleged adulteress… where he responded “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” [Book of John chapter 8]
- He cared about people without neglecting rule, using rules as a means to bring order to society; empowering rather than controlling, inspiring rather than dictating, uplifting rather than judging, seeking commitment rather than compliance.
- Firm on Principles: His softness was a reflection of his compassionate nature, not of weakness that often comes from those who do not have the courage stand up against the forces of corruption and inequity, and thus compromising on principles. Remember in dealing with the manipulative money lenders [Matthew 21] - And Jesus went into the temple and sent out all who were trading there, over-turning the tables of the money-changers. He said to those unprepared to fight against wrongfulness and injustice…, [Luke 22] he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy a sword.
Jesus & Muhammad (peace be upon them)
Muslims accept Jesus (pbuh) as a great prophet, revere his exemplary mother Mary, and believe that he is the Messiah to come. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said,
أنا أولى الناس بعيسى ابن مريم لأنه لم يكن بيني وبينه نبي
“I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary, Since there was no prophet between me and him.” [Musnad Ahmed]
أَنَا أَوْلَى النَّاسِ بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ،
وَالْأَنْبِيَاءُ إِخْوَةٌ ، لِعَلَّاتٍ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ شَتَّى ، وَدِينُهُمْ وَاحِدٌ
“Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.” [Bukhari]
Similarity between Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them):
i. Both grew up without a physical father; Jesus (pbuh) a miraculous birth while Prophet Muhammad’s father passed on while his mother was in pregnancy with him.
ii. Both were considered religio-polico-economic threats to the authorities of the day. Hence the Syndrion (council of religious leaders), Pontius Pilate (Prefect of Romans) and King Herod were directly involved in liquidating Jesus (pbuh). Prophet Muhammad was of the ruling Quraysh tribe, but his own relatives who were in positions of authority connived to have him removed. Both were victims of machinations to have them assassinated or killed.
iii. Both came unto their own but their own received them not; Jesus unto the Jews and Muhammad unto the Quraysh. Both served respectively as opposition to their mission. Prophet Muhammad had amassed less than three hundred followers upon migration from Makkah and Jesus only had 12 to 13 disciples at the Last supper.
iv. Both had the generosity of compassion to forgive their enemies and when Prophet Muhammad underwent oppression from his people he repeated the words of Prophet Jesus [Luke 23:34]
اللَّهُم اِغْفِرْ لِقَوْمِي فَإِنَّهُمْ لا يَعْلَمُونَ
Lord, forgive my people for they not what they do.
v. Both Preached and Practiced the Golden Rule:
Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was asked; “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.” [Mark 12:31] .
Prophet Muhammad had a similar response… Sahl bin Mu’adh reports from his father who asked the Prophet about the best expression of Faith, to which the Prophet responded …
أَنْ تُحِبَّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا تُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِكَ ، وَتَكْرَهَ لَهُمْ مَا تَكْرَهُ لِنَفْسِكَ ، وَأَنْ تَقُولَ خَيْرًا أَوْ تَصْمُتَ
“That you love for humanity what you love for yourself and dislike for them what you dislike for yourself, and that you either say something good or remain silent.” [Musnad Ahmed]
They thus had the capacity to do good to others even others did not do good to them [Matthew 6:14]. According to Islamic sources, Jesus is reported to have said words to the effect …
ان كنتم لا تحبون الا من احبكم ، ولا تحسنون الا الى من احسن اليكم ،
ولا تكافئون الا من اعطاكم ، فما فضلكم اذا على غيركم ؟
If you love only those who love you, do good only to those who do good to you, give only to those who give you; how are you better than others?
This kind of sentiment was similarly expressed by Prophet Muhammad…
رَأسُ العَقلِ بَعدَ الْاِيْمَانِ باللهِ؛اَلتَّوَدُّدُ اِلَى النَّاسِ ،
و اِصطِنَاعُ الخَيرِ اِلى كُلِّ بَرٍّ و فَاجِرٍ
The peak of reasoning after accepting faith in the Divine is being affectionate towards people, and doing good to others, irrespective of their being pious or sinful [Bayhaqi]
لا تَكُونُوا اِمَّعَةً ؛ يقُولُون اِنْ أحْسَنَ النَّاسُ أحسَنَّا و اِنْ ظَلَمُوا ظلَمْنَا ؛
و لكِن وَطِّنُوا أنفُسَكُم اِن أحسن النَّاس أن تُحسِنُوا، و اِنْ أسَاءُوا فلا تَظلِمُوا
Do not be uncouth saying “if others treat us well we will treat them well; and if they wrong us then we too will wrong them.Rather accustom yourself to do good to people who do good to you and not to wrong those who wrong you.” [Tirmidhi]
Wise ones thus remind us; what good are you if you are only good to those who are good to you?
vi. Both maintained a Metaphysical Consciousness in a mundane world
قال السيد المسيح عليه سلام الله يا بني إسرائيل أنا الذي أنزلتُ الدنيا منزلَها, ولا عجَب ولا فخر,
أتدرون أين بيتي? قالوا: أين بيتك يا رُوحَ الله?
