Jesus Christmas and Abrahamic Understanding

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The Jesus (Peace be upon Him):

Jesus (peace be upon him) is the commonality between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. There are many similarities between Christianity and Islam about his parthenogenesis and his miracles with God’s permission. But the difference arises when Jesus is given divinity, making him one of the triune Gods, and when the doctrine of the crucifixion and resurrection is introduced. Islam recognizes Jesus, or Isa Ibn Maryam, as one of the mighty prophets who came to the children of Israel to spread the message of worshipping one God and to clear the Torah of corruption. In fact, an entire chapter of the Qur’an, i.e., Surah Maryam, is named after his mother Mary and talks about the birth of Jesus in detail.

Was He God or Son of God?

The status of divinity was attributed to Jesus 325 years after his alleged death. It was politically established in the Council of Nicaea by the Emperor Constantine I as a reaction against Arianism about the nature of the triune relationship. The early Christians didn’t believe Jesus was God or the son of God, and in mediaeval times we had the likes of Newton, who was an anti-trinitarian monotheist. The scholars themselves are confused about the trinitarian doctrine which claims three is equal to one. The Old Testament affirms the monotheism preached by Jesus (Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”), Jesus is affirming an understanding of God that is purely monotheistic and rejecting all notions of God being a Trinity. Similarly, the monotheism in the Qur’an states:

Say, ‘He is God the One, 

God the eternal. 

He begot no one nor was He begotten. 

No one is comparable to Him.’ [Chapter 112]

The unauthenticated Christmas:

The precise reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains obscure, but most researchers believe that Christmas originated as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. December 25 is not the date mentioned in the Bible as the day of Jesus’s birth; the Bible is silent on the day or the time of year when Mary was said to have given birth to him in Bethlehem. The earliest Christians did not celebrate his birth. Biblical scholars and experts agree that December 25 is not the birth of Jesus Christ, and in fact, Jesus was not born anywhere near this date. Interestingly, during the 17th century, the celebration of Christmas was banned in England by the Puritan Christians because of its pagan origins. Even if we assume that Jesus was born on December 25th, and that God was born on this day according to trinitarian doctrines, how do we reconcile the anthropomorphization of Jesus?

The Islamic understanding of Jesus or Isa Ibn Maryam:

There are numerous Qur’anic verses that discuss Jesus, his birth, his miracles, his mission, and his message. The verses also vehemently criticise the divinity ascribed to Jesus as a later corruption and clear up the misunderstanding by calling Jesus a mighty messenger whose message was to worship one God and stay away from paganism and polytheism.

Surah An-Nisa’, verse: 171

O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.

Surah Az-Zukhruf, verse: 59

Jesus was not but a servant upon whom We bestowed favor, and We made him an example for the Children of Israel.

Surah As-Saf, verse: 6

And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.”

The Quran also gives basic argumentation on why Jesus was a human separated from his creator as he had human urges like that of eating food for survival which a divine entity would be devoid of having it.

Surah Al-Ma’idah, verse: 75

The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded.

 

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Tabiyan Al Kalam:

From the Indian subcontinent, the educationist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan wrote the first ever commentary on the Gospel. He initiated an academic discussion based on both the scriptures of Christianity and Islam, where he discussed the nature of Christ according to the different sects of Christianity developed through the time span of eighteen centuries. In his Tabiyan Al Kalam (1860–1865), he expounded various similarities between the two Abrahamic faiths and reconciliatory paradigms within them. As Dr. Bruce Lawrence inquired long ago, should any Muslim, since he accepts the Qur’an as God’s final revelation to the last prophet, be motivated to read pre-Qur’anic scriptures? Sir Syed’s engagement with the Bible is better understood when considered within the pluralistic tendencies that undergird his religious thought. He sought to rationalise and draw a congruency between the Qur’an and the Bible so that they could be read as peers.

 

The way forward:

The concept of pluralism remains an underrepresented facet of Islam in contemporary discourse, which jeopardises the possibilities of amicable and fruitful engagements. A healthy and harmonious discourse will only be possible between the two Abrahamic faiths when their followers read, understand, engage in dialecticism, and carry out the conversation on common terms based on factual and intellectual analysis, as this can mend strained communal relations. The Qur’an calls the Abrahamic faiths to have a dialogue on common terms that can lead to meaningful conclusions.

Say to the People of the Book, “We must come to a common term. Let us worship no one except God, nor consider anything equal to Him, nor regard any of us as our Lord besides God.” (3:64)

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