“And Salam (peace) be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! (Quran 19:33)”
For the lovers of Prophets, the year 2015 has been a very special one. First, because the solar year is longer than the lunar one by about 12 days, Muslims were able to celebrate two Mawlids in the same calendar year (solar). Secondly, for the first time in many many years, both Christmas and Mawlid have occurred back to back.
Mawlid, the celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (*pbuh), was on December 24th, a day before Christmas. It does not have any special spiritual significance except that it does present an opportunity for Mawlid celebrators to commemorate the birth, the life and the teachings of two of Islam’s most prominent Prophets at the same time. For me personally this is a spiritual bonanza, I was blessed to have the opportunity to give the Friday khutbah (sermon) on Christmas in our community’s mosque, which in a happy coincidence is named Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam (Mosque of Jesus the son of Mary). I spoke on the theme of “two brothers,” who are very dear to God and the prospects of Muslim-Christian amity.
While many people mistakenly think of Islam as a religion founded by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the reality (as viewed from within Islamic sources) is that Islam is the chosen religion of God, revealed and perfected over time through periodical messages brought by messengers of God. The first Prophet of God was Adam; Jesus was the second last Prophet and Muhammad was the last and final messenger of God, whose message perfected the religion of God (Peace be upon all of them).
Jesus, his life and legacy, is critical to Islam. He is mentioned 29 times by name in the Quran. The only chapter in the Quran named after a female personality is Maryam (chapter 19) named after Mary, the mother of Jesus. Muslims believe in his immaculate birth, and many Muslims also believe in his return before end of time. Muslims recognize that the Gospel, revealed to Jesus, is one of the divine messages sent by God.
While their missions are separated by more than five centuries, from a Muslim perspective there was no other Prophet between them — and they spoke of each other. Muslims believe that the “spirit of truth” mentioned in John 16:13 — But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come – is none other than Prophet Muhammad himself. This idea is corroborated in the Quran — It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all of religion (48:28).
This relationship between Prophets Muhammad and Jesus also translates into a strong affinity between Muslims and Christians. In the Quran, Christians are presented as those who are nearest to Muslims in love and affection — you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: “We are Christians. (5:82)”
Today we live in difficult times. Christians do not feel safe in Muslim lands and Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe and America. Even in the West, Christians are wary of groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaida and erroneously extend that fear to all Muslims and the faith of Islam itself. The voices of hate are getting louder and bolder and more egregious by the day. But fortunately the voices of love and peace are also speaking up, unfortunately without the same global impact.
Jewish and Christian voices are speaking up for Muslims in the West. The Pope himself has spoken with affection and compassion about Islam and Muslims. It is in this contentious environment that an opportunity to celebrate both Mawlid and Christmas at the same time must be cherished and embraced to the fullest. This is a divine gift that must not be squandered.
At the beginning of this essay I quoted a verse from the Quran, which quotes Jesus declaring that God has blessed with peace the day he was born, the day he died, and the day he will be resurrected. This verse also speaks in the same vein about John, the son of Zachariah (19:15), clearly indicating that God has indeed blessed the day Prophets are born.
This year we have been given an opportunity to celebrate the birth of two great Prophets, who between them command the hearts of more than half the planet. Peace and amity between them can go a long way in making the planet a peaceful planet.
Let us celebrate. Happy Mawlid. Merry Christmas.
*pbuh – peace and blessings be upon him
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Delaware and a co-founder of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs. He tweets at: https://twitter.com/MuqtedarKhan. His website is www.ijtihad.org.