Home Insights and Teachings Celebrating the birth of Christ while preserving our Islamic identity

Celebrating the birth of Christ while preserving our Islamic identity

A lecture by His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (p.)

Translated by: Ghassan Rimlawi

The miracle of Christ's birth

We live in these days the occasions of Christmas and the New Year. How do we celebrate these two occasions? Celebrating the birth of Christ should be in the same manner that the Quran celebrated his birth. The Glorious Quran did not detail the birth of any sacred person in the way it did when it talked about Christ, as one of God’s greatest signs, especially in the Surah of Mariam (Mary) who is considered as one of the purified saints that opened up on Allah, having been dedicated to God by her mother: “So her Lord accepted her with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya”… The Angels used to send her food while she was worshipping her God that “whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Mariam! Whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure”. She wanted to live in isolation to worship God away from the family:Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East: She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel- who might have been Gabriel - and he appeared before her as a man in all respects- while she was praying a young man suddenly appeared in front of her - She said: ‘I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah, the most Exalted’ - she was shocked and afraid that he will harm her, but He said:‘Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son’. She said: ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’ - She knew that pregnancy cannot occur except through a relationship between a man and a woman - He said: ‘So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, ‘that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: It is a matter (so) decreed’” - I am not talking about the normal way human conceive. It is God Who has commanded so, the Angel explained, but this child will be conceived in your womb like any another child and you are not to object because it is the will of God.Historians differ over the period of this pregnancy, and it is apparently not long, since she would have been missed by her family had she been away for nine months, but Allah knows best: “So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place”. She felt weak like any other woman, especially that she was alone and about to enter into a new experience, feeling the weight of having to face the people. “And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): ‘Ah! Would that I had died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!’ But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): ‘Grieve not! For thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee;and shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being’’”. It is said that it was Jesus who told her that she is being cared for and watched out by God, and that if she is afraid of people, all she has to do is to fast from talking’; a fasting that was customary then

Christ: The servant of God

She carried him to her folks, who were surprised knowing how chaste she was: “At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: ‘O Mary! Truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste! - a grave and outrageous act, for you have made an illegitimate relationship with a man - But she pointed to the babe. They said: ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?’ - At this point, Allah made the newborn, Jesus, speak. He said: ‘I am indeed a servant of Allah- in refute of the later claim of being a God, as some Christians say these days - He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet and He hath made me blessed whosesoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live. (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable, so peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!’Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be’, and it is.Verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve ye: this is a Way that is straight”. 

This is how Jesus was born and this is the story of Virgin Mary. They were as the Quran described: “And Mary the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants)”.

How to celebrate the birth of Christ

Thus, dear loved ones, I want to say to all our brothers that it is not wrong to celebrate the birth of Christ. On the contrary, we encourage you to do so, for he is one of Allah's Messengers, but we have to observe our traditions in the process. Let us meet on Christmas or New Year’s Eve and read the Surah of Mariam, or what it said about Christ and his mother in the ‘Al Imran Surah. Let us remember what Allah says about creating him in this Surah: “Lo! The likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said unto him: Be! and he was” to reaffirm the Islamic faith that he is a messenger of Allah who was given miracles that undermined the arrogance of his foes and made the disciples believe in him: “And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe’

This is our faith regarding Jesus Christ. He is Allah's servant and one of his messengers. He was not a God, and Allah was not personified in him, for Allah is above embodiment or materialization. Therefore, we have to reaffirm our faith and create our own traditions to celebrate his birth in what conforms to the Quranic line. We ought not borrow them from others, not even the Christmas tree which has come to us from Europe. Let that tree be a palm tree like the one that Virgin Mary shook and ate dates from when she was giving birth to Christ.

We would like to emphasize, dear brothers and sisters, that Allah wants us to be joyful at the times of Eids, but it should be a spiritual and humanistic joy, full of love that we offer to our children and fellow human beings and not the joy of dissolution and getting drunk until one passes out as they do in the West on new year’s eve. We should be joyful through God, His messengers and messages. We have to retain our Islamic personalities in the Eids and preserve our Islamic identity. We can cooperate with others without losing our identity in theirs.