Umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming, 2015.12.18 | 6 Rabi'ul Awwal 1436 H
It’s that time of the year when carols, liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts; festive foods, a Hallmark cash cow and moist perspiring Santa’s are unavoidable. Christmas is generally a time of reconciliation, a renewal of Faith and goodwill. In this spirit, many, glad for a few vacation days simply ignore the irony of fake snow and padded Santa’s in South Africa’s 35-degree summer heat. Muslims imbue a strong level of tolerance during the festive season writes Umm Abdillah, especially over the theology pertaining to the nativity, and the institutionalised construction of themselves as the ‘other’.
Islamophobia in a theological guise
This week, Wheaton College, an evangelical and missionary school in Illinois, suspended a professor after she posted on Facebook that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God.” In a post donning a headscarf, she also wrote: "I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book."
Wheaton College responded in a statement about her suspension: "While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God's revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer."
There are those in her fraternity who believe her suspension reflects enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy. This is but one incident highlighting the opposite reaction of Muslims to convoluted Christian orthodoxy, and the strongest level of tolerance Muslims imbue.
Let us consider just one example. Despite the nativity being a theological hotbed even among Christians, Muslims tolerate it in the spirit of right to worship and goodwill. This is a courtesy that it becoming less common a global war against Muslims and Islam, as displayed in the Wheaton College incident.
Jesus is not the Son of God
Jesus, or Prophet Eesa (peace be upon him and his mother) is a venerated Islamic prophet. Jesus according to Muslims was born to Mary (Maryam). One day, Allah sent the angel Jibraeel (Gabriel) to Maryam (Mary) to give her the news about the birth of a child named ‘Eesa’ (Jesus), who would later speak from the cradle. This piece of news stunned the Virgin Mary, who questioned how it was possible for her to have a child when no man had ever touched her (Quran 19:20). To this, Allah replied that whatever He wills happens (Quran 19:21). Thus, she withdrew from people to hide her pregnancy and when she finally delivered the baby, she was commanded by Allah to go back to Jerusalem with the baby. When Maryam (Mary) was reproached by people for committing a sin, she pointed towards the baby who spoke that he was appointed as a prophet by Allah (Quran 19: 30-33).
Islam thus teaches the rejection of the Trinitarian Christian view that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God. The Quran says that Jesus himself never claimed to be the Son of God, and it furthermore indicates that Jesus will deny having ever claimed divinity at the Last Judgment, and God will vindicate him. Islamic texts forbid the association of partners with God (shirk), emphasising a strict notion that God, or Allah is singular, or "One".
Fake Nativity and Double standards
Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Christian Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The standard explanation is that the early church conflated its celebration of the Nativity with pre-existing pagan festivals. Romans had their Saturnalia, the ancient winter festival, and northern European people had their own solstice traditions. Among the features: parties, gift-giving, and dwellings decorated with greenery.
The Wheaton College incident bigotry can be expressed in how differently Christians react to Jewish contentions. For centuries, Orthodox Jews have strenuously objected to Christian convictions. They believe Christians are idolaters because they worship a human being, Jesus Christ, and Christians are polytheists because they worship “Father, Son and the Spirit” rather than the one true God of Israel. The Christian response? Christian theologians neither insisted that they worship a different God than Jews nor did they accuse Jews of idolatry. That’s a step that would have been easy to make, for if Jews don’t worship the same God as the Christians, then they worship the false God and, therefore, are idolaters. Instead of rejecting the God of the Jews, Christians affirmed that they worship the same God as the Jews, but noted that the two religious groups understand God in in partly different ways.
As expressed in the Wheaton College incident, Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation is simply not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial. ‘Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?’ asks Miroslav Volf, author of “Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.
“When Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins justified her solidarity with Muslims by noting that as a Christian she worships the same God as Muslims, she committed the unpardonable sin of removing the enemy from the category of “alien” and “purely evil” other. She also drew attention to the simple fact that most Muslims aren’t enemies.”
The suspension took place less than a week after Wheaton College student leaders published an open letter in their student newspaper denouncing recent comments by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell. Speaking to thousands of students about terrorism, Falwell urged them to arm themselves, saying it would “end … those Muslims.”
Think about this incident the next time you read an article about ‘intolerant Muslims’ and how gay rights, liberal rights, minority rights, or Christian rights are the only rights subdued in predominantly Muslim countries or how intolerantly oppressive Muslims are. For then, and now, and going forward, it is the Muslim who has to deconstruct the institutionalised and evangelical construction of themselves as the ‘other’ in the so-called ‘land of the free’.