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 

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Lebanese Christians and Muslims unite over Jerusalem

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Could the conflict over Jerusalem end up strengthening links between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world?

Representatives of the two religions met in Lebanon on Thursday, December 14 at the invitation of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, to express their collective opposition to the American decision to recognize the Holy City as the capital of Israel.

“Most of us have already expressed our rejection of this decision either individually or on behalf of our communities. Today, we are meeting together to express this rejection with a single voice,” Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi said during the Islamic-Christian summit, the Lebanese daily L’Orient le jour reported.

“We regret that the president of a state regarded as a world power, which respects peace, could take such a decision, which negatively affects Christians and Muslims in the region,” he told meeting participants at the patriarchate headquarters in Bkerke, near Beirut.

“As Christians in the world, we are concerned with Jerusalem, as are our Muslim brothers,” declared Cardinal al-Rahi.

“As the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) did at its summit yesterday, we demand the application of the international laws accepted since 1947, particularly Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, which recognizes Jerusalem as having a special status,” he said.

On the eve of the summit, several Arab heads of state met in Istanbul for a meeting to discuss the defense Jerusalem.

FULL ARTICLE FROM LA CROIX INTERNATIONAL 

Christians Join Forces With Muslim Group Hezbollah to Fight ISIS in Lebanon

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Christian Post — The Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, classified for many years by U.S. Intelligence as a terrorist organization, is training Christians to fight ISIS in Lebanon and the Middle Eastern believers say their new and unlikely allies “accept us as we are.”

Citing Lebanese sources, Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin says Christian villages in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon are forming militias to join Hezbollah fighters already engaging ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nursa Front in the Syrian Qalamoun mountains opposite villages in central and eastern Bekaa.

Rifit Nasrallah, a Catholic businessman who is part of the militias fighting ISIS in Ras Baalbek, discussed the alliance with Hezbollah in an International Business Times report last month.

“We’re in a very dangerous situation,” he said. “The only people who are protecting us are the resistance of Hezbollah. The only one standing with the army is Hezbollah. Let’s not hide it anymore.”

Nasrallah said Hezbollah does not expect its allies to convert to Islam or create an allegiance to the group’s ideals.

“They accept us as we are,” he said. “They do not impose on us anything. When there’s an occasion, they come to our children’s birthdays. The people here accept that Hezbollah comes and helps.”

This unlikely alliance between Christians and Hezbollah is a far cry from the adversarial relationship depicted between the two groups in the region.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN POST

Lebanon: Islamic summit slams anti-Christian attacks and violence in the name of Islam

(Vatican Radio) The spiritual leaders of the main Islamic sects in Lebanon in a joint statement have warned after an “urgent summit” Tuesday, against fueling sectarian tensions in the country, underlining that inter-Muslim violence is forbidden. While denouncing the threats to the unity, security and stability of the Arab world, they slammed Israel for its alleged plans to divide Muslims. They also came to the defence of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
The special Islamic summit was held at Sunni Islam’s main body, Dar al-Fatwa’s headquarters in Beirut and was attended by a number of religious figures from all four sects. The meeting was headed by the Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian, of Dar al-Fatwa, and was held for the first time after he was appointed on August 10, last year. The other religious heads were: Deputy Chief of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council Abdel-Amir Qabalan, Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan and the religious head of Lebanon’s Alawite community Assad Assi. Mohammad Sammak, co-chair of the National Committee for Islamic-Christian dialogue, coordinated the event.

The representatives of the four Islamic groups voiced in a joint statement their “concern over the allegations exchanged between political officials that are taking sectarian natures.” They said adopting such rhetoric would “give a sectarian dimension to their disputes and thus widen the gap that the Israeli enemy is working to expand and exploit.” The statement said conflicts within Arab states wrongly suggest that “Muslims in general and Arabs in particular have given up the priority of the Palestinian cause,” which further benefits Israel.

