Originally published in the Orange County Register
Most people are often surprised to hear that Jesus is a highly esteemed figure in Islam. My friend once asked, “Is this a new idea within Islam?” thinking that, perhaps, Muslims recently concocted this notion. In reality, Jesus is not only considered a prophet in Islam (a fact many Christians are familiar with). In fact, Jesus is mentioned more times in the Quran, by name, than Prophet Muhammad himself– each time in the most elevated regard. Therefore, this Christmas, Jesus can be the inspiration for Muslims and Christians – and others, too – to build bridges of interfaith harmony and work together for the betterment of society.
For example, Jesus taught, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). The intention of this statement? Jesus sought to impress upon the wealthy the need to share a portion of their wealth with the poor – if they wish to enter the “Kingdom of God,” or heaven. This teaching promotes social justice, ensuring that no person goes without the basic necessities of life, such as food, water and health care, while others enjoy the luxuries of life.
It is not promoting communism but, rather, human dignity and morality. Our current economy would likely not be in its degraded situation if the rich – including Muslims, Christians and even atheists – were mindful of Jesus’ lesson.
Not only would our current economy benefit greatly from Jesus’ teaching, but also would the economies of so-called Muslim nations. Pakistan, for example, has some of the most distressing and unequal economic conditions in the world. I have seen people spending more than 1,000 rupees (approximately $11) for a meal in fancy restaurants, outside of which there are barefooted and emaciated beggars pleading simply for 3 rupees (approximately 3 cents) to buy a piece of bread for themselves or their children. The inequality is absolutely heart-wrenching. As a Muslim, I wish Jesus’ teachings were practiced in Pakistan and other countries where the less fortunate are often and sadly forgotten about.
Jesus’ teaching of caring for the less-fortunate includes compassion for the elderly. According to the Quran, Christ claimed, “God has raised me to care for my [parents]” (Quran 19:32). The number of elderly who are being cared for in nursing homes these days is remarkably high – which, in some cases can be beneficial and preferable to living, and dying, alone. Studies, however, show that the vast majority of elderly people prefer to spend time with their families rather than at nursing homes.
If we all tried to be more like Jesus, we could work toward creating a society in which the elderly are – where possible – cared for by their own families, fostering an environment of love and reciprocity. I can also speak from personal experience that when grandparents are involved in the lives of their grandchildren, they benefit immensely. I considered caring for my grandparents an unparalleled privilege and blessing.
In short, Jesus is one of the most pivotal figures in the history of mankind, as two of the world’s largest religions place him at a centerpiece. This Christmas Day, certain theological differences between Muslims and Christians will remain. These aside, Jesus’ teachings of caring for the less-fortunate and our loved ones are just a couple of the many teachings and examples of Jesus that we can use to work collectively for the social good and, in this process, improve our relations.
Muslims and Christians, let’s make Jesus our inspiration to come together this Christmas Day. This is my Christmas wish.