Damascus, the Christmas of Christian and Muslim children: a gift, beyond the wounds of war

siria_-_christmas_hysteriaokDamascus (AsiaNews) – A Christmas of lights and shadows, caught between the desire to leave behind the violence of the past and the still open wounds of a conflict that – he hope of everyone, Christians and Muslims – seems to be coming to a conclusion. The contradictions of capital illuminated in celebration and neighborhoods without electricity. The joy of children (Muslims), who bear the wounds of war on their skin, for an unexpected toy source of hope for a future of peace and unity. Christmas in Damascus shared with AsiaNews by Sandra Awad, married mother of two children and communication manager for Caritas Syria.

The days of Christmas were passing by this year, and I was experiencing a state of hysteria and a terrible contradiction of emotions that never seemed to have an end.

I took the kids for a drive in my car to see the  Christmas decorations, and I found myself looking at the shining lights on the streets and the balconies… I choked up… I can’t help remembering my husband’s sad’s voice while telling me about the lack of electricity at his lab in Sahnaya, since this area and others in the countryside of Damascus are barely receiving electricity during a few hours in the day.

I said to myself: “What’s wrong with you, girl?! Enjoy the magic of Christmas! And let your kids enjoy the lights. Be grateful for everything!”

A few minutes after, I passed by a tree which I heard that it coasted around a million Syrian pounds, or two, or three… I’m not quite sure… and I found myself choking again.

There are children who are going to destroyed schools, people who are living in houses with no doors or windows, no water or electricity because they cannot pay 15000 SP to rent an unfinished room in Jaramana, so I found myself choking. Suddenly I heard my son gasping with joy as soon as we reached the big Christmas tree, so I silenced my thoughts and said to myself: “What’s wrong with you, girl? Stop thinking about tragedies! Concentrate on joy; your own joy and your children’s.”

A few minutes later, a carnival that was organized by the church scouts passed next to us, those kids and young people walking on the roads in spite of the extreme cold, wearing special uniforms, carrying flags and singing Christmas carols on the streets. I asked myself: “Does anyone of those kids understand that this is Jesus Christ’s birthday, and it is not a carnival?”


Muslims love Jesus. So why does everyone think we hate Christmas?

MuslimConfusionAboutLoveOfJesus-640x640While most British Muslims might be indifferent to the celebrations underway this season, perhaps we can play a small part in reviving the generosity, kindness and true Christmas spirit associated with the holiday.

It’s Christmas time and so it hasn’t taken long for a national newspaper to run a feature implying British Muslims are poorly integrated for “refusing to celebrate a Christian holiday”. The irony of this pernicious Islamophobia, feebly hiding behind the banner of defending the Judeo-Christian values of our country, is that it is bereft of any meaningful understanding of Islam.

You see, the thing is, Muslims love Jesus.

In fact, the Prophet Muhammad said: “The dearest person to me in friendship and in love, in this world and the next is Jesus, the son of Mary.”

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Jesus is mentioned in the Quran over 100 times, while the Prophet Muhammad, by contrast, is mentioned just five times. Described as the best woman ever to have set foot on earth, there is a whole chapter in the Quran named “Mary” and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the holy book.

It’s not just that Muslims love Jesus – we believe him to be one of the greatest messengers of god. We believe in his miraculous birth. We believe that god gifted him with the ability to bring the dead back to life, heal the leper and bring sight back to the blind and, like Christians, we believe in his second coming back to this world.



Egyptian cartoon urges Muslims to extend Christmas greetings

A video made by the Egyptian Fatwa Institute and uploaded to YouTube earlier this month encourages Muslims to extend holiday greetings to Christians and to maintain friendly relations with those around them, regardless of their religion.

“Congratulating non-Muslims during their holidays is encouraged by Islam, and is in keeping with the noble manners introduced by the Prophet Muhammad,” the narrator says, in a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

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What a Muslim Could Teach Trump Supporters About Jesus

merlin_148323441_f8d6e8cd-6cc0-4408-bf02-86e6eac5fd60-superJumbo.jpgAt Bellarmine, an all-boys Catholic school in San Jose, Calif., I was often the token Muslim and probably the only person who began freshman year thinking the Eucharist sounded like the name of a comic book villain. I eventually learned it’s a ritual commemorating the Last Supper. At the monthly Masses that were part of the curriculum, that meant grape juice and stale wafers were offered to pimpled, dorky teenagers as the blood and body of Christ.

