Palestinian Christians and Muslims living in the Holy Land. A Christmas Message to Vice-President Mike Pence

160714131551-17-mike-pence-0714-restricted-super-169Mr. Vice President:

As you celebrate Christmas with your family and listen to the gospel story of the birth of Jesus, I hope you will read and reflect on the following piece I wrote a few years back.

I want you to open your eyes to the situation facing Palestinian Christians and Muslims living in the Holy Land. And I want you to understand why the Arab Christian leadership in Palestine was so troubled by your blindness to their plight that they refused to meet with you.

Christmas: Then and Now

Two thousand years ago, Palestine was subject to a harsh occupation, much as it is today. In some ways, though, the conditions back then allowed the residents of occupied Palestine greater mobility than the current inhabitants of that land.

As we are told in the bible story, Joseph had to take his expectant wife from Nazareth, where they were living, to Bethlehem, their ancestral village, in order to fulfill a requirement imposed by the authorities to register as part of a nationwide census. Today, of course, all of that would be impossible.

In the first place no Palestinian originally from Bethlehem could ever have moved to Nazareth. The occupation and closure of the West Bank makes that sort of movement impossible. Furthermore, Israeli law prohibits an Arab from Nazareth from marrying a Bethlehemite and bringing their spouse across the Green Line to live with them in Israel.

Additionally, while thousands of Palestinians in Bethlehem, both Muslim and Christian, can see Jerusalem from their homes, they can not go to the Holy City to pray. And Arab Christians from Jerusalem, likewise, can not easily go the Christmas services in Bethlehem to pray alongside their co-religionists at the seasonal event.

FULL ARTICLE FROM GLOBAL RESEARCH (CANADA)

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Al Azhar University (Muslim)professor encourages Muslims to celebrate the spirit of Christmas

christmas-treeA professor of Comparative Fiqh at Al-Azhar University, Saad al-Helaly, encouraged the universal celebration of Christmas, saying Muslims can celebrate the festivity without following its religious elements, encouraging a sense of solidarity between Muslims and Christians.

Helaly explained that Muslims celebrating Christmas is like celebrating any other special festivity without adding religious justification or value.

“In your life, if you celebrate things like anniversary of marriage, anniversary of getting a new job, a patriotic Eid or a scientific Eid. Then you have created a happy Eid and created joy within your family or your people. You have made the people experience a beautiful day.”

He explained that a feast does not discriminate between different religions, “It is a feast – not a religious feast like Salafis claim. We won’t follow the religious aspects but feel the spirit of Christmas. There is a difference between the spirit of Christmas and a religious feast.”

“Religious feasts have ‘takbeer’ and specific rituals and a prayer,” he said, “but the spirit of Christmas is to spread joy to humankind, and make your society and people happy even one day per year. Then have you done well to mankind or no?”

Christmas, he says, is “an idea that came out and created an international market. Children wait for it: Muslims, Christians and Jews. It created an economical boost and a true feeling of the New Year; that there is a new thing, that there is a day where families come together and rejoice.”

He concluded that religion will not stand in the face of universal happiness, “Go ahead and show me all ‘fatwas’ [ruling on Islamic law recognized by an authority]! Say it is ‘haram’ [forbidden in Islam].  Has the word ‘haram’ stopped the joy from spreading?”

FULL ARTICLE FROM EGYPT INDEPENDENT 

Christians, Muslims join for Christmas Mass in liberated Mosul

mosulMOSUL, Iraq – Cries of joy and seasonal hymns once again filled St. Paul Cathedral in Mosul as Christmas Mass was celebrated there for the first time in three and a half years, following the northern Iraqi city’s liberation from Islamic State militants.

The Iraqi national anthem opened the Mass as women wailed with emotion. Armored police outside protected the worshippers.

Led by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, Christians and Muslims attended the Christmas Mass Dec. 24 in a display of unity.

“My message is to our brothers the Muslims,” said Patriarch Sako. “I ask them to change their way of thinking; you should know Christianity better. In the past, Christians were the majority in Iraq; today we are minority, but without us, Mosul will never be the same.”

He urged the faithful to pray for “peace and stability to reign in Mosul, Iraq and the world.”

Underscoring Christ’s message of love and peace, he urged displaced Christians to return home and participate in its reconstruction.

“They are not going back because their houses are destroyed or burned, and the church is restoring all of the houses,” Sako said. “We are hopeful that many, many Christians will be back.”

Islamic State militants had seized and terrorized Mosul and the surrounding areas in 2014, sending most of its Christian population of 200,000 into flight. The militants threatened the Christians, telling them to convert to Islam, pay protection tax, die or flee.

Last July, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the expulsion of Islamic State from Mosul after a fierce, nine-month military campaign.

When Islamic State militants invaded Mosul, they prohibited public Christian worship services and began systematically destroying churches. St. Paul Cathedral reportedly was used as a prison by the militants, the damaged interior walls reflecting some of the destruction.

