It was the fifth year of Mohammad’s prophet-hood and his followers were being ruthlessly persecuted by his enemies. Prophet Mohammad advised a small group of Muslims to leave Mecca and take refuge in Abyssinia, where he knew the Christian king, known as Negus, was just and fair.
The group of Muslims under the leadership of Jafar escaped in the dead of night and made their way to Abyssinia, but as soon as their departure was discovered, mercenaries were sent to find them and bring them back to face torture and imminent death.
When the Muslims reached the court of the Negus, he asked them who they were and what they knew of Christianity and Jesus. Jafar read from the Quran the chapter on the birth of Jesus and said that Muslims are told to revere Jesus. He said that Christians are referred to as “people of the book” in the Quran.
It is recorded in tradition that Negus stepped down from his throne, and with tears in his eyes, he drew a line in the sand with his staff. Then he addressed the court and said, “The difference between us is as fine as this line in the sand and we are the light of the same candle.”
He then gave protection to the Muslims and did not allow them to be persecuted. If it had not been for his compassion and mercy, the Muslims would have been killed and Islam would not have taken root.
Today, the line that the Negus drew in the sand has become a wide gulf of misunderstanding and violence on part of Muslims.
Is this how we revere Jesus and show compassion and brother/sisterhood?
Last week, a suicide bomb and gun attack on a church in the Pakistani city of Quetta killed at least eight innocent worshipers and wounded dozens of others. The attack targeted Bethel Memorial Methodist Church as worshipers gathered inside to attend a Sunday midday service.
This is not the first time Christians have been targeted and attacked in Pakistan. It’s an ongoing tragedy, more so because the Christian community of Pakistan has always been peace-loving and benign. Despite the fact that they are treated as second-class citizens and given menial lowly jobs, they are loyal and loving to the country in which they live.
In Australia, an Afghan immigrant tried to mow down innocent people with his van, injuring 19.
The carnage continues in Muslim-majority countries where the life of Christians and minority Muslims is not safe at all. There have been ongoing church attacks in Egypt.
Let’s not forget our history. When Malik Ashtar was going to Egypt as governor, Imam Ali advised him to, “Develop in your heart the feeling of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them. Do not behave with them like a barbarian, and do not appropriate to yourself that which belongs to them. Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in humanity….”
How quickly we have forgotten the legacy of our wise leaders. Today, we are faced with mad mullahs giving fatwas about not wishing Merry Christmas. Why? Have they decided that they are God Almighty? Those of us who have immigrated to the West should not forget that we are living in Christian lands and enjoy all our benefits here.
What Muslims should be doing at this time is finding ways to protect and embrace our Christian brothers and sisters so that they can celebrate Christmas in peace and joy. Shame on us for keeping silent and shame on our political leaders for not finding the perpetrators and locking them in a deep dark dungeon where they will never see the light of day.
We have learned nothing from our own faith, let alone humanity, and this is why Islam continues to be under criticism. Where is the silent majority who propagate “Islam is the religion of peace?” Instead, we have those who invoke Islamophobhia at every moment. It is time Muslims realized that we will only gain respect when we give respect to others. This is the time of Chanukah and Christmas when we can claim to be part of this civilization. Otherwise we silently side with the barbarians who cause mayhem and carnage against “the other.”
Let me end with the thoughts of Imam Tawhidi, a progressive Australian Imam who writes so eloquently “Jesus is a saviour…The extremist Muslims attacking Christianity and Churches need to understand that at the end: Jesus always wins.”
So, a joyful Chanukah and a Merry Christmas to all my brothers and sisters. May peace, joy and love prevail.