During my time there, I also read the King James Bible and stories about Jesus, learned about Christian morality, debated the Trinity with Jesuit priests and received an A every semester in religious studies class. Twenty years later, I can still recite the “Our Father” prayer from memory.

Growing up, I’d been taught that Jesus was a major prophet in Islam, known as “Isa” and also referred to as “ruh Allah,” the spirit of God born to the Virgin Mary and sent as a mercy to all people. Like Christians, we Muslims believe he will return to fight Dajjal, or the Antichrist, and establish peace and justice on earth. But it was everything I learned in high school that came together to make me love Jesus in a way that made me a better Muslim.

Even though I don’t personally celebrate Christmas, the season always makes me think of his legacy of radical love. This year, it’s especially hard to understand how Trump-supporting Christians have turned their back on that unconditional love and exchanged it for nativism, fear and fealty to a reality TV show host turned president.


Christmas in Lebanon: ‘Jesus Isn’t Only for the Christians’

merlin_148432497_9c8447a8-43eb-4c0c-b701-5ec992b4395f-superJumbo.jpgBEIRUT — The Iranian cultural attaché stepped up to the microphone on a stage flanked by banners bearing the faces of Iran’s two foremost religious authorities: Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.

To the left of Ayatollah Khomeini stood a twinkling Christmas tree, a gold star gilding its tip. Angel ornaments and miniature Santa hats nestled among its branches. Fake snow dusted fake pine needles.

“Today, we’re celebrating the birth of Christ,” the cultural attaché, Mohamed Mehdi Shari’tamdar, announced into the microphone, “and also the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.”

“Hallelujah!” boomed another speaker, Elias Hachem, reciting a poem he had written for the event. “Jesus the savior is born. The king of peace, the son of Mary. He frees the slaves. He heals. The angels protect him. The Bible and the Quran embrace.”


Church welcomes its special Muslim visitors on Christmas Eve

3101On Christmas Eve, churches all over the country will welcome into their midnight mass services people who rarely take part in acts of Christian worship but find candlelit carols irresistible.

In the pews of St Alban’s in North Harrow there will be a special group of visitors: about three dozen Muslims from a nearby mosque.

For the past 10 years, worshippers at the Shia Ithna’ashari Community of Middlesex have been attending midnight mass at St Alban’s as a way of meeting their neighbours and taking part in Christmas festivities.

“For us, attending midnight mass is a great chance to participate in an important part of Christmas celebrations and meet people from our local church, many of whom have become our friends,” said Miqdaad Versi, an executive committee member of SICM.

“Ten years ago, this was one of the first times we met, and now it has flourished into a much stronger and long-lasting relationship as we meet regularly, work together and organise joint events.”

The Christmas visits were initiated by young members of the mosque. The executive committee checked with the church that they would be welcome, and every year since up to 50 Muslims have attended the midnight service.

Versi said that most Muslims enjoyed Christmas celebrations and the focus on family. “There are differences in belief, of course, but in the Islamic faith Jesus is revered as a major prophet.”


How my Muslim-Catholic family celebrates Christmas

A tandoori spiced turkey and fruit filled stockings are the holiday traditions of one young family

For most of my life, Christmas was just another day. Growing up in a Pakistani-Muslim family just outside of Toronto, I saw Christmas as a holiday that came with some much-needed vacation time and excellent Boxing Day sales.

Once in a while, my parents would get into the holiday spirit, and we’d invite our friends over to eat turkey and stuffing. They would put Christmas carols on YouTube and wear red and green shirts, and we’d pretend like we knew what we were doing when it came to celebrating the holiday. Though, one thing we never did have was a tree. That seemed to be what set us apart from the people who really celebrated Christmas.

Christmas-740x741But most years, instead of anything official, we’d go to see a movie together on Christmas Day or just hang out at home as several feet of snow fell outside.

All of that changed when I met my husband. His Dutch-English Catholic family celebrated Christmas just the way I had imagined people did. There was a massive tree by the fireplace, decorated with gold and red tinsel, ornaments from their childhood hanging all over. Green garland covered the banisters along the staircase and cottony fake snow adorned the hutch in the dining room, with a full winterscape complete with baby Jesus on top.

The house smelled like turkey, which had been cooking for several hours. There was baked brie with cherry jam and shrimp cocktail on the coffee table in the living room. It was wonderful–it was everything I thought Christmas was–at least from what I had seen on TV.