Walking along the streets of Gaza City, I’m fascinated by the twinkling red lights, decorated trees, Santa Claus costumes and Christmas gifts. Christmas is here and Christians are busily preparing by passionately decorating everything with shimmering accessories. Welcoming this special event, they spread a wonderful table and share their food and love. It's the birthday of the child Jesus, who delivered the message of God to the people.
A survey conducted last year found that the number of Christians in Gaza has been declining due to Israeli assaults and the rigors of the occupation, but still is a strong community. In 1997, the total number of Christians in Gaza was 1,688. In 2007 there were 1,375 and by March 2014, there were 1,313 living in just 390 households. Today, there are 1,312 because a woman aged 70 was killed in the summer assault. (The Christians in Gaza live in circumstances similar to everyone else, under blockade and coping with a poor economic situation. The average household income was $739.65 per month in 2014, and 33.6 percent reported no salary or source of income.) They have been prevented from visiting their holy sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem since 2007, disrupting their ability to fully celebrate their religious faith, in contrast to other Christians from around the world who are freely able to visit these sites.
But it's not just Christians who are interested in Jesus and his birth. Muslims like me also care and get excited too. We believe in all of the prophets of God, and Jesus and Mary are mentioned many times in the Holy Quran. Every year Christmas reminds Muslims of the greatness of God and the miracle of Jesus' birth, born without a father and from a virgin mother.
The story starts in both the Quran and the Bible with Zachariah, but we’ll begin in the Quran when Mary visited a religious sanctuary in an eastern place far from her home and family, and screened herself off to be secluded with God.
It was here that Gabriel, the angel of God, appeared before her in the shape of a perfectly formed man. Mary was afraid and asked for protection from God. (The numbered excerpts below are verses from the 19th Surah Book of Maryam in the Quran.*)
18. She said: "Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Beneficent (Allah) from you, if you do fear Allah."
19. (The angel) said: "I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son."
Mary calmed down, realizing he was not a man but an angel who intended her no harm. But she had not married and had not been close to any men. How could she be given a son?
21. He said: "So (it will be), your Lord said: 'That is easy for Me (Allah): And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allah), and it is a matter (already) decreed, (by Allah).'"
22. So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place.”
Some religious scholars say she conceived when the angel puffed into her sleeve; others say into her pocket.
Fear for her reputation led her to ask what she should tell people when they questioned her pregnancy. This concern made her go to a remote place, some say the Bethlehem Valley about four to six miles from Jerusalem. When it was time to give birth, the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. The severe pain and fear that her reputation was being stained pushed her to say:
23. …"Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!"
24. Then [the babe 'Iesa (Jesus) or Jibrael (Gabriel)] cried unto her from below her, saying: "Grieve not! Your Lord has provided a water stream under you:
25. "And shake the trunk of the date palm toward you; it will let fall fresh, ripe dates upon you."
26. "So eat and drink and be glad, and if you see any human being, say: 'Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Beneficent (Allah) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.'"
The Virgin then went to her people carrying the newborn Jesus and looking tired. They were astonished. They used to know her as a worshiper, a good and pure woman. Her father wasn't a wicked man, nor was her mother an unchaste woman.
27. Then she brought him (the baby) to her people, carrying him. They said: "O Mary! Indeed you have brought a thing Fariya (an unheard-of thing).
She pointed at Jesus. They were upset with what had happened and now she wanted them to talk to a newborn?
29. "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"
30. "He ['Iesa (Jesus)] said: Verily! I am a slave [servant] of Allah, He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet."
33. "And Salam (peace) be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!"
After this extraordinary scene, some people believed and some didn't. Mary raised her son in the wilderness until he was ready to deliver the message of God.
That particular story is finished. But Christ—peace be upon him—will one day be sent again to earth to bring peace and justice. That’s why, when winter comes, both Christians and Muslims celebrate Christmas. In every snow shower is a promise of a better world, full of love and peace.
*Translation of the Quran from noblequran.com.
Mentor: Karen Nakamura
Posted December 13, 2015