Got the Christmas Blues?

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

For many of us, the holidays are the saddest time. There are some biological reasons for this – the Solstice on December 21st is the darkest day of the year and there is a lot of depression associated with lack of sunlight.

For this reason, the Romans came up with the Festival of Lights to help dispel the gloom of darkness and the fear of death that comes with freezing weather, which in today’s world means electronic lights displayed on Christmas trees, candlelit Hanukkah menorahs, and an enduring tradition of attempting to be especially kind to one another. Science reports that American suicide rates are 30% lower during the holiday season, so apparently the effect of “good cheer and good will towards all men” is not just a theory.

Muslim families face a challenge during these special times, because we do not celebrate Christmas. We don’t even have a counter-holiday. A hilarious youtube video entitled, “Christmas Sucks for Desis” clearly explains our children’s tender emotions:

“We will get a mix of a bunch of feelings on this day – No Rudolphs, no horse-drawn sleigh – All we get is a closed Safeway!”

Americans who have converted to Islam may feel especially sensitive at this time, because we have beautiful childhood memories associated with Christmas that are deeply connected to our cultural traditions. It is hard to explain how depressing it can be to find yourself sitting alone on Christmas Eve, simply due to a conscious choice not to celebrate that holiday. No more late night prayers singing carols praising the birth of our Savior. No more angels, no more shepherds, no more Blessed Virgin Mary and her adorable baby. No more hanging warm socks and mittens on a tree to donate to charity.
Hey wait! Is all of this so bad? The whole point of adoring a newborn baby is that we are in a state of total awe at what God alone can accomplish – the birth of hope in the future of humanity.

The Prophethood of Jesus marked a very important milestone in the history of spiritual philosophy. Before that, in the Old Testament, it was “my God is better than your god.” Jesus brought a message that changed life on earth forever. The ancient Germans used to burn widows on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands, but after they learned about Christ’s teachings, they completely changed their way of life to one that involved fighting for the security of widows! The Aztek American Indians used to engage in ritual sacrifice of virgin girls. Now they revere the Virgin Mary. We have come a long way.

If you were to pick up a Quran, knowing nothing, you would think this is a book primarily about Jesus (pbuh). We have holidays to remember Abraham, Moses and Mohammad, while the Shias retell the tale of Hussain’s martyrdom every year at Ashura. Yet we don’t always take the time to retell the story of the miracle of the birth of Jesus.

When my five year old daughter started whining about why we don’t have a Christmas tree, I decided to teach her the true meaning of Christmas. I then realized how important it is for someone who wants to truly understand the Quran to read the Bible too. The stories about Jesus are told in the Bible in such detail that we do not find in the Quran, yet the Quran references these old stories in such a way that if we did not know the old stories, we cannot fully grasp the meaning of the Quran. The Quran serves in many ways as a commentary on the older books, which Jesus came to Earth to interpret for us. The Quran states that Jesus said:

“ And (I come as) a verifier of that which is before me of the Torah… I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; therefore be careful of (your duty to) Allah and obey me.” (Al-Imran:50)

We are ordered to obey Christ, yet we know precious little about how to obey Christ UNLESS we familiarize ourselves with the older books. Since Muslims have nothing else to do on Christmas, why not spend some time with our children studying about our Messiah? I read to my daughter from the Quran:

“… Allah said: O Jesus, I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the Day of Resurrection…” (Al-Imran: 55)

I explained to her that the message of Jesus (pbuh) apart from the mythology is clear: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do unto others as you would have done to yourself.” If someone did not do that, he did not follow God’s prophet.

What matters is that we are going to die, and if we did not be kind to other people, God will punish us. But if we followed Christ’s teachings, God will be merciful to us.

Humanity is in a state of darkness. There is absolutely no hope for us. We are a bunch of hopeless sinners and losers. We keep fighting for ourselves, and all we do is just keep dragging each other down. We are hardly human anymore, as a species. We are in a complete state of loss: except those who have faith, and who do good deeds, and remind one another to be righteous, and not to give up hope. I think that is the true meaning that we need to find in this darkest hour.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. Karinfriedemann.blogspot.com.

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Muslims, in Concert with Jews, Perform Acts of Kindness on Christmas Holiday

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adapted from an Associated Press article by TMO

Detroit–December 25–Many Jews consider Christmas Day an opportunity to serve their community while Christian neighbors celebrate their holiday. This year, what’s also known as Mitzvah Day in southeast Michigan is getting an added boost from Muslims.

For the first time, about 40 Muslims joined 900 Jews for what they call their largest annual day of volunteering. Leaders say it’s a small but significant step in defusing tensions and promoting good will between the religions — particularly on a day that is sacred to Christianity, the third Abrahamic faith.

Mitzvah Day, a nearly 20-year tradition in the Detroit area also practiced in other communities, is so named because Mitzvah means “commandment” in Hebrew and is colloquially translated as a good deed.

The new partnership stemmed from a recent meeting between members of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — which said it was unaware of any similar Mitzvah Day alliances.

The Jewish groups organize Mitzvah Day, which consists of volunteers helping 48 local social service agencies with tasks such as feeding the hungry and delivering toys to children in need.

Victor Begg, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, said he was seeking a public way for the two faith communities to “build bridges of understanding and cooperation,” which led to joining the Mitzvah Day effort.

“These guys are really organized,” he explained to TMO, saying really there was no need for Muslim organizations to try to put together their own event when the event has already been sustained over a long period of time by the Jewish organizations.

“The general public is what we need to give the message to, our entire community,” he said.

Not only are most Muslims and Jews available to serve on Christmas Day, but leaders also recognized a shared commitment to community service. Charity in Judaism is known as “tzedakah.” Actually this Hebrew word is pronounced the same as sadaqa, which is an analogous Islamic term of doing charity.

“It’s an interesting parallel,” said Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “Both of our faiths predispose us to engaging in this sort of thing.”

Muslim and Jewish volunteers will work together at the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac, about 25 miles north of Detroit.

“We felt it was a perfect activity for people to be getting together like this because you work side by side with one or two other people as you’re moving the boxes,” Cohen said. “The grass-roots connection builds relationships on a personal level.”

Cohen said the local bonds are important given global animosities. He said Muslims and Jews here “have serious differences about what happens in the Middle East,” but that shouldn’t be the only dynamic defining their relationship.

Begg added the two faiths can set an example in the Detroit area, which has historically large Jewish and Muslim populations.

“Whatever happens in the Middle East, we have no control over it,” Begg said. “But here, our kids go to the same school, we work together. … We need to focus on building an inclusive community.”

Mitzvah Day is planned months in advance, so the number of Muslim participants is modest to start, but both groups expect it will grow. Next year proves challenging for Jewish volunteers because Christmas falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Details have yet to be worked out, though Cohen and others are considering moving Mitzvah Day. That would give Muslims the opportunity to try a solo run on Christmas, join Jewish groups on another day, or both.

Both Mr. Begg and Mitzvah Day organizers explained that next year it will be impossible for the Jewish organizations to do Mitzvah Day on Christmas Day because it falls on their Sabbath, Saturday, therefore 2010 might be an opportunity for CIOM and area mosques to do a similar event on their own.

The Muslim volunteers this year came mainly from two mosques, the Islamic Center of America, whose Eide Alawan has for decades been involved in community and interfaith outreach work, and Canton’s MCWS mosque, from which about 20 volunteers came.

“The bottom line is we really want to do it together,” Begg said.

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