They made several points, like condemning violent and discriminatory practices by takfirist Islam, condemning coercion in religious matters, calling for respect for everyone’s private and public rights, and reiterating the principle of pluralism in Muslim-Christian relations and intra-Muslim relations

The leaders argued that when conflicts take on a sectarian nature, they “endanger unity in the societies of these countries, including Lebanon, and thus their security and stability.” The summit called on “Muslims, all Muslims, to stick to God’s solid path and avoid fragmentation.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM VATICAN RADIO 

In the name of God: Lebanese gathering emphasizes Christian, Muslim coexistence

assyrian-christians-beirut-lebanon-afpA gathering of Lebanese Christians, known as “the Lady of the Mountain,” met Sunday with the aim of mapping out the role that Christian’s should play in preserving coexistence in Lebanon and the region.

The protection of Lebanon requires Christians to work towards preventing sectarian strife between Shiites and Sunnis, which in turn would protect Muslims, Christians and the Lebanese entity as a whole, a statement released after the meeting said.

The statement also said that presidential elections should be carried out through a national approach, not a strictly Christian one.

The gathering agreed on the need to reemphasize the unique Lebanese model of coexistence, especially with regards to the Muslim-Christian and Sunni-Shiite partnership in governing a single state.

The statement noted that a return to the Taif Accord would bring an end to attempts to unsettle the foundations of Lebanese coexistence, saying that the agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war serves as a model for religious coexistence in the region.

The convened also agreed that protecting Lebanon during this turbulent phase requires a set of initiatives, such as supporting the efforts of the Maronite Church in pushing lawmakers to end the year-long presidential vacuum.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL BAWABA

Top Islamic University, Muslim Leaders Condemn ISIS’ Slaughter of Ethiopian Christians, Say It Goes ‘Against Any Religion’

isisThe University of Al Azhar, the highest academic center of Sunni Islam, along with Muslim governments in the region have condemned the slaughter of 28 Ethiopian Christians in a video released by ISIS on Sunday.

The statement from Al Azhar, attributed to Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb and sent to Agenzia Fides, calls the mass killings a “heinous crime, committed by the Daesh terrorist group, which goes against any religion, law or human conduct.”

The terror group has targeted Christians in its attacks throughout the past year, and in February executed 21 Egyptian Coptics in another video posted online.

Muhammad Dayri, the foreign minister of Libya condemned the latest murders carried out by ISIS, and called them “barbaric.”

“This is not the first time that these hordes of ISIL operate with tragic and horrible actions in Libya,” Dayri said at a meeting of African and Asian leaders in Jakarta, referring to the February executions.

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry also spoke out against the slaughter of Ethiopian Christians and the religious nature of the crime.al-azhar-mosque-in-the-old-city-of-cairo-december-2-2011

“The Foreign Ministry condemns, in the strongest terms, terrorist organization ISIS’ slaughter and killing in cold blood of 28 innocent Christian Ethiopians in Libya, whose only sin was to not believe in ISIS’ takfiri ideas and delusional teachings,” the ministry said, expressing solidarity with the Ethiopian people in light of “this painful tragedy.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN POST 

The Future of the Middle East

imagesWhen I’m watching videos of ISIS destroying ancient statues or news coverage of the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Iraq, I’m thinking about other “victims” of the current turmoil in the Middle East–my students at the American University of Beirut. Every day, their futures are being mapped out by bullets and bombs, and their hopes and dreams hijacked by widespread violence, rampant corruption, and the appallingfailure of the international community to put an end to the Syrian war.

Being in college is hard enough, but imagine studying for a bachelors degree and living away from home for the first time with violence breaking out in all directions. ISIS and the army exchanging gunfire on the border with Syria. Deadly shells detonating on the border with Israel. Suicide bombers exploding in the heart of Beirut. Political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for almost a year. No wonder it’s hard for so many students to focus in class.

Some of my students are Syrian refugees–whose trauma from the war back home is magnified by the unwelcome treatment they receive in Beirut. Others are Palestinian refugees, who have known nothing but displacement since birth. The majority are Lebanese, whose parents not so long ago were embroiled in a brutal civil war–that many believe never really ended.

ISIS fighters make regular guest appearances in my students’ creative assignments, and close friends who died in bomb blasts in Beirut cry out for peace from beyond the grave. When my students and I read Plato’s Republic, I invite them to imagine themselves as philosopher kings of Lebanon–and ask them what their first order of business would be. A common response? “Burn it to the ground!” And after that? “Walk away,” they say.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST