27 December 2007

A merry Christmas to all - including Muslims

National News - December 24, 2007

By Muhammad Nafik
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta


A Merry Christmas for Christians and Muslims. Why Muslims? Because Muslims should join festivities that commemorate the birth of Prophet Isa aka Jesus Christ.

The Koran actually cites not only Jesus' birthday, but also two other important moments in his existence -- his death and the day of his resurrection. This is clearly stated in Sura Maryam (Verse of Mary): 33, "So peace is on me (Jesus) the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)".

If the Koran itself recorded Jesus as such, how come Muslims were prohibited by ulema from wishing Christians a merry Christmas? This goes against the fundamental truth of Islam.

If we are consistent in our faith, recognizing Jesus as a prophet in Islam, we should not hesitate to join his birthday celebrations. Whether our own celebrations are held in a different manner to Christians' is not an issue.

The statement in the Sura Maryam should, therefore, end the controversy of whether Muslims are allowed to give Christians a Christmas greeting.

Debates on this sensitive subject have continued to resurface each year, since the Indonesia Ulema Council issued a fatwa in 1981, banning Muslims from greeting Christians at Christmas.

The council said such behavior had bad implications for Muslims' common faith in Isa. The ulema said the greetings implied Muslims justified the Christian belief that Jesus is God, while Islam recognized him as a prophet.

The claim, which seems to be supported by many (if not most) Muslim clerics, was exaggerated and seems not to make sense given that greetings are a social courtesy. What is not allowed is for Muslims to be engaged in the ritual aspects of Christmas.

In the Koran, Jesus Christ is named Isa Almasih. He is described as a figure with many privileges, who was born without a father -- which Christians similarly believe.

While Jews accused Jesus' mother Maria (Maryam, Mary) of adultery and rejected his presence on earth, Islam considered him one of the Ulul Azmi (five supreme prophets) comprising Muhammad, Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), Noah (Nuh) and Isa (Jesus).

This is evidence that Islam recognizes and respects Jesus' nobility, and is the reason why we should celebrate his presence on earth, which served as a torch for the world in times of darkness and hopelessness.

Another substantial religious reason for Muslims to greet Christians during Christmas is the fact that the Koran promotes pluralism between communities of different faiths, ethnicities, cultures and groups.

The spiritual objective of this is for us to know and learn about people from other groups (li ta'arafu), to stop us fighting one another (li takhashamu), considering others infidels (li takafaru) or killing each other (li taqatalu).

In this respect, all religions should be treated as equal, to pave the way for free and fair dialogs in interfaith groups, without any subordination from any single party.

With regard to pluralism in this country, non-Muslims have shown themselves to be more tolerant than Muslims in numerous instances.

For example, when Indonesian Moslems observed Idul Fitri on Oct. 13-14, many Christians sincerely greeted them. These wishes were conveyed by leaders on television, through newspaper advertisements and other media facilities.

Some churches, like the one close to my housing complex in Ciputat on the city outskirts, even erected banners with Idul Fitri greetings.

In prayers held at public events, non-Muslims are never bothered or worried when this session is led by Muslims, but it would be a different story if non-Muslims led the prayers.

In constructing houses of worship, non-Muslims have faced more challenges and resistance than Muslims.

Such intolerance continues to rise amid the silence of moderate Islamic leaders in the world's biggest Muslim population.

To enlighten Indonesia's Muslim community such leaders must raise the issue more frequently at major events.

This Christmas is a good opportunity for Muslim leaders to campaign for pluralism, tolerance and co-existence. At least they can start by doing the same as Christians do when they greet us during post-Ramadhan festivities.

The preaching of pluralism would be more influential and effective if leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah -- the two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia -- joined hands with moderate scholars and other charismatic clerics to publicly wish Christians a Merry Christmas.

The writer can be reached at nafik@thejakartapost.com




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People talk about the need to reform Islam. Now you can stop talking and start helping.

With the help of our readers we went through the Koran and removed every verse that we believe did not come from Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. We would like to publish Reform Koran in as many languages as possible. If you could help with translation, editing, or distribution of the Reform Koran, please email us at koran-AT-reformislam.org.

In Memoriam of Aqsa Parvez.

http://www.reformislam.org/reform.php