قال: بيتي المساجد وطيبي الماء ، وإدامي الجوعُ، ودابتي رجلي، وسراجي بالليل القَمرُ، وصِلاتي في الشتاء مشارقُ الشمس، وطعامي ما تيسَّر، وفاكهتي ورَيْحاني بُقُولُ الأرض، ولباسي الصوفُ، وشِعَاري الخوف، وجُلَسا الزَمْنى والمساكينُ، أصبحُ ليس لي شيء، وأمْسي وليس لي شيء، وأنا طِيبُ النفس غنيّ مُكْثَر ، فمن أغنى وأربَح مِنّي رواه ابن عساكر
The Messiah (peace be upon him) said: “O Children of Israel! I have been positioned on earth with a particular status, and there is neither pompousness nor arrogance. Do you know where my residence really is?” They said, “Where is your residence, O Spirit of Allah.” The Messiah replied, “My home is any place of worship, my perfume is water, hunger is the flavoring of my food, my feet are my transport, my lamp at the night is the moon, my blanket in the winter is (the rising of the sun) east of the earth, my food is basic, my fruit and flowers are whatever grows from the earth, my garment is wool, my motto is fear of Allah and I accompany the sick and the poor. I sleep while I have nothing and I wake up while I have nothing, and yet there is no one on earth wealthier than I.” [Ibn ‘Asakir]
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said;
والمعرفة رأس مالي،والعقل ديني،والحب أساسي،والشوق مركبي،والخوف رفيقي،والعلم سلاحي، والحلم صاحبي،والتوكل زادي,والقناعة كنزي،والصدق منزلي، واليقين مأواي،والفقر فخري
( (ذكره القاضي عياض من حديث علي بن أبي طالب) ( الشوكاني في " الفوائد المجموعة) (مستدرك الوسائل
Higher cognition is my capital, reasoning is (the essence of) my religion, love is the foundation of my existence, desiring to do good is the motivation that drives me, fear (of displeasing the Almighty) is companion, knowledge is my weapon, humility is my friend, depending on the Divine is my provision, contentment is my treasure, truth is my abode, certainty is my destination, and being of the poor is my pride.
Such is the respect accorded to those of the Christian persuasion, “followers” of Christ (pbuh) that …
- Allah says that among all the faith traditions those who are Christians will be closest to Muslims [Quran 5:82]
لَتَجِدَنَّ أَقْرَبَهُمْ مَّوَدَّةً لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ الَّذِينَ قَالُوَاْ إِنَّا نَصَارَى
- when the Christian delegation of Najran lead by the Bishop Zayd al-Usquf came to meet with Prophet Muhammad in Madinah, , they asked the Prophet if they could have a place to perform their worship and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) responded, "Conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a place dedicated to God." How far have we ventured from the respectful attitude of our prophets (peace be upon them)
- the Prophet sent a personal letter to the Christians at St Catherine in Sinai, ensuring their safety and guaranteeing their freedom to practice their faith without prejudice.
Call for Righteous Cooperation
Prophet Jesus came over 2000 years ago; Prophet Muhammad over 1400 years ago. How close are we to the prophetic spirit of these two great exemplars? How much symbolism is encapsulated in this convergence of Mawlid al-Nabi and Christmas in 2015? It will recur next in 2472 when all of us are well gone. How much of their legacy will we transmit to future generations when we have already deviated so far from the essence of their collective message? Let us commit ourselves to the call for co-operation on that which would lead to righteousness and God-consciousness [Quran 5:2]
Violent events on the nightly news unfortunately provide ample ammunition for those promoting religious hostility and feeds the misconception that intolerance and hate-filled rhetoric is the norm. That is not the Abrahamic spirit. Muslims and Christians do have differing perspectives on Jesus' life and teachings, but his spiritual legacy, as a righteous and principled guide, his mission as a Prince of Peace offers an alternative opportunity for people of faith to recognize their shared religious heritage. Christians and Muslims would do well to reflect on the joint legacy of Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) and ponder on the verse in the Quran reaffirming Allah's eternal message of spiritual unity:
قُولُواْ آمَنَّا بِاللّهِ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالأسْبَاطِ
وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَى وَعِيسَى وَمَا أُوتِيَ النَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
"Say: 'We believe in God and the revelation given to us and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and message given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.'" [Quran 2:136]