On Faith: A message of peace and goodwill

Christmas decorations are up around our nation. Malls are filled with lines of children taking pictures with Santa as Christmas carols reverberate in the air. Lighted Christmas trees glisten within many homes and schoolchildren are coloring Rudolph's nose, as the story of old St. Nick is told by the fireplace in anticipation of the sound of wrapping paper being torn open on Christmas Day.

At its core, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and for the millions of American Muslims, Christmas time can become one of "those" areas where it is either celebrated, in the secular sense, or completely prohibited. Refraining from choosing sides, my wish is to highlight what I believe is the spirit and celebration of Christ's message, in which Muslims share with their fellow followers of Christianity.

For Muslims, Jesus Christ is considered one of the five leading prophets of God, and is revered 93 times in the Koran and holds various titles as the Messiah, the Son of Mary, the Word and the Spirit of God. His mother, Mary, has not only a Koran chapter entitled after her, but she is also considered one of the four women chosen above all women in existence.

Both Islam and Christianity share incredible similarities to Jesus: his immaculate birth, his performance of miracles, his second coming, and deliverance of the Gospel (Injeel), to name a few. However, the main difference between the two faiths revolves around the nature of Jesus. Islam states that Jesus was no more than a prophet of God (divinely inspired) while Christianity professes Jesus as divine, being God and the son.

That said, the spiritual message of Jesus is the pillar by which both faiths embrace and share common ground. Although his ministry was short-lived, the Messiah was an advocate for the rights of the impoverished. In our economic times, there is no greater need in our nation today than to help others. The foreclosures of homes does not represent just one person but an entire family, sometimes four or six members. In this season of giving, let us remember the spirit of Christ not in material gifting but out of spiritual love and concern for others.

When Christ walked this Earth, he longed to comfort the people and heal their pain. An Islamic tradition records Prophet Jesus saying, "People are of two kinds: Those who are in ease and comfort, and those in misery and adversity. So praise God for the ease and comfort, and be compassionate towards those in misery and adversity."

No gift could be more welcoming and joyful than the knock of a loving neighbor inquiring about the home that is facing financial hardship. Bring joy and glad tidings to a family in need this season.

Gatherings are one of the most joyful aspects of the holiday season. The magical time of Christmas is that it can inspire and open hearts to mend family ties. What is the point in celebration if we are not among family and friends? During his ministry, Jesus Christ was a healer and preacher of peace.

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1)

What greater gift can one give than the gift of togetherness? We commonly quote during the holiday season, "Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men," but somehow ignore practicing this ourselves. We cannot claim to be followers of peace if peace does not reside within our physical home and spiritual home, which is the heart. The spirit of faith is in action. If we truly want "Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men," then we must begin to lovingly embrace each other at home.

Although Muslims and Christians may struggle with some religious beliefs about Jesus, they can agree on the spirit of what Christ preached. Muslims and Christians share the common commitment to become peacemakers and healers.

This was the essence of Christ's teaching, which is at the heart of the real Christmas spirit. May Christ's message be the light and support of those who believe in healing and peace. Let us work to make this season alive with the true spirit of Christ's message.

FATMA SALEH is a board member with the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.

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