“With this celebration, we tell them that residents of Mosul are all brothers, whatever their religion or ethnicity, and despite all the damage and suffering,” Christian worshipper Farqad Malko said of the message to the militants.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CRUXNOW

Israel behind ‘Christian exodus’ from Palestine

palestiniansBeit Jala, Palestine – The Israeli occupation of Palestine is the main factor behind the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the region, according to a new study.

The research carried out by the Dar al-Kalima University in the occupied-West Bank town of Beit Jala, concluded that only small percentage of Christians had left Palestine because of concerns over Muslim religious conservatism.

Researchers interviewed more than a thousand people, roughly half of whom were Christian and half Muslim on their outlook on life and if negative, the causes of their pessimism.

“The pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians,” the study said.

These conditions have put Palestinian Christians in “a despairing situation where they an no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves,” it added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

‘The Sultan and the Saint’ tells of breaking down the unknown

AE-BS-S&S- Day 16-2016-96 resizeWhat impact can one encounter make?

While details are scarce about the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt in the 13th century amid the Fifth Crusade, it has become an important symbol of interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of peace, even in the midst of great conflict.

The historic meeting of the two faith leaders will receive a fresh look Dec. 26 on PBS, at 8 p.m. Eastern, in the new docudrama “The Sultan and the Saint,” which blends scholarly, documentary-style interviews with dramatic reenactments of the story and with Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons as narrator.

“It just seemed like this is a story for our time,” writer and director Alex Kronemer told NCR. “This idea that a simple Christian friar met with a mighty Muslim leader and together they had a relatively brief encounter that had enormous consequences.”

The story of “The Sultan and the Saint” itself began 30 years ago, when Kronemer, during a trip to Assisi, Italy, encountered a Giotto fresco depicting the meeting between Francis and al-Kamil.

“It seemed incredible that such a thing had happened, and I kind of wanted to know more about it then,” said the Muslim filmmaker, who developed the docudrama with Unity Productions Foundation.

“The Sultan and the Saint” offers a deeper exploration into a story that many Christians and Muslims may know of in passing, but are hazier about the details.

The meeting between Francis and al-Kamil took place in 1219, amid the Fifth Crusade, in Damietta, an important Egyptian port city on the Nile River where Christian soldiers were attempting a siege. At that point, the Crusades, the violent effort by Christians to recapture control of Jerusalem, had stretched more than 100 years.

There are few historical accounts of the encounter. In the film, Francis is depicted as seeking to end the Crusades through preaching the Gospel. While the meeting did not bring about peace, Franciscan historian Fr. Michael Cusato said in the film, the encounter represented a “faith exchange,” as both men testified to God’s role in their own lives and were able to “listen to the other’s perspective, allowing God to be God in the lives of both of them.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER 

WHAT MUSLIMS AND THE QURAN SAY ABOUT JESUS, CHRISTMAS AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH

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When people think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t the Quran, the central religious text of Islam.

Many people assume that the world’s major monotheistic religions differ greatly. But Islam and Christianity share some very basic ideas about who Jesus was and how he lived. The name Jesus is mentioned at least 25 times in the Quran, and many other references are made to the son of Mary or Christ the messenger of Allah.

Meanwhile, many details about the birth of Jesus match those found in the New Testament. Muslims, for example, believe in the Virgin Birth, and the Quran also calls Jesus the Messiah.

The earliest texts of the New Testament are believed to have been written between 50 and 62 A.D. by Saint Paul. Muslims believe the Quran was revealed by God to Muhammad verbally through the angel Gabriel beginning in 609 A.D.

Similar to the Gospel of Luke, the Quran describes the conversation between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, in which Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a child.

“O Mary! Allah gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of those nearest to Allah,” reads the Quran 3:45.

“Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was an apostle of Allah,” adds the Quran 4:171.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE 

What Christmas Means to This American Muslim

5a3dbcd821000018005f59d8Every Christmas, my wife, kids, and I make a road trip from Southern California to Texas to spend Christmas with my in-laws and my wife’s extended family. My wife’s parents and family members are Christians. One of my favorite things about visiting them during the Christmas holiday is the chance to be a part of such a warm, large, and loving gathering, typical of most Latino families. The food is amazing and our Christian family always makes sure to accommodate our Islamic dietary restrictions by ensuring there isn’t pork in any of the dishes.

My family’s story is the story of thousands of American Muslim families across our diverse nation who bond with their Christian family members every Christmas season and throughout the year.

For me, Christmas is always a reminder of the commonalities Christians and Muslims share. Honoring and revering Jesus is a part of our core Islamic teachings and it is a beautiful tradition I have enjoyed being a part of even before I began traveling to Texas with my wife and kids every Christmas.

I spent my childhood in Beirut, Lebanon, alongside Christian family members, neighbors, and close friends where we all lived in a close-knit community. My parents, practicing Muslims themselves, sent me to Catholic and Protestant schools to benefit from the high academics and to prepare me for our world’s diversity. Every Christmas, I was inspired by the love my Christian classmates and neighbors demonstrated for Jesus, a love Muslims have always sincerely shared.

After moving to the U.S. in my late teens, and even today, I am pleased to see that same love for Jesus shared amongst Christians in my community in the Greater Los Angeles area and the rest of the country.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST