Sameen R Chaudhary, London
The month of December, cold and dark as it is, for many is a celebration of light over darkness. For them it is a time to be with family and friends, worship, giving, joy and singing, embracing and focusing on the good. For Christians in many parts of the world, December brings with it the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, even though it has been established that the actual birth of Jesus did not take place in December at all. Indeed it was a birth that was miraculous, and a death even more puzzling as different theories emerged over time. For a man who has faced much controversy in his birth and death, Jesus is a worldwide figure, and not exclusive to any one group.
This time of year is wonderful for some, stressful for others, and too commercial for many. It is a time of year when streets are decorated, people are in a festive happy mood, and the shops are filled with all things sparkly. 2017 has been a little different as I have never had to think about, justify or explain my position on Christmas the way I have this year. Perhaps it is a sign of the times we live in when Muslims are being scrutinised and discussed all the time. No doubt the whole debate around the Tesco Christmas advert got many people thinking about who was entitled to celebrate Christmas and how. Social media, radio debates and the like were ablaze with commentators on all sides of the argument. From this emerged some reoccurring patterns one of which was that it is OK for people who do not wish to abide by the basic tenets of the Christian faith, (or the basic tenets of all the major world faiths including Islam, as they are all the same at their core, because they are all from the One God), to celebrate Christmas. But it is not ok for a Muslim, who actually not only believes in Jesus (on whom be peace) but has much respect and love for him as a Prophet of God, a noble and pious man born to a woman who was the epitome of piety as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. A man who Muslims believe was the Messiah. We may not agree on the way he died, but at least we agree how he was born and that he was sent from God for the benefit of people.
On the other hand there was the recognition that many people celebrate Christmas without believing in Jesus, and therefore it has become part and parcel of British culture, which all who live here should be part of anyway. Many people go back to pre-Christian England where festivities around the winter solstice celebrated the shortening of nights and lengthening of days, and where many practices have found their way into a ‘traditional Christmas’. On this side, there is also the expectation to join in. Those who do not are seen as on the periphery of society, not assimilated or integrated. Here too there is a flaw, as it takes away the meaning of Christmas for those who do celebrate it as a religious festival.
So the dilemma of celebrating this time of year, how much or how little to celebrate continues in fear of offending anyone. But celebrating someone does not only have to be about their birth. It can also be a celebration of their purpose and message and to honour these. And there are many ways. If I was to celebrate the coming of Jesus (on whom be peace), rather than his birth, it would be first and foremost to recognise the God who sent him. It would be to believe in the Prophets who came before him, and those who came after. It would be in showing respect to his teachings, his people, and those who believe in him. Perhaps it would even be learning more about him and his message. It would be understanding the miracle of his birth and the truth of his death. As a woman, it would be to follow the role model of his mother especially, to perhaps adorn myself with a veil the way she is depicted, or to dedicate my child the way she was dedicated to the service of God. If I was to celebrate the coming of Jesus (on whom be peace), or other Prophets of God for that matter, it would most definitely be to accept him as the Messiah of his time. But also to accept the Second Coming, the Messiah for the latter days. That would be the real celebration. So if I was to celebrate, it would be every day and not at any specific time; marked by learning, remembering, understanding, and the struggle to follow teachings today and every day.
As an Ahmadi Muslim and follower of the Messiah who was promised to humankind in the latter days, and who came in the person of the Promised Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (on whom be peace) I believe in his teachings of the Loving God and service to humankind. Members of the Ahmadiyya Community, his followers, are spending these holidays visiting the sick, distributing gifts, giving company to the lonely, helping the elderly, and much else. These are also ways of celebrating the Messiah. And they are in keeping with the teachings of Prophet Jesus (on whom be peace) ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you’ and the Promised Messiah’s principles ‘that we have kindness at heart for the whole of mankind’.
So to everyone today celebrating in their own ways, (or not); I wish a peaceful day, today and all days.