Muslims regard Judaism and Christianity as divine religions. Islam is a continuation and an extension of those great religions. In order to qualify as a Muslim, one has to believe in Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa) along with all the Biblical prophets, peace be upon them. Muslims have to believe in the Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur) and the Gospel (Injil) although Muslim scholars do have some issues about the accuracy of a few parts of these scriptures. And although Islam declares that it is the way of life chosen by God for humanity and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the final messenger of God, and that the Qur'an is the final message, the Qur'an affectionately refers to the followers of these previous scriptures as the People of the Book.
Muslims see these religious communities as cousins not only in faith but in ancestry also, through Abraham, that great pillar of monotheism. Islam encourages invitation (da`wah) to Islam though wisdom and good speech and through constructive and dignified dialogue. Muslims are not allowed to use force or coercion in order to convert others. Islam calls on Muslims to respect all human beings and all religions as they are. Muslims are not allowed to force Islam and its practices upon others in society. They are encouraged to set a good example, show alternatives to lifestyles and to be good role models and to refrain from and to declare their condemnation of all evil in society without inciting hatred for the perpetrators.
So we Muslims are baffled when we read and hear that Christmas is being `banned' and replaced with something else because the organisers do not want to offend Muslims. Where do they get this idea from? Who told them that? Such actions lead to comments like, `It's those Muslims again. They always have a problem with everything we do. Why don't they just leave and go back to their own country?' A majority of British Muslims were born here. Where do we want them to go? Local authorities, organisations and businesses trying to avoid offending Muslims and trying to be politically correct actually cause more harm to cohesion and understanding. There is a need to stem the tide of such ill-thought-out decisions where ruling bodies try to 'second guess' the attitudes of the communities and seek to defuse conflicts before they have even been felt or arisen.
To suggest that calling Christmas with its proper name and that Christmas decorations would offend Muslims is absurd. Why should Christmas not be celebrated openly and wholeheartedly in our country when a vast majority of people identify themselves as Christians. This country owes a lot to Christianity. Its moral values and ethical codes have been moulded by Christian teachings for centuries. In fact the whole planet has benefited from Christian teachings and continues to do so. Muslims would adopt all those values and moral codes without question or hesitation. Even if the Christian communities in our country were a minority, we would want Christmas to be celebrated because ours is a multi faith, multi cultural, pluralist and democratic country.
We have been calling on Christian friends for a long time now to reclaim Christmas from the commercialisation of it. We have been encouraging them to bring back the religious and spiritual richness of Christmas. Last year, a delegation of Christians and Muslims were in Brussels for a conference. For dinner we went to a restaurant in the centre of the city. I was thrilled to see that the nativity scene was re-enacted with life size figurines of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, the wise men, stables, straw and even live sheep! Why have I not seen this in Britain? It would be wonderful to show my children what the very special Jesus means to Christians and to discuss with them what he means to us and to learn the different beliefs we all hold. Merry Christmas to all Christians and whoever else chooses to celebrate it.
By Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra
Chairman, Inter Faith Relations Committee, MCB