The Spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Islam | William Kilpatrick | CWR
How much do Christians and Muslims have in common? Plenty of clues can be found in the celebration of Christmas.
“The man that hath no music in himself/ Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds/ Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils” –William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Every year around this time, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), sends out a Christmas message to Christians. The gist of the message is that Christians and Muslims have much in common because “Muslims also love and revere Jesus as one of God’s greatest messengers to mankind.” And to prove it he quotes from chapter 3, verse 45 of the Koran:
Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of) those nearest to God.
The Catholic authors of Nostra Aetate probably had this verse in mind when they declared that Muslims “revere” Jesus and “honor Mary.” Statements like this, along with the fact that Muslims esteem prophets and martyrs and engage in prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage, are seen by many Catholics as proof that Islam and Christianity are very similar religions. Christians would do well, however, not to take too much comfort in these apparent similarities. Although Christians and Muslims share some similar texts and similar practices, the two faiths are separated by a wide gulf.
A close examination of texts will reveal the chasm, but another way of grasping the crucial differences between Islam and Christianity is to note that the two faiths have a completely different “feel.” When we talk about a “gut feeling” or “getting a feeling” for a new activity, we mean that we understand something in an intuitive, experiential way. It’s one thing to read an instructional manual on tennis, and another thing to play it.
Christmas: A Point of Reference
One way to appreciate the different “feel” of the two religions is to think about Christmas. It means a lot to Christians. They decorate Christmas trees, set up mangers, exchange Christmas cards, sing carols, and celebrate solemn yet joyful liturgies. On the other hand, although Muslims celebrate a number of religious holy days, Christmas is not one of them—which, when you think about it, is a bit strange. Muslims, according to Hooper, “love and revere Jesus,” but they studiously ignore his birthday.
Muslims have the Christmas story (or, at least, a truncated version of it), but they don’t have Christmas. Why? Well, essentially because there’s nothing to celebrate. To Muslims, Jesus is not the redeeming savior of the world, but simply a prophet whose main job, it seems, was to announce the coming of Muhammad.
Not only does Islam lack Christmas, it lacks many of the humanizing elements that we associate with Christmas.