What Christmas Means to This American Muslim
By Hussam Ayloush
Every 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 US in my late teens, and even today, I am pleased to see the same love for Jesus shared amongst Christians in my community in the Greater Los Angeles area and the rest of the country.
As Muslims read the Qur’an, Islam’s revealed text, we respect and remember the values all the prophets, including Jesus, carried with them as they brought the message of God to their people. In particular, Islam refers to Jesus as Christ and holds him and his mother Mary in the highest regard.
It is stated in the Qur’an: “Say ye: ‘We believe in God and the revelation given to us and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.’” (2:136)
This holiday season, throughout the world, there will be millions of Christians honoring Jesus, may peace be upon him, just as millions of Muslims love and respect Jesus every day for who he was and the values he taught.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus taught to “do to others what you would have them do to you” and to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I see our Christian neighbors sincerely practicing these teachings. Their love for their American Muslim neighbors comes from this and many more teachings of Jesus Christ, as well as the personal relationships that Christians and Muslims in America have built as co-workers, business partners, PTA volunteers, neighbors and as family members.
Christians and Muslims have much more in common than we often think. Christmas is a reminder to my family, and to all of us, to appreciate our similarities and to build bridges between our communities whose respective faiths represent the two largest faith traditions in our world today.
(HussamAyloush is a human rights and civil rights activist and community organizer. He is the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations)