THE birthday of Prophet Muhammad on Maulid-ar Rasul and that of Jesus Christ on Christmas fall on consecutive days. This unique overlapping of events can give us inspiration to focus on the similarities as a means to bring people together for prosperity with peace and harmony
Today, Dec 24, the eleventh day of Rabi-al Awal, the third month of the Islamic calendar, marks the birth of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. On this day and almost every day during the month, Muslims all over the world, commemorate the birth on varying scales, from a simple family gathering at home to massive rallies and processions to show respect and reverence to the Prophet.
The Quran says that Muhammad “is a mercy to mankind”. Irrespective of the sectarian divide that is plaguing Islam, all Muslims are united in showing respect to the Prophet, who is a common reference point for the “ummah” – the community of believers. The Prophet is a model for leadership and human conduct and behaviour. The remembrance events reiterate and reverberate the mission on which Islam is founded.
Tomorrow, Dec 25, Christmas will be celebrated. Technically, the day marks the birth of Jesus Christ (called Nabi Isa by the Muslims).
In common parlance, Christmas is a festival of all sorts, transgressing religious bounds, no doubt embellished by commercial elements. Christmas is now a global phenomenon. The spirit of Jesus and his mission continues.
The Islamic Hijrah calendar is based on a pure lunar system without intercalation or adjustment of an additional month to synchronise every fourth year with the Gregorian calendar which is based on the solar reference system. Therefore, all annual Islamic events advance about 11 days each year and thus embrace the events and festivals of other faiths.
This is a unique characteristic of Islam to be in alignment with other religions and cultures. The Gong Xi Raya (when the Chinese New Year falls at the same time with the Id-al Fitr) and Deepa Raya (when the Hindu festival Deepavali falls at the same time with Id-al Fitr) are well known to Malaysians.
The Maulid-ar Rasul, the birthday of the Prophet of Islam and the birthday of Jesus Christ falling at about the same time this year brings to the fore a significance that needs recognition. From a historical and genealogical perspective, Islam and Christianity have many lessons to offer for preserving human conduct and dignity.
Christianity and Islam emanate from a common Abrahamic (Nabi Ibrahim ) fountain. From that stand point, the Quran is explicit in the relationship of Muslims with the “people of the book (scriptures),” a reference to Christians and others.
Islam recognises the existence and the legitimacy of other spiritual paths. This inclusive approach of Islam, advocated by the Prophet needs to be promoted vehemently in the present day context, when interfaith relations are at a low ebb.
In fact, a Muslim is not a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus Christ and the other messengers of God, who were sent from time to time. In this regard the message of Jesus Christ, his miraculous birth, his death and the proposition of his return one day is entrenched in the Islamic belief system.
Jesus said, “Think not I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till Heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 4: 17-18).
Within the Islamic world and in the (so called) Christian West, there are apparent contradictions.
While the Islamic (mainly the Arab-speaking) world is torn apart by internal strife and sectarian violence, the affected Muslims are seeking refuge in the Christian West.
The ensuing refugee problem has reached a crisis point akin to the sad state of affairs at the end of World War II.
The Muslims from Syria for example, are given a humani-tarian treatment in Germany and in other European countries. In this respect, the bold and resolute action of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, has attracted praise from all over the world.
Such a stance, despite other political overtures has demonstrated the fact that respect for human life lies beyond geographical borders and religious boundaries.
The Prophet of Islam himself faced persecution in his place of birth, Mecca. His flight to Medina, a momentous turning point for Islam itself, was welcomed by the people of Medina with open hands and with a recital of songs of joy.
The same lyrics were reenacted recently by an Ottawa school choir in Canada. Sung in its original Arabic form by schoolchildren, mainly Christians with a sprinkling of children from other faiths, the moment captured the ethos of migration and the welcome gesture to the migrants, assuring them continuation of life with safety and security.
The choir arranged and conducted by one Robert Filion was meant initially for fostering diversity and cultural inclusion in Canada. It became a welcome rhythm to the Syrian refugees entering Canada.
The Prophet of Islam was tasked to preach God’s guidance to preserve unity. He emphasised that unity of mankind is far stronger than that which can be claimed by national, social, colour or race preferences.
Unfortunately, that universal message appears to have been subverted by a few causing turmoil, in Islamic countries. The principle fortunately is alive elsewhere, even in Christian countries.
Let us Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths take a cue on this occasion of the overlapping commemoration of two great personalities the world has been blessed with and affirm our common and mutual understanding of and for each other.
Let us focus on similarities as a means to bring people together and prosper with peace and harmony. Happy Maulid-ar Rasul and Merry Christmas. Datuk Seri Mohamed Iqbal Rawther The STAR Home News Opinion Letters Thursday, 24 December 2015