Tolerance and the holiday spirit in Islam
Originally published in The News and Observer
People from all walks of life, irrespective of their race and political affiliations, partake in holiday activity this season through charitable giving and spending quality time with friends and family.
Charitable giving and taking care of loved ones form the basis of both Christian and Islamic teachings. Despite the obvious doctrinal differences, both Christians and Muslims are united in teaching their followers to worship God and to attend to the needs of fellow human beings, especially the poor. This common emphasis on acts of kindness bridges the religious divide and is the key to peaceful co-existence in society.
Co-existence and tolerance are emphasized in Islam, which extends universal love and brotherhood to all Christians. The founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, in keeping with the tolerant teachings of Islam, guaranteed protection and safety to Christians at Saint Catherine Monastery in Egypt. This is evident in the official letter that was given to the delegation from the monastery and is still preserved through history.
A part of it reads: “No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.” This demonstrates that protecting the lives and property of those of other faiths is an act of worship.
In addition, Muhammad set an unprecedented example by allowing a delegation of Christians to hold religious services at the Prophet’s mosque. This act of tolerance emphasizes the need to look after each other, no matter race or religious affiliations. This is especially pertinent to our society as an anecdote to brewing racial and religious tensions.
The love and affection shown in true and authentic Islam toward the Christian faith cannot be overemphasized. Jesus is revered as a holy and true prophet of God, and Mary is mentioned by name in the Quran alongside her beautiful qualities. The Quran in Chapter 3 verses 43 praises Mary in the following words: “and remember when the angels said, O Mary, Allah has chosen thee above the women of all peoples.” The Quran further explains the reason of this choice of Mary and points to Mary as an example: “and the example of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her private parts – so We breathed into him Our Spirit – and she fulfilled in her person the words of her Lord and His Books and was one of the obedient.”
The exemplary and distinguished qualities of Mary, as stated in the Quran, should be understood and shared. Mary was a chaste woman, and it is very likely she used to have her hair covered as Catholic nuns do and had a modest lifestyle. Mary is held as a role model and inspiration for men and women in the Quran. It is this same inspiration that many Muslim women have in mind when they dress modestly or cover their hair.
In this holiday season, the beautiful teachings of the Islamic and Christian faiths, which foster unity among our fellow citizens, need to be highlighted and practiced as a gift to people from all walks of life. Acts of kindness, respect and tolerance help eliminate violence in society. Furthermore, those teachings that inculcate charitable giving can establish long-term friendships and trust between recipient and donor.
Let’s use this period as a starting point to win back the love and affection of people and to bring peace and tranquility into our modern society.