The Christmas story is told in the Quran

What gets lost in the white noise is a key fact: Jesus is an important figure for Muslims, too.
Saturday 22/12/2018
A Muslim woman takes a selfie with Christmas trees in downtown Beirut. (AP)
Festive spirit. A Muslim woman takes a selfie with Christmas trees in downtown Beirut. (AP)

Far-right parties in the West often portray Islam as at war with Christianity. What gets lost in the white noise is a key fact: Jesus is an important figure for Muslims, too.

The Quran explicitly makes mention of Jesus, one of 26 prophets named in the Muslim holy book. A Quranic passage referring to the creation of a representational object is a statement attributed to Jesus.

It goes as follows: “Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; I shall create for you from clay in the form of a bird; I shall blow into it and it will become a bird, by God’s leave.”

Prophet Mohammad, too, is said to have been very respectful of Jesus and his mother Mary. When he entered the Kaaba, at the time it was a pre-Islamic pagan shrine in Mecca, the Prophet is said to have destroyed all the images of gods but allowed a painting of the Virgin and infant Jesus to remain.

There are varying accounts of how he protected that painting. Some say he covered it with his hands; others that he directed it to be left intact. The painting was lost when a fire destroyed the building in 683, barely half-a-century after it had been saved by Prophet Mohammad.

The story offers not just a wholesome but a holistic perspective of the Muslim faith’s approach to the icons of other religions and it challenges the politically mischievous assertion that there is an inherent incompatibility between Islam and Christianity.

Consider this:

** Jesus, Mary and the angel Gabriel are all in the Quran. Jesus is called “Isa” in Arabic and Mary is “Maryam.”

** Muslims believe that Isa is a prophet of God but not flesh of his flesh or the son of God as Christians do.

** Maryam is the only female figure to have a Quranic chapter named after her.

** Muslims say “peace be upon him” when they refer to Jesus, just as they do with Mohammad and other prophets.

** The Christmas story is told in the Quran with a sense of wonder at the miracle wrought by God. It goes as follows:

“And remember Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her family to an eastern place. And she veiled herself from them. Then We [God] sent unto her Our Spirit [the angel Gabriel], and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said, ‘I seek refuge from thee in the Compassionate [i.e., God], if you are reverent’’ He said, ‘I am but a messenger of thy Lord, to bestow upon thee a pure boy.’

“She said, ‘How shall I have a boy when no man has touched me, nor have I been unchaste?’ He said, ‘Thus shall it be. Thy Lord says, “It is easy for Me.” And [it is thus] that We might make him a sign unto mankind, and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.

“So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a place far off. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, ‘Would that I had died before this and was a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!’ So he called out to her from below her, ‘Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath thee. And shake towards thyself the trunk of the date palm; fresh, ripe dates shall fall upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou seest any human being, say, ‘Verily I have vowed a fast unto the Compassionate, so I shall not speak this day to any man’.’

“Then she came with him [the infant Jesus] unto her people, carrying him. They said, ‘O Mary! Thou hast brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not an evil man, nor was thy mother unchaste.’ Then she pointed to him [Jesus]. They said, ‘How shall we speak to one who is yet a child in the cradle?’

“He [Jesus] said, ‘Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful towards my mother. And He has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!’”

Merry Christmas.