Opinion

Is paying respects to Christmas
un-Islamic?

Together, Muslims and Christians constitute over 95 percent of Indonesia’s population. If they do not live in harmony then the country is in huge trouble.

Despite the media hyperbole, the overwhelming majority of Indonesian Muslims and Christians do live in peace, but the increasingly visible cases of discrimination, including the sealing of several churches, is indeed alarming.

The warning from our law enforcers of attacks during the Christmas season is another grim reminder that our longing for religious tolerance remains divorced from reality.

The bias against the religious minority is indisputably repugnant, based on the tenets of democracy, liberalism and secularism. But for those behind the discrimination, it barely matters as they believe that their one and only mission in life is to pursue God’s blessings. The lecture on the creeds of John Locke, Montesquieu or even Pancasila, will fall on deaf ears among those who venerate the words of God and the instruction of His prophet above everything else.

So the big question then is whether Islam really preaches hostility against those who espouse different faiths, especially Christians? If that is the case then those who claim to defend the faith by repressing others would be vindicated.

There are ample commandments in the Koran exhorting peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. The Koran calls for Muslims to spread the message of Islam but the scripture also stipulates that there is no compulsion in religion (Al-Baqarah/2:256), for you is your religion and for me is mine (109:6), the Prophet is only a reminder not a controller over others (88:21-22).

There are some verses that can be misconstrued as promoting violence, “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of your religion and do not expel you from your homes — from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly” (60:8).

The aversion that some Muslims harbor against Christians is strikingly peculiar not only because of the Koran aforementioned general injunctions for religious tolerance but especially because Muslims and Christians share a myriad of things in common.

It would be disingenuous to claim that Christianity and Islam are identical considering they do have some fundamental differences. Nevertheless, it would also be misleading to argue that Islam and Christianity are antithetical.

Apart from Christianity, Islam is the only world’s main religion that recognizes Jesus or Isa as more than just an ordinary human being. While Islam does not accept him as the son of God, Islam still holds Isa in a high esteem as one of God’s prophets who delivered His words, a messenger who performed many miracles, including his birth from a virgin, someone that those who declare to be Muslims are compelled to revere.

Prophet Isa’s name is mentioned explicitly no less than 25 times in the Koran more than the name of Prophet Muhammad himself. The 19th chapter of the Koran is entitled “Maryam”, which was named after Prophet Isa’s mother.

While Muslims clearly do not observe Christmas, a verse from the Koran states that peace is upon Jesus the day he was born (19:33). It is not surprising then when Prophet Muhammad once said that of all people he was nearest to was the son of Mary.

The life of Prophet Muhammad is rife with compassion and mercy, including toward Christians. Once in Medina, a Christian delegation from Najran paid a visit to the Prophet Muhammad to learn about the new religion.

In the discussion, as cited by scholar Tariq Ramadhan, Prophet Muhammad challenged some dogmas of Christianity, including the divinity of Jesus, but after the delegations refused to convert, the Prophet still allowed them to pray according to their customs inside the mosque.

The Prophet did not compromise on the underlying foundation of his faith, but continued to extend his magnanimity to the Christians. Later on, the Prophet granted his protection to Christians, who contractually agreed to be a part of his community even without changing their beliefs.

For instance, in a letter addressed to Christians at St. Catherine Monastery, Prophet Muhammad said, “I hold out against anything that displeases them, no compulsion is to be on them, […] no one is to destroy a house of their religion […] their churches are to be respected.”

When our Christian friends celebrate Christmas, as Muslims, we certainly do not rejoice at the birth of a God incarnate, but we should reflect on the birth of one of God’s messengers, whose teachings emanate from the creator that we all worship.

We do not have to join a church mass, but at least we should show our Christian friends respect, the same respect that our beloved Prophet Muhammad offered to those who sought to follow the “nearest one of all people” to him.

The writer is a supporting staff member at the International Office of Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.

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