Iraq’s Muslims celebrate Christmas in solidarity with Christians

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A tall, glittering tree erected outside a shopping centre in Baghdad could be considered an incongruous display of Christmas festivity in mainly-Muslim Iraq. But the 7-metre-high tree at Sama Mall in the south east of the capital, adorned with tinsel, stars and bells, is one of a number of decorations put up by residents and business owners in solidarity with the country’s Christian minority.

 Muslim businessman Yassir Saad has spent around £19,000 on a huge artificial tree to help Iraqis “forget their anguish” over the war against Isis.

The 85-foot decoration is on display in a Baghdad theme park. Visitor Saba Ismael said it “represents love and peace”. “I wish all Iraqi Christians could return to Iraq and live normal and peaceful lives,” she said.

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FULL ARTICLE FROM THE INDEPENDENT (UK)

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Indy church brings Christian, Muslim faiths together

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After a long year of angst and uncertainty in the community, one Indianapolis church wanted to build interfaith bridges.

Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal church on Monument Circle, invited Hoosiers from the the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association to speak before two of its Christmas Eve sermons to come together in solidarity during the church’s time of celebration.

“The times are calling upon us to build these bridges,” said Eyas Raddad, the representative from the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association who spoke to the congregation. “Fear, especially of those who are different, and the uncertainty that comes with that has been a core cause of the angst in the community.”

This is the first time Christ Church Cathedral has done this, but it’s not the first time Muslims have been in churches participating in Christmas celebrations, Raddad said. Coming together in a time of celebration will start to build these bridges.

Jesus Christ is also important in Islam, Raddad said, which is not something many know. Jesus and the Virgin Mary are mentioned many times in the Quran, similar to how they’re mentioned in the gospel.

“I want to bring a message to people to understand that commonality is much more than they ever tend to appreciate,” Raddad said. “Muslims are friends of Christians, and our common values will translate to common actions.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE INDY STAR 

Sign of hope: An interfaith dinner for the needy by Muslims, Jews

interfaithIt’s hard to find the good this holiday season. From domestic political strife to global conflict, it seems violence and division will prove the overarching themes of this dwindling year.

It can be all too easy to focus on the darkness instead of the light, especially in my profession. But a trip to the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) in Redmond this week reminded me that for every cruel act that makes headlines, there’s a flood of compassion that often doesn’t.

You may have heard of MAPS because its sign has been vandalized twice in the past three weeks. But I didn’t visit the mosque to talk about acts under investigation as possible hate crimes. I was there to talk about Christmas Eve dinner for the needy.

 “We will be bringing rice and pita and curry chicken,” says Khizer Sheriff, co-founder of the Muslim Community Resource Center, the service arm of MAPS. “We try to turn the spice level down, but people really enjoy it. It’s something a little different.”

Sheriff is describing the Christmas Eve dinner he and other volunteers will be serving in Seattle to more than 100 people this evening (the space wasn’t available on Saturday).

This multicultural dinner was founded by a Jewish woman and staffed in part by MAPS and its service arm. It’s its fifth year and has become a favorite tradition.

“It really is about putting our faith in action,” says Sheriff. “Christmas Eve is just another occasion when we can share our blessings with others who are less fortunate.”

For his daughter, Nehath Sheriff, who has volunteered at every Christmas Eve dinner since the start, it’s a reminder of what really matters.

“I think that we all take dinner and family for granted,” she said. “It’s a very humbling experience.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SEATTLE TIMES 

Why It’s Not Wrong to Wish Muslims Merry Christmas

jesus-prophet-of-islamISTANBUL — Billions of Christians around the world are excited to celebrate Christmas this weekend. Those in the world’s second-largest religious community, Muslims, don’t share quite the same excitement. In a few Muslim-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Somalia, Christmas celebrations are banned. In Turkey, my country, they are not illegal, but some Islamist groups still organize annual protests against Christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, which they consider Western impositions.

Meanwhile, many other Muslims around the world are rightly respectful to their Christian neighbors and even share in their holy day. They include the owners of a Turkish restaurant in London that decided to offer a free Christmas meal to the homeless and the elderly, and a Muslim businessman in Baghdad who erected a Christmas tree in solidarity with Christians persecuted by the self-declared Islamic State.

