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Renewing our Common Bonds

Javed Akbar

Not just Christians, but people of all faiths and no faith are swept by the Christmas lights, the décor, the palpable air of jingles and the festive look to cheer up the winter drear. This is how it is for most people and has less to do with spirituality and more about a common spirit of generosity, hospitality and joy. And the alluring rush to sales and specials for any savvy shopper is an added enticement.

For the last several years Pickering Islamic Centre organizes ‘holiday lunch’ in the midst of this season by inviting people of all faiths, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, politicians of all stripes and law enforcement personnel to break bread together in an environment of camaraderie and brotherhood. It demonstrates how we can share hope for peace in the harshness of a perplexing world with recurring cruelties. This year it happened to be on Sunday December 8, 2018.

Christmas as we know it now has a history of multiculturalism. The turkey itself was supposedly brought to Europe through trade with Native Americans. Decorating the Christmas tree is a German custom and was popularized in the 19th century by Prince Albert. Gift-giving at the winter solstice was a Roman tradition. And that’s without mentioning that Jesus (may peace and blessings upon him) or Isa son of Mary Alaihis Salaam as he is known in Arabic was Middle Eastern.

‘Christmas, like many faith traditions, is about the values of compassion,’ says Vaqar Raees, director inter-faith relations Pickering Islamic Centre. ‘The luncheon is about sharing celebrations and be a part of the warmest and most welcoming aspect of society.’

The story of Jesus held a special place in the hearts and mind of every Muslim and is considered a core principal of Islam. The belief in previous prophets is a central tenet of Muslim faith as the Qur’an clearly mentions at least 25 prophets that were Allah’s messengers sent on Earth to spread His word. The Qur’an insists that all rightly guided religions come from Allah, and Muslims are required to believe in the revelations of every single one of Allah’s messengers: “Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob … and all the other prophets: we make no distinction between any of them” (3:84). But Jesus – also called the Messiah, the Word and the Spirit – had special status, while his mother, Mary, (Maryam AlaihisSalaam) gets more ink

— and praise — than in all four New Testament Gospels put together, in fact an entire chapter named after her in the Qur’an.

The three great Abrahamic religions of our battered world, despite all the past and present tensions between them, come together in the story of Jesus. Whether you are a Jew, Christian or a Muslims, we share either a faith followed by him, or a faith built on him, or a faith that venerates him. We believe in a Jesus who is not divine but still was sacred and brought a message of faith. Islamic tradition has a place for Jesus at the very core of its devotion. This very idea of a Muslim Jesus is enough to fortify the resolve for peace between the two communities. Unfortunately, current events and charged rhetoric around the world provide ample opportunity for promoting religious hostility. And yes, Muslims and Christians do have some differing perspectives on Jesus’ life and teachings. But his spiritual legacy offers an alternative opportunity for people of faith to recognize their shared religious heritage.

For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat, but in reality we have more in common than we think.

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Javed Akbar’s opinion columns have appeared in the Toronto Star and online magazines. He can be reached at mjavedakbar@gmail.com

Renewing our Common Bonds

Categories: Editorial

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