These Christmas-friendly Muslims are right, but not simply because respect for other religions is a virtue. They are also right because Christmas is the celebration of the miraculous birth of Jesus, which is a powerful theme not just in the New Testament, but also in the Quran.

Two chapters of the Muslim holy book give detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus, which partly resemble the account in the Gospel of Luke.

Both chapters — one is named Maryam, or Mary — feature this admirable Jewish woman whom God has “purified” and “chosen above all other women.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

Muslim-owned restaurant offers elderly and homeless free meals on Christmas Day so ‘no one eats alone’

muslim-christmas-restaurantA Muslim-owned restaurant in London is offering a three-course meal to
homeless and elderly people on Christmas Day so that “no one eats alone”.

Shish Restaurant, in Sidcup, is asking local residents to spread the word of its offer and has put up posters saying “We are here to sit with you” on 25 December.

The restaurant urged people to share its plan through social media – where the initiative was widely praised.

Vicky Lanfear wrote on Facebook: “This is the most selfless gesture I have ever seen and they should be recognized as a pillar of the community.”

Suzannah Harris added: “What a lovely gesture; a restaurant that gives something back instead of merely seeing Xmas as a time to cash in. Will definitely visit in the new year if ever in the area.”

Linda Leach wrote: “There is still kindness in this world. Amazing people.”

The gesture also received a positive reaction on Twitter, where one user posted: “A wonderful gesture. Now that’s REAL community spirit! God Bless them.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE INDEPENDENT (UK)

Muslims in Kenya offer a Christmas present to the world

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After a year marred by violence that has led some people to suppose that confrontation is inevitable among humanity’s religions, a busload of Muslims in northeast Kenya has given us all a gift beyond measure for Christmas and the New Year.

On December 21, when armed al-Shabab extremists halted a bus near the town of Mandera, they asked the Muslims on board to help separate out the Christian passengers for execution – a pattern of attack with which they have repeatedly traumatised Kenyans in recent years.

But the Muslim passengers threw a human shield around their Christian compatriots and told the attackers that they would have to kill the entire busload, Muslims and Christians alike. Muslim women took off their traditional headscarves and handed them to non-Muslims to wear for protection.

The gift of these Kenyans went far beyond offering protection for their Christian neighbours.

Kenyan society is predominately Christian, but communities of Muslim, Bahai, Buddhist and African traditional religion add an important cultural, economic and social fabric to its citizenry.

Organisations such as the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya – composed of a cross-section of faith-based communities – work vigorously to promote inclusion, and speak to the long-standing tradition in Kenyan society promoting tolerance and inclusion.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA 

Muslim-Christian unity on display during Christmas in Kashmir

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Choir members from the Holy Family Catholic Church of Srinagar in northern Jammu and Kashmir sing Christmas carols. (Photo by Umer Asif)

The parish was closed last Christmas, after devastating floods hit the state in September 2014, killing over 300 people, and causing extensive damage to the church.

Choirs comprising eight to 10 children have been practicing before Christmas and are now visiting homes for singing carols.

Maryam Shammi, a parishioner and choir member, said it excites her to invite Muslim friends for Christmas celebrations. She says it’s also exciting to invite them to her home for  Christmas lunch, an event her family was forced to skip last year due to floods.

“This year, I will invite all my friends and we will spend Christmas together,” she told ucanews.com.

There are just 650 Christians living in India’s only Muslim-majority state. As the Christian community is least talked about and remains generally away from the public gaze, Christmas celebrations present a good opportunity to practice interreligious harmony.

Muslim neighbors typically participate in Christmas celebrations, exchanging gifts and greetings.

Lila Richard, an 82-year-old parishioner and a retired teacher who taught at a Christian missionary school in Srinagar, said Christians and Muslims have been living in harmony for decades in the Kashmir Valley.

“As far as I can tell you, we haven’t faced danger of any sort since Christians have never been involved in any upheavals that have engulfed the region over the past two decades,” she said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM UCA NEWS